Challenging economy demands firms to focus on their strengths

A recent Wall Street Journal piece on cutbacks in digital spending shook the confidence of many a Twitter user.

A recent Wall Street Journal piece on cutbacks in digital spending shook the confidence of many a Twitter user. The article tackled slashes in spending on experimental advertising online, citing the example of Chrysler, which will be cutting the percentage of overall budget it spends on “experimental ad buys” from 10% to 5%. A quick glance at the story might lead one to believe that Chrysler serves as a harbinger to an overall decline in digital initiatives. But that is very unlikely to be true. Even better for the readers of this column, the trends posited in the article is good news for PR professionals.

It is hardly surprising that in a tightening economic situation companies would rein in anything deemed “experimental.” For the purposes of the Journal piece, marketing tactics expected to feel the crunch included widgets, virtual worlds, and mobile ads. Though some agencies have interactive departments fully capable of creating campaigns in these worlds, those three tools do not fit the core strength of PR practitioners.

That is to say – no one should read this article and think that digital campaigns are going to fade away. Unless the economy gets so bad that consumers have to hock their computers, the public will still be spending way too much time online – reading blogs, looking at Web sites to find a job, and logging on to social networks.

Smart agencies have apprised their clients that everything is transitioning online. In fact, this piece provides good ammunition for a sensible low-cost, high-value social media campaign that trades on results-oriented tactics. Financial services firm? Why set up shop in a virtual world where results are murky when you can give your CEO a blog to talk directly to stakeholders about how the company is faring in tough economic times. Consumer packaged-goods company? Why take a chance on a widget that may get downloaded and remain dormant on one's desktop when you can invite a number of aficionado bloggers to visit your headquarters or speak to your VP of product development.

In these heady digital times, agencies have understandably seen a grey middle area of marketing, and branched out to offer services targeted to a vast number of online opportunities. It's healthy for agencies to reach out of their comfort zone to offer more services to their clients. But we may very well be entering the era of retrenchment. In these tough financial times, firms will have to think long and hard about which services they excel at and which don't clearly mesh with their strongest skill sets.

We know that budget freezes and cuts are a good possibility in the ensuing months. Each marketing discipline will be making a strong case for the viability and importance of their services. Agencies with too many disparate offerings are more likely to find themselves on the wrong side of a budget cut. Agencies need to reiterate the same things they tell their clients. Focus on what you're good at, and nothing more.

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