There’s an interesting story it today’s Telegraph about the effect any economic downturn might have on the PR industry.
Columnist Richard Rivlin writes, “…the industry of spin continues to enjoy strong growth compared with advertising and other parts of the marketing mix…”
The article then goes on to profile Freshwater as a firm that is destined to weather the storm and focuses in particular on the company’s broad client base along with its range of services.
Having a diverse client list is always good practice no matter the economic climate. This is clear. And, developing new services to sell to existing clients is always good business. So I think that Rivlin is probably right about Freshwater.
But I’ve through my share of recessions in this biz, and along the way I have learned a few things about how to survive.
In the early 90s it was really bad. No one from my class at college could even find a job when we graduated in 1991. I had spent a year as the student representative on the board of IABC Capitale and made some contacts that paid off in the form of a nine-month contract with AECL. I ended up with perminent job.
LESSON LEARNT: Investing time in building a network of contacts will always pay dividends.
By 93 I was in the UK and landed a contract as a part-time writer in a small, regional PR firm. Times had been tough for that agency, and they’d recently downsized. They needed strong writing skills but didn’t want the risk of taking on a salary or the premium price of using freelancers. So they got a what they needed at the time, and I got my foot on the first rung of a UK PR career. I later became a full-time employee and played a key role in developing a profitable newsletter publishing department within the agency.
LESSONS LEARNT: Resource accounts profitably by being flexible and creative with employees and contractors. Provide tactical services when budgets are tight. This way you can clearly demonstrate value for money as strategic counsel is tougher to quantify.
I was working at a boutique tech agency in the DC when terrorists stole large airliners and crashed them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York. The dotcom boom had already started to lose momentum before this event. 9/11 popped the bubble overnight.
Clients walked away from contracts in droves. Budgets were slashed. The party was over. Our agency’s staff was cut by a third. Some team members were offered part-time contracts; others were given salary cuts.
LESSONS LEARNT: With every problem there is an opportunity. An economic downturn is an excellent time for a cull. Less productive or problematic staff member can be shown the door. Contracts can be renegotiated to cut the fat. The result is a leaner, cost-effecient and, hopefully, highly-skilled team. My DC agency was sold to an international PR group soon after in a deal based on the quality of the team.
But still, I do tend to agree with PR Week Editor Danny Rogers who asks us to hold firm against the doom merchants in his Leader column this week. He writes, “We must avoid talking ourselves into a recession. Confidence remains high among consumers and there is little evidence th foundations of the PR industry are shaky.”