Healthy and unhealthy ways to invest in PR in a downturn

Technical PR, Engineering PR, Industrial PR, Manufacturing PRI really didn’t want to write about the credit crunch in this article. I wanted to write about why I think marketing is a bit like brick laying. And, while I was at it, I wanted to give my views on the best ways to build an integrated industrial marketing campaign. But the downturn/recession/global depression (delete as appropriate) is simply too dominant in the news agenda to ignore. So, I struggled against it but in the end, I couldn’t avoid it. Here goes nothing...

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to invest in PR in an economic downturn and I’ve been reminded of both in the last couple of days.

The unhealthy way is to cut all other expenditure and just buy more PR, ‘because it’s cheaper and it means you don’t have to advertise’. I was reminded of this on Friday, when attending one of those champagne and caviar parties us industrial PR types spend all of our time at. I was chatting with the director of a celebrity and consumer PR agency. He happily assured me that they are booming, because all their clients are slashing their advertising budgets and having to rely on PR. I asked which magazines and Web sites he will target when the current ones he uses have all shut down due to lack of income from advertising. He walked off to talk to a former division one footballer without answering.

Now, I know I can be a bit loud at times, but I thought I was as at least as interesting as a former division one footballer. Obviously not a current division one footballer...

I was also reminded of the healthy way to invest in PR last week, when I read about a presentation British Airways delivered at the annual Travel Conference, organised by ABTA. I would have gone myself but my tickets were with XL.

Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, said, “In these testing times, cutting marketing spend is not the answer. Distinctive brand positioning is crucial at such times, because customers feel more secure with strong brands.” He went on to outline a range of marketing techniques in which he plans to invest, including product marketing, Web and mobile based marketing and innovation, advertising and PR. In short, he outlined a sensible and healthy plan, tailored to achieve his company’s objectives, even in an unhealthy climate.

The key to the strategy is investment across the board in a number of marketing tactics, of which PR is one and advertising is another. The two things go hand in hand – without advertising there will be no media for your fleet of shiny shoed PR executives to influence. In turn, without PR it will be much more difficult for journalists to find the right stories for their publications. After all, the best PR people are facilitators; nothing more than a junction in the road, where the business being promoted and the journalist can meet.

Most MBA’s will tell you that a healthy business is one that is using ten separate marketing tactics at any given time and I would passionately argue that this is the case. It’s the variation of voice as well as the repetition of message that helps to achieve the objective. Simply cutting all other marketing tactics and investing in PR alone will not work – unless that is literally the only budget available. Even in these cases, you might be better served by a mixed media campaign, incorporating the lower cost tactics in a holistic and targeted way.

Technical PR, Engineering PR, Industrial PR, Manufacturing PRPerhaps the best way to think about this is to imagine building a house. Each layer of bricks is dependent on the one beneath it and provides purchase for the one above it. In the same way PR, advertising, SEO, direct mail, e-mail, exhibitions and any other marketing tactic you care to name, support each other.

Many engineering firms report that, when asked why they have made contact, their own customers simply respond, “your Web site”. However, that’s a little bit like saying the reason that your walls stay standing is your house. Every customer is influenced by every marketing tactic they have been exposed to, just as each wall stays standing thanks to the combined efforts of each brick. No one simply lands on your Web site by accident and then finds that a need is created instantly.

But the question is, ‘which layer of bricks to put down first?’ Which marketing tactic should form my foundations, to horribly over extend my metaphor? The only honest answer I can give is that every marketing business in the world will say something different. PR consultancies will say publicity; ad men will argue for advertising, search gurus will say SEO and so on.

Ultimately, there is no one size fits all answer. I believe that the written and visual content produced during the PR process makes a great foundation for other elements of a marketing campaign. I offer that as honestly as possible, speaking as the owner of a consultancy from which you can buy a number of marketing tactics, including PR. If you want to chat while making up your own mind, give me a call on 0208 699 7743 or drop me an e-mail. I promise not to mention the global financial situation. I swear.

Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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