Five ways to stay on top during 2009

What's on your to-do list for 2009? As we move into a new year full of challenges for the PR industry, Cathy Wallace looks at the top five New Year's resolutions made by the UK's comms professionals

1 Survive the credit crunch

It is time for PR teams and agencies to take a good hard look at their expense accounts. Networking with clients and journalists will still be important in 2009 but is shelling out for an account at Spearmint Rhino really necessary? Not according to the management team at Pleon UK, which is sacrificing its corporate membership with the establishment in 2009.

Simon Corbett, director of Jargon Public Relations, is taking a similar stance towards slightly more civilised client meetings at The Dorchester over afternoon tea.

‘I fell in love with The Dorchester six years ago but for the sake of the wallet and the waistline, I will try to cut back,’ he says.

David Williams, senior press officer at Ladbrokes, adds: ‘Essential expenses for a PRO are very different from essential expenses elsewhere in the workplace, and this has long been the cornerstone on which I’ve attempted to get away with blue murder.’ But now, Williams says, hotels will be replaced with B&Bs, black cabs will make way for pre-booked taxis and even the utterly essential drinks bill after a night out with journalists will be a bottle of wine or two lighter.

Cutting back on the unnecessary expenditure means necessary costs can still be met. ‘We are going to keep tight controls on our cashflow and operational costs so we can continue to properly reward and motivate our people,’ says Grant Currie, managing director of Inferno.

As long as motivation does not take the form of a night at Spearmint Rhino or tea at The Dorchester, agencies will be geared up for survival.

The credit crunch is likely to impact on the media and the PR team at Synergy has resolved to update its press lists so as not to send releases to journalists recently made redundant.

But in all the doom and gloom, do not forget the silver lining. Fiona Thorne, MD of Fishburn Hedges, says: ‘Turbulent and challenging times can present great opportunities for fresh thinking.’

2 Embrace the digital age

If your website is more of an online brochure than a fully interactive, transparent window into your agency or organisation, 2009 is the year to bring it up to speed, or risk being left behind in the digital revolution.

‘It’s madness not to have a good website,’ says Steve Earl, blogger and MD of tech agency Rainier PR. ‘Most sites are stuck in the dark ages, and even those with blogs or video clips are in many cases just like putting lipstick on a pig. Our own site is probably only worth six out of 10 and is something we’ll be working on in 2009.’

There is more to mastering digital than just having a cutting-edge website. The team at Waggener Edstrom has pledged to fully incorporate social media into all PR campaigns. And Martin Long, MD
of Golley Slater’s PR division, says: ‘We want to shatter the myth that digital stuff is something done by boffins in the back room.’

Chris McCafferty, director of Shine Communications, sums up by saying he plans to make 2009 the year the industry stops talking about online and offline as if they are different things. ‘It’s all communication,’ he argues.

3 Win an industry award

Whether it is a much-coveted PRWeek Award, or collecting one of the many other industry accolades, every agency and team should be aiming to win a shiny gong this year.

Recognition from the entire PR industry that your agency or in-house team is the best provides a boost to team morale and gives an edge when it comes to recruitment.

Awards do not just look nice in a trophy cabinet – they motivate staff and send out a clear message to clients and competition that the team is one to be reckoned with.

Deborah Clark, account manager at Fido PR, scooped the CIPR’s North West Young Communicator of the Year Award this year and is fired up for more success in 2009. She says: ‘Success not only motivates and celebrates the work agency and in-house PR staff do, but it promotes professional practice in the workplace.’

Gordon Tempest-Hay, MD of Blue Rubicon, which won PRWeek Consultancy of the Year in 2008, adds: ‘Awards provide tangible proof that our work is among the best around. The day after the ceremony, it’s as if the entire agency is walking around with a grin on its face.’

4 Find a work/life balance

Turn off the BlackBerry at weekends. Join a gym. Finish a novel you started six months ago, because 2009 is the year PR professionals need to make time outside work to enjoy the finer things in life.

‘At weekends, I’m going to assume email is a bloke from Yorkshire,’ pledges Denise Mullen, MD of Stripe Communications.

Jaime Markey, MD of JAMpr, explains: ‘Getting the right work/life balance has never been more crucial when we are surrounded by nothing but doom and gloom in the economy.’

Whether this means taking up yoga, saying no to working on a Sunday afternoon or just spending more time with family, achieving a work/life balance will not just benefit PR professionals personally, but will also help them put the most into the time they do spend at work.

Markey says: ‘In our industry we spend our working life servicing others, so it’s important to do something just for you every now and again.’

In that spirit, Katy Scott, account manager at Full Portion Media, says this year she will be taking up belly-dancing, ‘in an effort to get the midriff of a Pussycat Doll’.

5 Invest more in CSR

In turbulent financial times it is important not to undo all of the good CSR work the PR industry has done so far.

Last year ‘credit crunch’ replaced CSR as the term of choice, and it is easy to let environmental targets, charity partnerships and community initiatives fall by the wayside , but CSR will remain important in 2009 for agencies and teams.

Freelance PRO Nicola Miller says: ‘I’m going to make sure I’m being as eco-friendly as possible. This may be a challenge to balance with being cost-effective but it will be worth it if I can maintain green practitioner status.’

Suzanne Stevenson, media and public relations manager at Scope, says the charity is going to practice what it preaches by recruiting a disabled press officer: ‘Having someone who can bring direct experience to the issues we cover will add a valuable new perspective to our work’.

Penny Crook, head of PR at Media Trust, suggests PR professionals looking to do their bit for CSR can give up time to be matched with a charity looking for PR help, through the Media Trust. ‘It’s a nice opportunity to give something back,’ she suggests.

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