Challenges of '09 offer PR pros opportunity to show true value

Now that the most feared year in recent memory has begun, all organizations, especially those that do business in the consumer space, must look hard at their communications strategy.

Now that the most feared year in recent memory has begun, all organizations, especially those that do business in the consumer space, must look hard at their communications strategy. Will they continue trumpeting the severely reduced prices and bundled deals that were rolled out for the holiday season? Or will they go dark and cut marketing spend?

While all marketing communications professionals have the right to be concerned with the marketplace, this year will provide savvy pros an opportunity to show their skills. Below are some tenets any marketer should embrace and promote to their clients or bosses.

Value isn't just about price. Wal-Mart unsurprisingly does well in a down economy. But it's folly to think consumers flock there only to get cheap goods. Wal-Mart offers brand-name items at cheap prices because of its purchasing scale. If price were the sole determinant in times like these, all brand names would plummet and store brands would ascend at equal levels. Humans – with a need to fit in and project status – don't lose their desires and insecurities just because times are tough.

SEO will save the day. Getting a company or its product near the top of important search queries will be paramount to any success in 2009. Consumers will want to take their time when buying an item and will feel much less harried searching online than wandering around a store. If the industry decides to abdicate this part of the online battle, it does so at a great penalty. We hear agencies continue to talk about the graying of disciplines. If this is so, then consider adding SEO as an offering.

Think twice about stunts. With lighter wallets, consumers will likely become a bit more rational (total rationality, say behavioral economists, is unattainable). That's why a “Subservient Chicken 3.0” is a nonstarter. You may get page views (especially if a fair amount of your audience is out of work), but they'll more likely disassociate their enjoyment of a Web game or viral video with their tangible wants.

Don't drop cause partnerships. As Chrysler and AIG learned, the public is well attuned to corporate spending. That bailout money was perceived to go to an ad campaign and a lavish retreat infuriated stakeholders. In this climate, every company will do something to outrage customers because of its perceived profligacy. That anger will be compounded to the nth degree if said company cut philanthropic efforts that benefit the common good.

There are, of course, no definitive answers on how to meet 2009's challenges. But these guidelines can help your organization stay in the good graces of a consumer population that will be under great stress this year.

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