PR in a recession: How to prepare

Remember the good old days of lockdowns and face masks? Some people are wishing those days were back as the future economic situation looks so grim. But PR is known for its resilience and the following professionals describe how the industry can buckle up for the stormy ride ahead.

Be adept at changing comms messages

Ashley Carr, MD of agency Neo PR: “Businesses will certainly be forced to future gaze more than ever before in terms of core comms messages and strategy. We supported many of our clients by adapting their business models and messages under the pressure of the pandemic, so being quickly adaptable and willing in terms of making big changes or communicating new messages will become fundamental.”

Help clients show their longevity

Marc Hindley founder of Marc Hindley Content and Media: “We’ve seen an increase in businesses who are using PR to highlight how the cost-of-living crisis has changed their operation, either for the benefit of longevity of their company or their customers. It’s a big disappointment for people to see businesses there one day and not the next. PR at least gives consumers a degree of hope that their favourite brands and outlets are weathering the storm, even if only by perception.”

Trim unnecessary costs

Natalie Trice, PR director at agency Devon Trice Public Relations:: “From clients cutting budgets and making increasing demands to be seen in top-tier press to help boost sales and visibility, to staff talking about pay rises and energy bills seemingly go up every day, it’s tough right now. For me, it’s vital to have a lean, agile agency structure with a team who are quick to act, but proactive in their approach, whilst I am keeping an eye on the costs and looking at where savings can be made. Do you need every media alert service? Could a super keen intern offer the admin support I am looking for? How can we make sure clients are happy without over servicing to the hilt and devaluing the industry? In addition, combining a head-clearing workout and swim with co-working space at the gym as well as having meetings online rather than meeting in real-life diesel-gobbling locations help keep the costs down, but the mind strong - I think that is important for us all.“

Expect tighter budgets

Lily Germain. senior campaign executive at agency Bottle PR: “With the worry of what may be to come, brands are pushing back on larger campaigns, and saving PR budgets for other areas of the business that may be seen as more essential. This means it is crucial for PRs to think creatively on how they can cut costs, and to ensure that any stories going out show enough cultural awareness of what’s happening right now.”

Be sensitive to changing priorities

Sophie Bunce, account manager, at PR agency M&C Saatchi Talk: “Across our corporate and consumer clients we’ve seen a need to tailor both our messaging and outreach to reflect the impact of the economic crisis. It’s important our work reflects the world we’re all living it - for example, based on publication, we’re rethinking the kinds of products we’re sharing with shopping journalists based on price. Where we’d share inspirational products, we are now thinking more practically and weaving in ways to save.”

Use your power to allay people’s fears

Sarah Lloyd founder of agency Indigo Soul PR: “Whilst the energy crisis is very real, we are yet again scaring people to death with divisive language in the media. There are probably measures we can all take to make our houses better and more efficient. And surely it’s a good thing we are having to look at our homes and the way we live differently. Conserving energy is no bad thing. Making sure our elderly and those in poverty are taken care of - well that’s called being a good human.

“But PRs could be the saviours in all this, with how we word this and share our clients’ information with the readers in mind. If anything, Covid-19 taught us that fear is not the answer. People react badly when they are scared, and a lot of people are still mad at the mistakes that the government made around lockdowns. The government talks about staying safe and looking after people, well now is the time to put its money where its mouth is.”

Demonstrate the importance of PR right now

Amber O'Neill, copywriter at PR agency The Digital Voice: "Grappling with the challenge of staying afloat in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, many businesses are forced to re-evaluate their spending and in many cases, PR and marketing are the ones taking the hit. It just goes to show that an understanding of the importance of PR for businesses is sometimes lacking. In fact, PR has never been more important than it is right now - consumers are looking for a voice they can trust in times like these. And who better to create and disseminate your company's message than your PR team?”

Will working for home be as popular?

Wfh is still a cheaper option for most

Ashley Carr: “The value of working from home will increase. The lack of flexibility and the inability to work from home has become a deal breaker for prospective employees, so keeping these benefits available is essential for staying afloat and maintaining happy and supported employees. The cost of the daily commute, both financially and environmentally, is far greater than the potentially higher heating bill working from home.”

Daisy Sawyer, senior digital PR specialist at digital marketing agency Semetrical: “We’ve found that allowing the flexibility of working from home, whilst also having an office which staff can work from as they wish, has opened up so many opportunities for not only great hires, but for staff to be able to manage their personal finances in line with the cost-of-living crisis. With commuting costs rising, it’s no longer logical for businesses to expect their staff to commute into the office every day, especially when in industries such as PR and digital marketing, the majority of work is done online. 

“Enabling staff to work from home, not only helps them save on commuting costs, but also allows them to be more flexible with their hours, meaning that, where applicable, they can cut down their childcare costs. Although costs for the home are rising, ultimately, allowing staff to work from home will mean that they’ll be able to manage their finances better than if they were commuting and working from an office on a daily basis.”

Jessica McDonnell, senior account manager at agency Source PR: “In my personal experience, for years I’ve been used to hybrid working approach, with spending one or two days per week in the office. The past few months for me have been dominated by worries of how much my twice weekly commute is costing me in petrol, as I work about a 50-minute drive from home to the office and there’s no option of public transport. Despite the rise in energy bills, it won’t be feasible for me to commute to the office everyday as it will likely cost more in getting a dog walker in and fuel. Although if I lived closer to the office, I do think I’d go in more for the sake of saving on energy bills. It will be electric blankets and hot water bottles for me this winter!”

Some may find office work cheaper

Sofia Leadbetter, account manager at agency Lem-uhn: “We're a PR start-up based in Angel comprising a team of four and we are luckily in a managed office space so don't have to worry about managing additional costs for utility bills, etc.

“Like many other businesses we offer a flexible working policy and are generally based in the office three days a week, however, we're always open to individuals coming in more or less than that based on their needs each week. In light of rising energy bills, we've also ensured that the whole team are aware that the office will remain open for them moving forwards if they would like to cut down on wfh to help mitigate these rising costs at home.”

Freelance perspective

I may have to raise my fees

Jane Griffin, director, Positive Story: "As a freelance PR consultant based at home in East Sussex, I am genuinely concerned about the rise in energy prices reducing my profit margin. However, I don't see any viable alternatives as the cost of renting a workspace and driving there would be even more expensive. Despite the added costs, working from home is still my preferred option in terms of convenience and proximity to our local school for pick ups."

"Unless the government provides assistance for businesses like mine, I will need to raise my prices soon as I simply can't absorb all these added costs. I hope that current and potential clients will understand although I believe that I will still be providing value as a solo specialist PR practitioner without an office and staff to pay for." 

There might not be much good news out there at the moment, but that does not mean that those who work in PR should be disheartened. As Koray Camgöz, director of communications and marketing at PRCA, says in this recent PRmoment feature based on the PRCA Confidence Tracker, “the industry’s recent performance and its burgeoning business reputation mean it’s exceptionally positioned to meet the challenges that lie ahead.”

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