The response by business to a down economy such as the one we currently are in is usually retrenchment – the elimination of expenditures viewed as unessential during periods of declining sales and revenue. More often than not, one of the first victims of knife cutting is public relations (PR). This is why corporate PR practitioners have long invoked what for them is a truism: last to know, first to go.
Decisions on cutbacks are usually wielded by those who have a difficult time understanding such intangibles as PR’s value in relation to return on investment. What they fail to understand is that PR is the most cost-effective approach for a company hoping to strengthen its market share against retrenching competitors. The most notable example is PR’s ability to take advantage of low-cost outreach offered by electronic social networks such as Google and Twitter.
The Underestimated Value of PR
The country’s premier PR organization, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), has long provided facts and figures confirming that PR offers a significant return on investment in terms of sales, revenue and brand value, despite tough economic times. The Strategist, a PRSA magazine, reported recently that 64 percent of more than 1,080 marketing and PR professionals surveyed believe that “public relation’s role in the overall marketing mix is becoming increasingly more important.” This finding should not be dismissed as PR practitioners merely justifying their positions. It’s the low-cost and ROI that attract interest especially during times of limited funding.
The survey, and others like it, corroborate that PR may well be the least expensive method of disseminating messages to the right audience and market. One reason is that one of PR’s most valuable attributes is the objective publicity and subsequent credibility it is designed to generate through sources other than the company or organization. Whether the origin is the news media or social networks like LinkedIn, “news is news – regardless of who reports it,” write Dorothy Doty and Marilyn Pincus in Publicity and Public Relations. The authors refer to business publicity as “the long arm of journalism,” generated by “business people like you.”
In essence, companies have the opportunity through numerous outlets beyond print and broadcast to report their own news, which is one of PR’s most vital roles. It is a powerful method for building brand awareness through a third party – the media in all of its forms. In a time of down markets, PR’s role assumes even greater value.
Yet many executives mistakenly believe that a fragile economy is not the time to enter the PR battlefield. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy because the vacuum of knowledge about their product or service engendered by such misplaced decision-making has opened up a world of opportunities in the marketplace for the competition. It’s a perfect storm for an aggressive and comparatively inexpensive PR campaign to increase awareness and revenue with tools that neither advertising nor direct marketing can duplicate. Specifically, we are talking about communications with targeted markets at a personal level courtesy of the Internet’s growing list of social networks, all for a minimal investment.