Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

PR in the face of economic meltdown

weighThe current financial meltdown has sent shockwaves around the world, hammering an already bruised global economy. In the world of public relations firms, we absorb hits the same way we experience success — through our clients.

A hesitant warning though… surely PR will be just as vulnerable if not more so than any other profession.  We still have to constantly prove we aren’t “fluff”.  On a positive note, when a business is in trouble, it often needs crisis PR.

Given the current financial situation world over, many national and international companies have started massive cost cutting exercises. Since marketing budgets are often considered a cost center, ad and PR spend are among the first to experience budget cuts.

But is this the right solution? Sure, things are tough everywhere – funding is drying up, sales are down, and credit is non-existent. But this is a time for PR firms to shine. Now is not the time to lie low and wait for the dust to settle. Now is the time to communicate. Simply because if you withdrew from the media now, it means that you will loose your visibility in your target markets and will not gain any new customers. And by target market, I mean customers, investors, the media, partners, employees and others whose impressions matter. I can almost guarantee that they will want to hear from you. Getting new customers in difficult times, when there is less money to be spent on products and services, is crucial to companies’ survival.

It’s important to realize that “PR” has evolved to contribute much more than press releases and media calls, especially in the wake of social media’s rise over the last few years. So, find ways to keep pushing content out the door.

A start-up that suddenly goes radio silent can easily be thought headed for the deadpool. What will that mean for fundraising? For deals under negotiation? For attracting new talent? And an established organization that stops communicating creates uncertainty. Would you want to do business with a company that has questions swirling about its survival?

So the question that arises here is that how can a medium or small scale enterprise continue to communicate given the significant budget cuts? The answer is simple, and should be self-evident to all the entrepreneurs reading this. Do the best you can. In such situations, a less artfully crafted press announcement is far better than no announcement at all. But get your story out. Keep making announcements. Reach out in those key situations where you normally would. Assign the work to someone who can do a decent job of it. But get it done.

There’s no doubt that it’s tough to get client-oriented stories through the flood right now, but shrinking in the face of such a media storm is not the way to go. When things are crazy, keep communicating, if for no other reason than just to reassure consumers or your target audience.

While it is very important to communicate whatever good is happening, therein also lies the opportunity to dispense of any bad news you been looking to dump. For one it will get largely lost amongst all the other noise. It will also be measured against some of the unbelievably bad news that the banks and other large enterprises are dishing out on a daily basis, which by default makes it not so bad.

Coming back, what can small and medium scale enterprises do to remain visible in media, or which announcement about your company can make a good feed for journalists? Here’s are some action that you can take to ensure your news or announcements will get noticed and printed.

What makes good news story?

For most PR practitioners, news means getting the corporate message across effectively and promoting products and services in the best way possible.

For journalists and editors ~ the publicity gatekeepers ~ good news copy means what their readers are looking forward to read.

And for enterprises, good news means promoting your products and services in a newsworthy fashion. There must be something new to make the news. If it’s ‘fluff’ it will be trashed. Pure and simple.

Action points:

Think like a reporter: As a PR writer, you need to wear two hats – as journalist delivering a strong news-worthy story and as PR/marketing consultant ensuring you get good publicity and value for money for your products or services

Write like a journalist: Adopt the ‘inverted pyramid’ style of writing. This style essentially presents information in order of importance. It has a dual purpose of instantly capturing the reader’s attention and enabling the editor to cut the story from the bottom-up to suit space requirements.

Effective Media Relations: Modern PR has been dressed up in all sorts of fancy terms: “reputation management”, “stakeholder outreach” — the list goes on. But for even the most sophisticated enterprise, getting “good ink” is seen as a key test of the value of any PR. Working effectively with the news media is not just about knowing the journalist, it’s about knowing how they think and how they assess what makes a good story. You can then package your information in the most appealing way to maximise its news potential.

Writing Press Releases: Though many journalists hate releases with a passion, they remain the currency of outreach to the mainstream media. So, keep them rolling. Write them shorter — just the facts. Write solid, informative headlines. Put the real news at the top of the release. And write a short, no-spin quote.

PITCHING. A press release without follow-up is like a car without gas. It just won’t go. What to do? Assign someone, it can be an administrative assistant if necessary, to follow up on announcements by calling down your press list with a simple message: “We just sent out a release. I wanted to make sure you’ve received it and ask if you need anything further.”

NEW MEDIA. Bloggers are really the easiest to reach in this kind of situation. They don’t want press releases or PR pitches. Just a quick email with the news, preferably from the CEO or a senior executive. Ideally, you’ll put the news on your company blog and include a link to that post. Then, just track coverage in your feedreader and feel free to comment back on any coverage.

These are simply a handful of specific actions; my main point today is to get you into the mindset of communicating in a crisis environment. It doesn’t need to be pretty. It won’t be perfect. But you do need to keep it moving until things get back to normal.

A little extra work now can eliminate very serious problems down the road when the economy improves. You do not want to hear: “We thought you guys had disappeared in the recession, so we went with ABC.”

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Disclaimer

Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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