Maximizing Business Opportunities: Ability to Be Flexible, Manage Well and Keep High Profile Helps Firms Weather Economic Buffets

By Thompson, Kyla | Public Relations Journal, March 1992 | Go to article overview

Maximizing Business Opportunities: Ability to Be Flexible, Manage Well and Keep High Profile Helps Firms Weather Economic Buffets


Thompson, Kyla, Public Relations Journal


Ability To Be Flexible, Mangage Well And Keep High Profile Helps Firms Weather Economic Buffets

The national recession and the consequent fallout for business is no longer news for people in Denver, Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City. When the oil boom went bust in the early '80s, these cities and others were devastated. How public relations firms there survived is often a topic of conversation when practitioners share war stories.

What's becoming obvious is that those firms that did survive learned a lot. While in some locations, public relations business is up, firms in other parts of the country that are now muddling through a recession are calling for the survivors' advice.

A survey of several firm presidents provided a variety of helpful advice for others. The following tips are drawn from those interviews and my own experience. "When the competition gets tougher, an aggressive, well-directed communication strategy is a company's best chance to distinguish itself from competitors who are hoping to quietly wait out the recession," said Cheryl Gaston, APR, president of Gaston Public Relations in Flemington, NJ.

Strangely enough, one common behavior among many firms in cities suffering heavy recession is to deny that the recession will affect them. And many refuse to reflect the seriousnes of the economic situation in their firm management. For example, some firms refuse to alter their billing rates, markups, number of full-time employees, benefits, product lines, billing procedures and other basic tenets of firm management. Their reasoning is based on the attitude that if you alter the way you do business, you may be perceived as delivering lower-quality services.

The problem with this attitude is that firms have found it simply didn't fly with clients. When clients are facing equally tough times, layoffs or demands from their CEOs to cut back budgets, the attitude they least appreciate is the reverse reasoning from firms trying to get hired. The demise of one of Denver's largest advertising and public relations firms is attributed to this persistent attitude of refusing to bend with the market.

Specialize or generalize?

Many people ask if a firm should specialize or generalize during a recession. The economy often dictates the choice. In Colorado, I had hoped to specialize in health care, but because my firm could have only one general acute hospital client, one psychiatric hospital, one planned provider organization, and so on, we began running into conflicts of interest. Given our clientele, the speciality was ethically limited. To survive, we branched into other industries and became more of a generalist firm. Today, our partial client list is made up of a national retail grocery company, a national membership association, a regional brokerage firm, a statewide educational program, and a chain of senior health care centers. We ended up specializing more in public relations products and services than in an industry.

Some firms that have found a niche in national special events, marketing communications or minority public relations have done very well. "We specialize in public relations and marketing communications to the Hispanic market," said Steve Moya, president of Moya Villanueva in Los Angeles, CA, a partner company with Manning, Selvage & Lee. "Our clients see this market for today, and more importantly for the future." When asked if he believes the national recession will jeopardize his specialty, Moya said: "Most of our clients are just now beginning to communicate with the Hispanic market, and they don't want to go back now."

Focus on current clients

A frequent recommendation is to create more work from existing clients. Every company anticipating change because of tough economic times is looking for resources to help them make this change successfully.

The public relations firm that anticipates a company's anxiety and offers services that continue to help create and maintain relationships for the company, becomes a gold mine for its client. …

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