Do you need PR in a Tough Economic Environment?

December 19, 2022By Paula ElliottInsights

It’s fair to say that the ‘perfect storm’ of economic instability, not only in the UK but globally, has been nothing short of tumultuous. It may sound like 2008 all over again – OK, not a direct comparison – but in the UK, it is fair to say we are in a tough economic environment.

PR agencies are not immune from the pressures a recession brings. PR primarily exists for a few core reasons, mainly helping companies to sell more of their products or solutions, or to change audiences’ buying behaviours, and alter a company’s perception in their market. If those target markets are no longer making those purchases, the effect ripples through every business in the prime organisation’s supply chain.

Yet, the regularity of global political, social, and economic events shouldn’t diminish the importance of public relations strategies during such an economic downturn. In fact, now is the time for organisations to elevate their professional voice above the crowd. There is no better time for businesses to utilise PR for the greater good.

Here are a few crucial points to remember for PR agencies:

Recessions inevitably lead to innovations

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, described as the most significant economic crisis since the Great Depression nearly 80 years prior, disruptive enterprises, such as Uber and Airbnb, thrived. This is typical in a recession; new or existing companies look for ways to transform their solutions and products, differentiate from their competition, and disrupt their markets, leading to new and exciting business models.

Now is the ideal time to think about how to do things differently in 2023. Yes, complex business decisions will have to be made, but organisations – and agencies – should be pushing the boundaries and expanding on new ways to best market any changes.

Yes, it’s essential not to ambulance chase; recessions can have deeply personal consequences for everyone, but if an organisation has decided that the status quo needs a shake-up, a carefully crafted communications campaign is the perfect vehicle to achieve this.

Be conscious of client and target audience challenges

Recessions and economic instability affect everyone. No one is beyond the reach of a plummeting Pound or descending Dollar, especially the key audiences and buyers that an organisation sells to.

It’s therefore critical that, as PR agencies, we consult and advise clients on the most effective way of going to market while avoiding tone-deafness. Whether that’s bringing to the fore the latest innovation, announcing positive financial results, or navigating restructuring changes (the latter of which invariably includes crisis communications), a window on the broader global issues is imperative.

After all, your client may not be blue-chip (yet), but in an era when everyone can be a commentator on social media, image is everything.

Look at the recently launched Christmas adverts from Tesco and Waitrose, for example. Generally, at this time of year – even during the peak of COVID-19 – adverts feature lavish lengthy tables of vol-au-vents, shimmering turkeys, and glistening hams in a banquet that would satisfy even Henry VIII. However, in 2022, Tesco, John Lewis, Lidl, and Waitrose, to name a few, have realised that many households won’t be able to afford such spreads and have focused on a message of family and support – the things that matter – instead of sheer Christmas gluttony. They’ve listened to the outside world and acted accordingly.

Pivot if necessary, and cut through the noise

Arguably, the impact of PR and media coverage is most under the spotlight when times are tough, but this is where its power lies. Organisations should use press releases, thought leadership, speaking opportunities, podcasts, webinars, features, and comments to address our challenges, where necessary.

While we’re all weary of seeing every article start with: “in a post COVID-19 world”, we must not be afraid to address the challenges head-on, so long as we strike the right balance between realism and optimism. A client won’t cut through the noise if they are seen to be acting as if it’s business as usual.

For example, there may be better times to sell your most expensive product, as fantastic as it may be, to an audience dealing with budget cuts. So, what can be done instead? Behaviours rarely stay the same in recessions.

The powerful impact of PR

PR and social media have never been more critical than they are today. Companies and their PR agencies must deal with numerous political, social, governance, and economic challenges on an ongoing basis; this period is just the latest example.

However, PR agencies should think about how to shake things up and brainstorm if and how they need to pivot with their clients. PRs need to show the value they can add to an organisation’s position, and they need to demonstrate why PR is a necessity and not a luxury.