Marketing, Public Relations

Marketing and PR: the shape of our industry to come

26 May 2020 4 min read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

If history has taught us anything, it’s that when the going gets tough, marketing is nearly always the first department to face cuts.

Understandably, with budgets capsized, leaders will naturally prioritise activity that keeps the lights on and salaries paid. What’s more, given the sensitive nature of the current financial crisis, most marketers would agree that an adjustment of approach has been necessary – after all, no one wants to be an ambulance chaser. 

Predictably, research from the World Federation of Advertisers’ Covid-19 response tracker has now revealed that 89% of large multinational companies deferred marketing campaigns in April, up from 81% in March.  What’s more, 52% of marketers at these companies said they’ll now hold back ad spend for six months or more, compared to just 19% who considered taking similar medium-term action last month.

Should marketers ‘stay dark’ or raise spend?

At present, only 7% of brands want to ‘seize the opportunity’ to invest more in marketing during Covid-19. As the threat lessens alongside scientific advancements, marketers will inevitably grow more confident – but the financial crash that follows the pandemic may introduce a fresh wave of budget reductions. 

While the need to keep a cap on spend and adopt a delicate approach to advertising is perfectly reasonable given the uncertainty of the current climate, this knee-jerk reaction could in fact be to the detriment of their sustainability and growth in the long-term. 

When McGraw-Hill Research studied the 1981 and ’82 recession, it found that companies that marketed aggressively had 256% higher sales than those that did not. 

Of course, much has changed since then. 

However, studies since then have consistently shown that stopping all marketing activity in the wake of an economic downturn hurts a business’ chance of bouncing back stronger. 

Opportunities in a volatile economy

While the Coronavirus pandemic has been colossal by comparison to previous crises, it would be shortsighted to say there won’t be opportunities for success in the future. 

In the flames of recession, entrepreneurial spirits are born. During the financial crash of 2008, swathes of businesses struggled to stay afloat – on the other hand, job losses in the tech and creative industries saw a surge in start-up activity as talented professionals took their skills to new ventures that flourished to become some of the industry’s most dominant players. Uber, Airbnb and Slack were just a few of the enterprises founded at the time of the credit crunch.

In the next ten years, there will no doubt be a host of new brands that could be as well known as the above. Rather than unicorns, they will be the phoenixes who rise from the ashes to deliver solutions for a whole new breed of consumer.

What journalists want: navigating the current PR & comms landscape

From the symphony of strangers coming together to clap for key workers to the everyday fundraising heroes; from the lockdown weddings to the nation’s PE teacher – it doesn’t take a PR expert to notice that the media are eager to give us some good news. 

The best-received stories on the news right now are the uplifting ones. From a business perspective, that could mean an initiative your company has launched to support your customers, valuable insights your company has uncovered from research or a successful fundraising campaign it has spearheaded. 

When pitching stories to the press, it is of the utmost importance for customers to respond positively to the crisis without sounding tone-deaf. Consumers are more alert than ever (no pun intended) to the companies looking for a quick win in the crisis. For that reason, the severity of the situation must always be acknowledged while the tone must be uplifting: juggling the two is a challenging task to say the least. 

What customers want: why authenticity is everything

Within PR and marketing groups, there has been talk of an era of anti-marketing, whereby brands prioritise helping people above innovative creativity. Although somewhat extreme, this is only an extension of the shift in consumer preferences that was taking place prior to the pandemic. Inboxes and social channels awash with competing messages, people were increasingly engaging with brands who were honest and transparent in their approach.

A recent study from Kantar shone a light into consumer expectations during the coronavirus pandemic. According to their research, 75% of respondents feel strongly that companies should not use this time to promote their band – yet only 8% of the same group suggested that companies should halt PR & advertising activities altogether.

It leaves us in a grey area – a Zoom call bursting with ideas that are quickly extinguished by a concerned voice suggesting it may hamper the reputation of the company in the eyes of its target audience. However, further findings from the same research may serve to provide some guidance.

As ever, 77% of respondents expect brands to be helpful during the pandemic. In practice, that means choosing carefully what you promote, how you position successes and putting the focus firmly on ways you can genuinely support your customers. 

It isn’t about spinning an unrelated victory to appeal to your audience; it isn’t about bombarding your audience with ads about how you can “help.” 

It’s not about completely cutting spend, but rather about taking a sensitive approach to PR and marketing campaigns. Only by delivering an authentic message that clearly communicates how your product, service or personnel can help during this difficult time.

In truth, it’s the same approach we’ve always taken to advertising, marketing, and PR: your goal, above all, should be to earn your audience’s trust.  Only a genuine brand who stays true to their values can be successful during this time: if that isn’t your business, it’s best to take a step back.