Thursday, December 20, 2007

PR's winning ways in recession

Despite assurances from the British Prime Minister yesterday, there are a number of commentators reflecting on the prospect of recession. Comments by Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Joachim Fels of Morgan Stanley are but two and public opinion in the USA is of a similar mind.

If the US goes into recession, the world has to tighten its belt too.

In these time of universal interactive communication when intangible assets have a greater influence in the economy, what do we need to consider? The first is that the knowledge economy goes much further that the exchange of arcane patents and processes deep into the the interactive crowd of Facebookers and bloggers. They are participants in knowledge of organisations, intellectual properties, products, processes, trade, products and services as well as confidence and mood. In the last four years, this extension of social media means a much greater part of the population is involved in the knowledge economy offering added direct and indirect corporate assets.

The extent to which organisations can use the combination of transparency and porosity to gain advantage in economic slow down depends on the extent to which they can use interactive public relations and gain advantage from the relationship cloud.

As economies slow, there is a ripple effect and experience will tell us that the process begins with worries over sales. Recruitment is stopped, travel budgets are squeezed, inventory is tightened, R&D is focued on the short term and marketing budgets slashed. A question mark will hang over PR.

As the brochure print run is reduce, film and photographic budgets slim, exhibitions and conferences are eschewed and everything is turned to face the shop window or is shunted out of the back door, times seem very hard.

Typically in these times, such steps will go through two or three iterations as the red ink keeps coming.

The loss of confidence, that most intangible of harbingers, means this belt tightening will go on far too long after the recovery is under way and economies begin to grow again.

The best companies will stay in touch with the market, retain and re-deploy the most tallented employees, and will hang on to the best ideas and developments and those assets that are of greatest value beyond some of the less productive corporate icons. In addition they will work with the most agile and innovative vendors.

Where in this mayhem is the PR advantage?

We have the advantage that corporations are more aware of the value of relationships and that the web is now interactive and we can achieve things that were not possible before.

The first addresses the problem of employees.

In recession, more people are more available as and when they are needed using online communication. The empty desks no longer means loss of capacity. The capacity, as and when it is needed is a mouse click, Skype conference or wiki post away. This does mean that companies have to become more porous. The communications professional should be in a position to aid this process, developing interactive solutions to create, build, sustain and motivate employees.

The cost of travel can be largely replaced in the effective interaction of the web. Not the dreaded video conference but the humanly interactive, richness offered in online social networks. by which I do not mean MySpace or Facebook, but similar deployed packages.

The once tight knit R&D group can lever up both the wisdom of crowds and huge opportunities available from the concept of open source participation applied not just to software but to almost any developmental innovation.

Meantime those so valuable but under utilised experts we used to find in mundane occupations, often dressed up as added responsibilities during recessions can now face front. People like product managers who are less active in a world where the supply chain is less active are a typical example. They are the authentic voice that can have such influnce in writing and interacting in the bloggersphere and using wiki's. They can now be deployed in creating a much closer and directs relationship with key markets and other publics.

Many marketing activities can be moved onlne with the advantage of being a less costly but more direct relationship building activity. The power of YouTube and Linkedin and their competitors are now available to in place of exhibitions. The cell phone can come into its own for web sized photography and video.

The natural discipline for this brand of relationships and communication professional, a person who understands the simplicity of VoIP, wiki's, blogs and the social side of social media. It is the person who sees widgets in place of data bases..

This is a corporate advisory role from is the person who can convince the corporation that niche is nice; the cultural disruption role of PR is significant and that PR has a specific role as a relationships management discipline (and is what is says on the tin).

This then is the big opportunity for PR when times are tough.

Exciting huh!

Image from: