Monday, December 22, 2008

Value investing in public relations

The public relations profession is ending 2008 getting a good smack, but somehow, the boat rights itself and sails on.

TechCrunch domo Michael Arrington stomps his feet and declares the embargo is dead because some "PR firms are out of control" so everybody has to suffer.

Brunswick Group partner Nina Devlin was allegedly the unwitting "golden goose" of her husband's inside stock trading scheme. As an additional consequence, her firm lost the Dow Chemical M&A account.

Tech client turnover was 30.4% in 2008, according to StevensGouldPincus, yet the overall industry was a 22% rate, one percentage point lower than last year.

And although there are no official numbers, business is tougher than usual, but not as bad as being an investment banker for Lehman Brothers or Citigroup.

Global advertising giants like Omnicom and WPP may lay off thousands of employees, but somehow, despite the rocky waters, PR hangs in and there are still opportunities to be found with enough patience, networking and referrals.

The saving grace for PR has got to be value. That's the magic watchword these days -- "value" -- for consumers and businesses alike. For holiday shopping season, everybody is looking for the best bang for the buck, where they will get the most for their money. It leads them to JC Penney and Kohl's over Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.

Unless a company invests thousands or millions of dollars in an advertising campaign, or goes on a blitz of buying Google Adwords, neither of which is high on the scale of ROI and credibility for a serious ramp-up, nothing equates to a smart, creative, well-executed public relations campaign. That is, as long as it's done by somebody who knows what they're doing.

A one-time New York Times or Wall Street Journal ad may cost $120,000 out of pocket, but for that amount, you can get a year's worth of actual credible press about you, done with finesse and strategy. That kind of action can move lips... and incoming revenue figures.

As bad as the economy looks, with relentless stories of layoffs, unsold cars sitting on shipping docks, bailouts, cut benefits and services, this may be the redeeming time for the public relations industry. There will always be a few bad apples just like any other profession, but when companies seek the most cost effective way to communicate their messages and sell their product, suddenly, PR looks like a damn good deal. Cheap chic, like shopping at Target.

Just because we're in the middle of the worst recession in 40 years doesn't mean companies are taking a vacation from expanding into fertile territory for new revenue streams and pumping up their brand names. Some of those companies are 800-pound gorillas which can steal market share dramatically.

Do you sit idly by, hoping that your sales force will somehow save the day or do you put public relations into action and take turf for yourself before others do?

This is the time for a value investment into the public relations professionals who can act like your own personal Cabinet advisers and executors. While online click through rates fall and companies switch ad agencies like musical chairs, a good PR counsel knows how to master both traditional and digital media to keep the drumbeat going.

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