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Making the Most of Tough Times

Posted At: October 27, 2008 12:22 PM
by Brandi King

Times are getting tough. The U.S. economy is facing increasing unemployment rates, rising food and energy costs, falling stock prices and the housing market slump. So what does the struggling economy mean for public relations?

Shrinking budgets
With the downward turn in the economy, many companies are beginning to feel the need to tighten their budgets. Generally, the PR department is of the first areas to feel the budget cut. Since public relations does not necessarily create profit, businesses may not view the PR function as important as other areas. Ironically, in times of crisis, such as the economic downturn, public relations is especially important. The current condition of the economy makes it increasingly important for public relations professionals to present sound and strong images for companies.

So with smaller budgets, PR pros must know how get more bang for their buck or in other words do more for less. Luckily, public relations can be very cost efficient. Tools such as the traditional news release, blogs, message boards, forums and editorials offer inexpensive ways to effectively communicate with key publics.

Changing messages
The struggling economy also brings the challenge of being perceptive of the concerns, attitudes and behaviors of target audiences. According to the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index, economic optimism expressed by consumers is at a 16-year low. Since the American public’s confidence has been shaken, it is important to understand what information is important to disseminate to the public.

Companies are now changing their messages to address the economic concerns of the public. Energy companies such as Alabama Power Company and Tampa Energy Company (TECO) have launched energy efficiency programs to help combat the increase in rates. TECO recently implemented two programs to aid its customers with the rate increases, the Energy Planner program and the Low Income program. Like TECO, Alabama Power Company implemented programs to easy the transition of the increase in rates. Along with these programs, Alabama Power Company change their advertising featuring the animated birds, Ben and Mickey, to advertising featuring company employees discussing how customers can save on energy costs. The new campaign will have a more serious tone, said Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman. More companies, like TECO and Alabama Power, are opting for a more serious tone to mirror the gravity of the economic slump.

In “The Agency Business — Consumer practices must find value in messaging,” Beth Krietsch states that value is the key message these days. Given the down economy, consumers are looking for value. Consumers may find value in the ability to save time or money. Offering an added incentive such as TECO’s Energy Planner program helps to add value to a product or service.

The economic condition can actually provide opportunities for the PR profession.
•    Boost brand loyalty
In a time of economic uncertainty, public relations professionals have the opportunity to show their publics that the public can depend on their brand and company. According to Maria Kalligeros, EVP and consumer practice director at CRT/tanaka, PR efforts should address today’s reality. Kalligeros goes on to say, “Authenticity, reality, trust. Brands that can convey those values to consumers are going to win in a time of contracted spending.”

•    Prove the value of PR
This time is the prime opportunity to “prove the value of PR to the companies we serve,” says Shannon Troughton, VP of PR at WellPoint. It’s difficult to prove the value of PR. But when the times are difficult such as this, PR is most valuable.

•    Learn from experience
The down economy can also serve as a learning tool for PR pros.  This is an opportunity to develop a crisis management plan and allows for professionals to be better prepared in similar situations.

The struggling economy poses many challenges to the PR profession. It is important for public relations to make the most of tough times. The key to making it through the tough times is to present a strong front and keep publics informed with accurate and helpful information.


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