Danny Rogers: Green shoots still rather thin on the ground

The phrase 'green shoots' has been strictly banned by the comms directors in the main political parties for fear of a subsequent public backlash (God forbid any transgressors within the Tory ranks after the week Andy Coulson has had).

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Ironically, however, the media have become tangibly keen to seek out good news stories, having realised that the doom-laden narrative of the past year no longer sells newspapers or drives broadcast audiences. Swine flu alone provides quite enough fodder for scaremongering without economic negativity being piled on top. One comms director told me this week that The Times in particular was trawling for ‘positive business stories’.

With this in mind, while chairing a comms directors event last week, I felt brave enough to ask the assembled in-house luminaries for a show of hands from all those observing green shoots in their businesses. Three hands were raised nervously out of the 60-strong audience.

Either it has become unfashionable to be an extrovert optimist these days (which is unusual within the PR milieu) or things are still pretty bad out there.

The latest Bellwether Report, published this week, tried to sound optimistic. It said: ‘For the second quarter in a row [Q2, 2009] the rate of decline in marketing spend has eased, linked to an improvement in business confidence.’

The harsh reality is that advertising spend is due to fall by 13.3 per cent in 2009 and will be flat at best in 2010. And currently ‘all other’ marketing spend – which includes PR, event, sponsorship and market research – is performing even worse.

The Bellwether’s categorisation means it is hard to gauge what this means for those businesses that rely on PR budgets. We will probably have to wait for WPP/Omnicom’s latest figures to get a clearer picture.

The truth is we’re all ready to be more optimistic. But we’re desperately in need of solid evidence to bring back underlying business confidence, on which the comms industry thrives.

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