Bill Gates once said if he was down to his last dollar, he would spend it on PR. Jean-Louis Gassée, a former exec at Apple said “advertising is saying you’re good, PR is getting someone else to say you’re good.” I pretty much like that, but I like this an awful lot better: “why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Dr. Zeus.
Indeed why would any business want to be perceived as one of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of others operating in the same space as them? Businesses spend vast amounts of time and money trying so hard to persuade their customers and target audiences that they are different to their competitors, and PR’s role in this is increasing at one heck of a pace.
In fact, two years ago, business spend on PR globally stood at $88 billion. In 2021, this figure rose by 10% to over $97 billion, and within the next two and a half years is expected to hit 130 billion, which is 46% up on what it was just two years ago.
This is despite the most severe economic downturn in history so, why is this happening? And how does it shape marketing business leader decisions? Well, let’s take a look at what happened in 2020. The arse fell out of the market and businesses were haemorrhaging money left, right and center. It was a scary time and an extremely uncertain time as well.
Some businesses immediately pulled the plug on all PR spend. Others maintained it. Many actually increased it and ventured into new waters such as content and social media marketing. While the first group, those who paused altogether, certainly saved cash in the short term, they lost ground to those who continued or increased their spend over the mid to long term.
And we saw the exact same thing happen in 2008 – I know, I was a victim of it. The company I worked for was the global leader in their space, but a decision to cease all PR activity during the downturn turned out to be catastrophic. While they sat still, their competition sprang into action and kept their media presence alive and kicking.
So when the green shoots of recovery came three years later, it was they who grabbed more share of the market.As for the company they worked for, well, they’re still reeling from that fateful 2008 decision to stop all PR activity and today they’re not even one of the top ten in their industry, one that they once dominated.
And the reason for this is simple. When a business goes into PR hibernation, it is out of sight and out of mind. If a competitive business remains ever present, it is they who become front of mind and the product or service provider of choice when the economy rebounds and this is because they have shown themselves to be there for their markets, even if there is no chance of a monetary return due to the recession.
By that I mean they provide their support for their customers. They identify their pain points in challenges. Kind of like, “Hey, we know times are rough right now, and the likelihood of us doing business together anytime soon is pretty much zilch but that’s not important. What matters is that we get what you’re going through and we’re here to help you in any way that we can. And hey, if we do something further down the line, that’ll be great. But now is not the time to be thinking about it. Let’s get out of this shitstorm. Sound good to you?”
For them, PR becomes a loss leader. They are investing and creating and building long-term relationships with their customers and this will win them many favours. So yes, cut your PR spend by all means, but history has shown us, and it will show us again, that those who go dark during testing times really struggle to regain market presence on any form of penetration than what they had before the clouds gathered.
Winston Churchill once said that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Don’t let all that great work you’ve done to gain influence, create impact, and build your bottom line, be undone by decision to slash budgets, so as to steady a ship on a predictably short journey through choppy waters.
Think mid to long term, develop your PR strategy around that because the more you stay on course, the greater your business will emerge when all of this is behind you.