24 Feb 2023

PR in a downturn: why cutting creative budgets isn’t always the answer

PR in a downturn.

This blog was written by Joe Jordan, Account Executive at Spreckley

The UK economy was stagnant at the end of 2022, with business output and consumer confidence both taking a hit. In response, many companies have begun the familiar cycle of frenzied downsizing, cutting anything and everything to ensure they weather the oncoming financial storm.

It is often creative ventures that are the first to go, with marketing and PR departments deemed surplus to requirements and duly gutted to save on monthly outgoings. However, recent research from Analytic Partners has called into question the validity of this approach, revealing 60% of brands that increased their media investment during the last recession saw ROI improvements.

To avoid falling into the cutback trap, it’s time for trigger happy businesses to pause before pulling the plug on ongoing campaigns and re-evaluate their approach to investing funds during periods of economic downturn.

Avoid a PR false start

When weighing up the merits of a fully funded communications programme, business decision-makers must first consider whether they are in a position to instantly reap the rewards of their investment. This means ensuring that marketing goals and company messaging are both crystal-clear before committing to an agency.

A lack of clarity in either of these areas equates to money down the drain, as the first few months will be wasted pontificating over what the business wants to say and how it wants to say it.

Businesses looking to kickstart a PR programme in a downturn need to be firing on all cylinders from day one, and they can ill-afford to wait weeks for the first story to hit the press because of half-baked ideas and a lack of direction.

Make your voice heard

If competitors halt communications efforts when a downturn hits, this is a PR open goal − it’s easy to shout the loudest when the rest of the market is silent. Upping comms budgets can be a shrewd tactic in these circumstances, as there is considerable ground to be gained on companies who have previously dominated the market.

A brand that channels its efforts into self-promotion while its closest rivals retreat into their shells sends a strong message to the rest of the marketplace, and this bravery is sure to resonate with potential customers.

Don’t just save money, make it!

If a PR campaign is yielding strong results and helping the business grow, why scale back and halt momentum simply because the industry outlook is rocky? Keeping costs to a minimum is only one half of the battle; it is equally important that a business prevents revenue streams drying up and diversifies its customer base.

Blindly throwing money at PR is not the answer and if a programme is unsuccessful then moving on could be the best course of action. However, when a high-performing PR team is facing the chop, those wielding the axe should be certain that the money saved will exceed the potential earnings from the continuation of these efforts.

It’s a numbers game

Decision-makers rarely part with their money unless they can see how this will benefit the business, which is very hard to demonstrate without tangible evidence. As a result, PR is often the first expense cut in a crisis because results can be difficult to quantify.

Agencies have faced an age-old battle to outline the value added by their efforts, and now more than ever, PRs must frame results in a way that makes their impact abundantly clear.

Leveraging tech such as Google Analytics is an effective way of doing this, allowing agencies to show how much traffic they are driving to a client’s website and even the number of conversions their coverage has directly led to.

The ability to demonstrate this ROI could ensure a PR programme’s survival when the leadership team starts evaluating which departments to cut.

Balance ambition with caution

It is important that businesses exercise restraint as financial forecasts plummet, but turning to budget cuts without first considering the consequences is a naïve approach to take. Founders should first identify the areas of their business that are most responsible for its growth, and ringfence these departments, allowing their good work to continue.