Don’t cut PR budgets in a recession (unless you want to lose market share)

7 September 2022 | 4 min read | PR
Portrait photo of Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

Whenever the bottom falls out of the economy, companies and their marketing teams immediately ask themselves, Do we continue with our current and planned public relations and content marketing campaigns? Or should we hit the pause button and wait for the economic storm to pass?

The decision to reduce their spend in either of these areas or even to suspend it altogether is a good way of keeping as much money in the business as possible in the short term. But it can, and often does, come at a significant cost in the mid and long term as our experience has shown.

Public relations (PR) should not be seen as a ‘cost’. That is a mistake and devalues the impact it has on winning new customers and keeping the ones a company already has.

When the 2008 recession struck, I was working for the biggest online recruitment company in the world. They had dominated their market since 1992 and a multitude of competitors had tried and failed to knock them off their perch. The company believed they could pause on all its public relations (PR) and content marketing activity indefinitely and still retain its marketing leading position. They were wrong.

Whilst they slept, their competition was active with their PR. Not only were they now able to compete with the market leader they eventually overtook them to gain a greater share of the market for themselves.

Cutting your PR spend will make it harder to retain existing customers and attract new ones.

The competition understood that by ‘being there’ for their customers in a way that did not mean a financial exchange was a prerequisite for having a relationship with them, they remained ever-present and front of mind. This created loyalty and trust which in turn meant that when the economy rebounded these companies became to go-to product and service providers of choice.

As for the global leading company I worked for, they resumed their PR and content marketing once more, but it was too late. Their two-year hiatus away from the consciousness of their target audience saw them fall out of favour and lose ground to the competition. They have never regained the market prominence they previously commanded.

We saw the exact same thing happened during the pandemic. Two of our clients really stand out for me and are perhaps the greatest examples of why a company should never stop creating great content and media attention for themselves.

Both clients gradually ramped up their PR and content marketing activity during their first six months with us; thereafter, it was a case of building the momentum that was gaining.

You’ve invested so much money and time in building a strong brand presence for your brand, if you pause now, you run the risk of driving your customers towards those competitors who remain ever-present

The growth they have experienced is nothing short of incredible; one saw revenues rise from £2.9 million in 2020 to £5 million in 2022 (and on course for £10 million in 2023), and another has seen its turnover rocket from around £4 million to £11 million over the same period.

Each of these clients have stated that PR and content marketing have played a major role in generating attention, interest, and new business leads for their companies. Growth was always likely without these two things, but there is no question that the pace would have been much slower.

History has shown that those companies who maintained, or even increased, their public relations spend during testing times performed only slightly better than those who cut it altogether. But when the green shoots returned, their pace of growth was akin to Usain Bolt in his prime competing with your 90-year-old granny with a Zimmer frame in a 100 metres sprint – embarrassingly faster.

My point is this: when recessions come, cutting your PR spend is one of the most detrimental things that a company can do. Never entertain the idea that you will be able to jump straight back into it and carry on as if nothing happens. Your seat at the table will be vacated and a competitor will take your place.

Recession is coming. Fact. Like many, I called it back in April when asked to comment on the state of the economy by The Express (see here). However, as I said in that interview, this won’t be another two-year downturn like we saw in 2008.

This time it will be a lot shorter, still painful, but over a curtailed period of time. And when the green shoots come, which they will before you know it, your company will be perfectly poised to seize the moment and steal and mighty march over your rivals if you retain your PR.