With a corporate earnings recession gathering steam, it's time to
ask a difficult question: are we repeating the same mistakes made during
the previous down-turn in the early '90s?
Those with long memories will recall how the public relations industry
was hit very hard by an exodus of middle managers, many of whom were
disenfranchised due to a lack of upward mobility that resulted from
spending cutbacks and squeeze on the bottom line.
The industry remains highly fragmented, gender and age inequity is
rampant, and the business model shows few signs of changing. However,
almost in spite of itself, a strong case could be made that PR should
not be cut. Here's why:
1. Increased media and audience specialization. Two words: the
Access and the number of outlets where we get and receive information
have exploded since the last recession. This change has elevated the
value of portraying messages in traditional as opposed to
2. Complexity of managing perception. If perception is reality, then the
reverse also has grown to be true. The growth of spin has created an
environment where audiences are segmented almost to the point of
The irony may be that the more people think they can control and
segment, the more they need PR to explain why they could not.
3. Where's the payoff? The following statement seems like a simple
enough conclusion: without external acceptance from those with
influence, the bottom line will fade. Yet this notion has always been
difficult to prove in a straight PR context. It shouldn't be when you
stop to think about it.
Consider Yahoo! as an example. As the company built a cult brand,
investors and news media were enamored with the company's portal model
and promise of "eyeballs," which were supposed to generate unlimited
revenue. News coverage was endlessly positive. When the portal model got
over-extended and sales dropped, coverage turned south. The company
recently named a new CEO and is just now beginning to portray a new
message in the marketplace.
To those who make key decisions, it bears repeating: watch how deep you
cut. Not learning from previous mistakes has a weird historical way of
catching up with all of us.