PR Strategies for Recession, Recovery
by Jon Boroshok
dmnew.com, March 28, 2002
As businesses cut their advertising budgets, they have started to
rely more on public relations to drive sales, forge partnerships,
attract investors and build brands. At the same time, many trade
and business-to-business publications have downsized or folded because
of lost advertising revenue, resulting in less overall editorial
space. This means that competition for media coverage and product
reviews has intensified.
businesses still pay the price for following bad counsel and strategic
planning during the tech gold rush. Using a rationale that paralleled
the old adage, "nobody ever got fired for picking IBM,"
companies were often advised by venture capitalists and investors
to retain a large, "brand name" public relations agency
with a posh downtown address.
entrepreneurs and venture capitalists vaguely understood that a
strong marketing communications and public relations campaign is
essential, too many were ignorant when it came to deciding how to
select the right agency to help maximize the return on this investment.
There was no emphasis on value. These agencies often came with a
premium price and inexperienced junior staffs that were not well
suited for business-to-business media relations. It takes a seasoned
veteran to merge media relations skills with business and life experience.
the current economy, many companies are seeing the market bottom
out. As they move toward recovery, companies still cutting back
or just starting to rebuild their marketing communications efforts
have begun looking outside the box for better value from public
relations and other marketing communications services. They are
learning that they can get more for less.
funding dried up, companies cut their public relations and marketing
communications budgets. They are becoming smarter buyers of marketing
communications services, and are skeptical when those public relations
agencies that once commanded a monthly retainer of $30,000 are suddenly
offering fire sale prices for their services.
the drop in agency rates, businesses are finding that many BTB public
relations agencies still insist upon selling more services than
necessary and often require overinflated retainers. Their services
are not affordable to a pared marketing communications budget, especially
when a company is simply looking to maintain visibility or bolster
its own efforts.
downsizing or ramping up responsibly, economically astute companies
have started outsourcing marketing communications to providers that
can pick up the slack and provide services on a smaller, flexible
scale, often on a project basis. Smaller ("boutique")
agencies, virtual public relations teams and individual practitioners
are a growing alternative for companies of all sizes, particularly
those with monthly marketing communications budgets less than $10,000.
These outsources have to work smarter, faster and cheaper to compete.
on a project basis often clashes with the business model of a large
agency. Offices with skyline views (and empty cubicles thanks to
downsizing), salaries, benefits and equipment are all overhead costs
that must be passed along to the client. Large agencies need steady
retainers to ensure financial goals and obligations are met. They
may offer prestigious addresses and a recognizable CEO, but the
day-to-day contact performing the actual account work tends to be
inexperienced. Is retaining the services of a large agency really
a prudent investment?
adapting to market changes, alternative marketing communications
providers find ways to profitably service businesses and produce
results. Embracing the free agent economy, senior marketing communications
experts living in the suburbs (for better schools and affordable
housing) are starting to "just say no" to the commute.
They are departing downtown agencies (or being downsized in favor
of cheaper, junior staff) to work for their own clients and smaller
agencies closer to home. This is creating more affordable, project-based
public relations/marketing communications options for companies
with refined, controlled budgets.
many clients, outsourced and project-based marketing communications
have an economic rationale even in a strong economy, leading many
businesses to rethink their original big agency bias. It makes sense
to find a marketing communications outsource that will work on a
project basis, or adapt to a flexible, needs-based budget that allows
clients to pay for services on an "as-used" basis. It
allows companies to do more short-term activities without a large
commitment. If a project proves successful, it can lead to longer-term
relationships. Projects are a great test-drive for both the agency
and the client a way to see if they enjoy working together.
following advice is for firms looking to outsource marketing communications:
location, location is out. You are paying an agency based on the
results it will provide for you, not from its conference room.
Better work or the increase of media coverage is not guaranteed
by a prestigious address.
love to drop names of contacts, but these might not be the right
reporters, editors and analysts for your company. Experienced
professionals constantly look to develop new relationships as
at their clip book, but do not be too impressed, especially by
clips for big name clients. See what they have accomplished for
businesses that are about your size and budget. The people showing
you past results should be the same people who will do the actual
work on your account.
should have the ability to work with a flexible and changing budget
as your company's needs and budget could vary from month to month.
sure that your agency has a conceptual understanding of your company
and industry. Have them visit your Web site on their own time
before the first meeting.
can find marketing communications alternatives through networking,
referrals, online searches (use key words such as public relations,
tech public relations, outsourced public relations, marketing
communications, etc.) or look at press releases from similar-sized
tech companies in industries related to yours. Agencies that advertise
or attend trade association meetings will recoup those costs in
attention to the structure of the first meeting. Does the agency
listen to you, or is it in "sell" mode? If the agency
does not listen, can it really understand and meet your needs?
providers are a limited resource, often working simultaneously
for several clients. Make sure they have the bandwidth to take
on additional work for your account and can meet your deadlines.
Boroshok is founder of TechMarcom Inc., Westford, MA, an independent
agency specializing in value-based marketing communications for
technology companies. His e-mail address is jb@MarcomOutsource.com.
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