How to demonstrate PR’s value to clients during a downturn

How to talk to agents about PR before a downturn

As the US sinks into what appears to be a new recession, companies are cutting back on what they deem non-essential spending. Despite the wealth of historical evidence to the contrary, CEOs tend to compromise public relations. The panic over falling sales has probably made them forget that recessions are actually an ideal opportunity to differentiate yourself as a leader in a crowded market and let your audience know the company is still going strong.

As with every recent recession, PR firms need to remind their clients that going down their services is the last thing they should do when the economy takes a hit. With that in mind, here are some ways to demonstrate the value of PR in uncertain times:

Tell your story when everyone else has fallen silent

Recessions result in a significant reduction in overall noise, largely due to widespread cutbacks in PR and marketing services across all industries. This opens up more space for your customers to tell their stories and leave a lasting impression on their audience. It’s time to turn up the volume on your customers’ communication channels and overtake the fading narratives of their competitors to establish yourself as an industry leader.

You can achieve this by creating narratives that portray your customers as stable, trustworthy, and essential, as opposed to flashy, trendy, or luxurious. Think about it: how trustworthy and important could your customers’ competitors be if they fell silent the moment the economy slowed?

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You can also emphasize the fact that while some of your competitors may not survive the storm, your clients are committed to meeting the needs of their audience for years to come. With the competition nowhere to be found, your customers will be at the top of the conversation, setting the stage for a productive transition when the economy inevitably gets back on track.

Position your customers with evergreen content

Another very effective way to create trust and stability is through earned media. A report in a media company shows that a brand has gained the respect of an objective third party, which can only mean that the brand is successful. Consumers often act in a herd mentality during recessions. So when they see a brand enjoying a publication’s trust, it’s only natural to jump on the bandwagon.

With so many companies cutting back on their PR services, many journalists will be looking for new material. In terms of content, it makes sense to position your customers in evergreen articles that are easy to find again and again. You may consider targeting resources that your customers’ audiences are likely to consult to help them make smart purchasing decisions. After all, at this point consumers need to be absolutely sure that they are not overspending or buying poor quality goods.

For example, reviews that live off product recommendation services like Wirecutter are read by massive audiences for months (or even years). Including backlinks to your clients’ websites on these popular resources will continue to do wonders for your client’s SEO long after the recession is over.

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Put a positive spin on negative news

Chances are your customers will have some form of bad news to share with their audience. Perhaps the recession has forced them to raise prices, cut staff, or increase delivery times. The need to communicate this information comes with several risks. Your customers certainly don’t want to tarnish their reputation or give the impression that they won’t be around much longer.

To spare your customers these risks, develop a storyline that doesn’t ignore the truth, but ultimately emphasizes optimism and growth. For example, you could wrap the bad news in a series of “strategic announcements” that tout recent milestones in your clients’ careers. This creates a positive corporate image that distracts your customer audience from the negativity of the recession. You can also write internal and external scripts for your clients so they are prepared to deliver similar messages to their employees and partners.

The quality of your narrative—as long as it’s not contrived or disingenuous—will remind your customers or your value as a business partner. You will be impressed by the care you have taken in your public image at this crucial stage of your journey.

Prepare a persuasive argument for The Talk

Even if your clients are aware of the value of your services, a desperate need to save money could force them to reconsider virtually every monthly expense. So it’s best to prepare a convincing argument when it’s time for The Talk.

Since PR and marketing are often lumped together, you may need to reiterate that earned media is a lot cheaper than paid media and advertising. When a journalist accepts a pitch, there are no additional costs for either the PR company or the client. Compared to the monthly expenses of a marketing agency, PR is a budget-friendly strategy for staying relevant during a recession.

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It’s also important to tell your customers that, unlike traditional advertising, earned media is an evergreen investment. An ad might trigger a one-time purchase, but Earned Media endorsements will expose a brand to a large audience for months – even years – at a surprisingly low cost.

Finally, you may need to remind your customers that if they don’t take advantage of the noise reduction that comes with recessions, someone else will. While it might be tempting to cut PR to save a few bucks, there’s a good chance that the lost momentum of this hasty decision will allow another brand to step in and steal the spotlight.

PR is the key to prevailing recessions

History has repeatedly proven that recessions separate the strong from the weak. And the strong don’t just sit back and expect sales to keep rising. You give consumers a reason to choose you over the competition, and as your customers will see, that reason is effective PR. This is the time when your client’s audience needs to hear from them the most, so don’t let them go without their most important tool to stand out: their story.

Steve Marcinuk is Co-Founder and Operations Director at Intelligent Relations.


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