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The Value of Public Relations in a Softening Economy

By Pat McNamara

Marketers are once again feeling the squeeze of another economic hiccup as the convergence of the global credit crunch, inflation and the soaring dollar are hurting their pocket books.  As every marketing specialist knows, the corporate marketing budget is often the first casualty of a slumbering economy.

While this compulsion to halt the momentum of high times appears counterproductive, it is a reality many marketers must face.  Moreover, they are still expected to meet or exceed last year’s benchmarks despite a dwindling budget  There is an affordable and effective solution to weather this pressure — public relations.

I will be the first to admit the most powerful form of marketing and communications involves an integrated advertising and public relations strategy.  The former is unparalleled in building mass awareness and the latter is unmatched in bringing credibility and third party endorsements.  However, money is money and when it’s scarce and scattered over four quarters, public relations is a sensible solution.

So what is the value that public relations can bring to the table?

•    PR delivers:  Consumers’ reluctance and skepticism in a softening economy often translates to a need for more in-depth information.  PR can deliver a credible message through media relations, bylined articles, social media and even going directly to consumers through street campaigns.

•    Traditional is still effective:  Though it may appear old-fashioned, traditional means of getting out the message are actually some of the most effective. In fact the results of an independent research study, the APEX Influencer Report, indicate traditional media remain the most accessed and credible.  Carefully placed opinion pieces, bylined articles and press releases are just some of the cost-effective options available.

•    Time is on your side:  PR can turn on a dime.  A press release can be drafted within hours and a podcast can be produced virtually overnight. With public relations, an opportunity can be seized upon very quickly, which is crucial in a competitive business environment.

•    Getting online: With the proliferation of digital media, PR can now build mass marketing/media campaigns that transcend multiple channels, while maintaining the editorial integrity sought by consumers.

•    No worries about head count:  You can use experienced practitioners that you might not have in house, such as writers, designers or media trainers.  This also gives you access to their relationships with the media, government, special interest groups and other influencers.

•    Thinking in or outside the box: Public relations can provide the added creative kick you need. From placing a recruitment ad for hiring William Shatner as the new receptionist for Kellogg’s All Bran, to creating a series of coaching podcasts for BMO small business customers, PR can leverage your own internal creative ideas!

•     Make it measurable: As an industry, public relations has often been stigmatized for being unmeasurable. There is a new industry standard in town called Media Relations Points (MRP), a method that has been endorsed by both industry societies.

•    And most importantly, the cost: A public relations budget is typically 10 to15 per cent of a marketing budget. The great value of PR is that you can have a year-long campaign, or you can come in and out of the market at key times.

While at first blush a marketing budget cut might appear negative, think of it as an opportunity to get creative.  You can extend the advertising you do have and tie it into promotions and online contests; consider training your spokespeople to be not only experts on your products and services, but on the industry; send your products to influencers; try experimenting with your own blog.

A slower economy isn’t necessarily synonymous with an end to company positioning. By using public relations strategically, businesses can continue to deliver their messages while still reaching their target audiences.

Pat McNamara is the founder and President of APEX Public Relations Inc. and Chair of the Canadian Council of PR Firms.   For details of the APEX Influencer Report, go to www.apexpr.com