What PR Teams Need To Do When Economic Uncertainty Challenges Their Efforts

This post was originally published in February 2023 and has been updated for relevancy.

Every time you log into LinkedIn, you see another round of layoffs. It seems like every day that tens of thousands more workers, especially in the tech industry, are suddenly out of a job. And Q4 of 2023 is no different: workers affected by layoffs this year are reaching the hundreds of thousands, with recent losses at LinkedIn, Jezebel, CNBC, Nextdoor, Delta Airlines, Vogue and more

Pair that with the continued rising prices for tons of consumer goods, year-long talk of an impending recession and ongoing global crises in both Ukraine and Palestine, and it’s safe to say we’re living in “uncertain economic times,” to put it lightly.

Axios reports that while we did avoid the 2023 recession that many people were worried about, 2024 has many risks ahead. Inflation is still a hot topic and interest rates are predicted to go higher. And while the 2023 recession didn’t fully come to pass, it still affected the way that we do business. With such a threat looming over business leaders, budgets and spending plans are not as simple as before and many stakeholders are afraid to devote money to line items like advertising, media and branded content. 

[Read more: 3 Takeaways for the Next 3 Years for PR Industry!]

When the country seems like it’s in an emergency state when it comes to the economy and it’s hard to predict just what will happen next, it’s only natural for decision-makers at companies to want to freeze budgets and put a pause on what they’re spending money on to protect their bottom line.

But, for those in public relations, this is the worst thing they can do.

Why public relations teams should keep their feet on the gas pedal

In the world of PR agencies, many professionals in the industry have to act as both a public relations practitioner and a liaison between their brand contacts and the decision-makers at those companies. Helping these brands understand why budgets should not pause during a time like this is just one part of the job that doesn’t necessarily have to do with sponsored content strategy.

We’ve been seeing a major slowdown in getting campaigns out the door, and a majority of the time this is happening because brands are afraid to commit. The PR teams understand the importance, but the higher-ups who approve spend are rightfully hesitant to spend more money in times like these.

[Read More: On Working in Communications During a Global Crisis]

To help equip your brand’s partners with talking points on why continuing to reach their audiences is more important than ever right now, here are a few reasons why investing in public relations is non-negotiable.

You need to provide stability and solid, reassuring messaging to your audiences

Think of how you personally feel when you read about mass layoffs, headlines about growing tensions between countries, or even when you see eggs priced at over $6 a dozen at your grocery store. This is a pivotal moment for brands to speak directly to their audiences and reassure them, explaining reasonings behind big changes.

If you disappear, your audience will, too

Online audiences have become savvy and more attuned to digital behaviors in recent years, thanks to the pandemic forcing everyone to do more business online. If your PR slows down or stops, that will send a signal to consumers that you aren’t around anymore.

This conclusion is more than just anecdotal. According to a new article by Sprout Social, 

“A Q1 ‘23 Sprout pulse survey found that 77% of consumers are more likely to spend more with brands they feel connected to, up from 57% in 2018.”

Additionally, there will be companies who do take advantage of this time to reach their audiences, so by removing yourself from the conversation, there will always be another brand who is more than happy to step up in your place. Which leads us to:

Less competition = more opportunities

The truth is that many companies will put a hold on paid media spend. From a business standpoint, this is a good thing for you. With less competition in the media space, your team will be able to stand out even easier and take advantage of a time when many teams aren’t distributing sponsored content. You want to be the brand who remains a constant, whether with thought leadership with CEOs or genuine help with your goods and services.

How to do more with less when your PR budget is tight

Even if you agree with our sentiment, the reality is that public relations budgets might be reduced, and team size could potentially be getting smaller.

However, even with these factors, the reality is that expectations for public relations and communications teams are not downsizing in proportion. PR professionals are expected to do more with less, which is a major recipe for burnout and lack of focus. How can teams thrive with fewer resources, less money and fewer hands on deck?

Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose

“Work smarter, not harder” is such a cliché, but we all know there’s truth to it. If you have a successful campaign, take the best bits and break them out to reuse on different platforms. Share thought leadership on social media and boost the post to reach more eyes. If your paid campaign did well in one demographic, try to segment it further and re-distribute. Take a piece of content and turn it into a multi-post series, distributing each of those. You do not need to reinvent the wheel if you’ve found success with one tactic.

In this post by Curtis Smith, he interviews PR expert Rachel Neff from Finn Partners on how her team gets every last drop of benefit from a Guaranteed Media Placement.

Target exactly who needs to hear what your brand is saying

This is one of the biggest benefits of paid media campaigns: audience targeting. Rely heavily on your audience personas and speak directly to them, with content messaging and specific targeting. Brandpoint’s targeting options like Guaranteed Section Fronts make it easy to narrow in on age, location, job title, salary range, etc. so you can make sure you’re spending your paid media budget on the audience that you want to hear your story.

PR teams should integrate with marketing, immediately

As a marketer myself, I assure you that the marketing team in your organization is feeling the same crunch as far as “do more with less”-type expectations. The line between PR and marketing is blurring more and more, so your teams should partner up sooner rather than later to compare goals and focuses.

AdAge reports that on average, 20% of budgets are “spent against duplicative efforts because of siloed work.” Twenty percent! Reducing this overlap will help both teams’ budgets and workloads be used more effectively.

Adjust early and often

I don’t need to tell you how fast the news cycle has moved in the last three years. But how do you keep up? Add it to your planning and strategy workflows. Make it the new norm to revisit your campaigns, strategy and messaging not a few times a year, but regularly.

SHIFT Communications posted an article about communications strategies in 2023, which included this incredibly important advice:

Zero in on what metrics you need

In a recent survey we conducted, a large majority of PR professionals confessed that one of their biggest business challenges was difficulty measuring the right metrics and goals.

Without knowing what success looks like in your PR and comms campaigns, it can be hard to define exactly what you should be doing.

[Read More: Exploring Brandpoint’s Interactive Distribution Report]

Even in times of economic uncertainty and rapidly changing media climates, public relations teams should always carve out time to determine what success looks like for them and solidify the metrics that will showcase just that. Specific and measurable is always the way to go, whether that is audience numbers, media placements, engagement rates or anything else that matters to your brands.

Don’t forget elections season! 

We are less than a year away from the 2024 presidential elections, and be aware that the media landscape is about to get a million times more rocky. 

In this post about the 2023 PRSA International Conference, I outlined my takeaways from a session about the upcoming elections and how comms teams can prepare. Leaders in their organizations should: 

  • Keep an eye on trends or news items that may impact their brands
  • Have multiple crisis responses ready to activate on short notice 
  • Utilize paid efforts with highly targeted capabilities to reach niche audiences

[Read More: When Should You Publish Content During Election Season?]

Public relations is key to surviving during economic uncertainty

Brandpoint has been in the media business since the mid-’90s, which means we’ve seen our fair share of major changes in the world. Wars, cultural shifts, media innovations, the decline of print media … but one thing has always stayed constant: if you provide strategic and genuine content to the audience who needs it, your brand will remain relevant and successful.

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