Service is key to survive a recession

The word is out: it's no longer the R word; we're in a recession. In times like this, businesses can face a serious dilemma. There's a saying that cash is king, but for cash-strapped businesses looking to cut expenses, the marketing budget (where PR/communications typically is housed) is the first to go.

The word is out: it's no longer the R word; we're in a recession. In times like this, businesses can face a serious dilemma. There's a saying that cash is king, but for cash-strapped businesses looking to cut expenses, the marketing budget (where PR/communications typically is housed) is the first to go.

Although it's counterintuitive to everything we believe, as leaders of communication practices, we too are subject to recession and need to look to cut expenses, including our own PR, marketing, and sales. But if firms can be innovative in the way we keep our names front and center with potential clients, we need to do the same to maintain our current clients. While some practices will struggle, others will continue to rise and even increase business for both their clients and themselves.

Credibility, trust, meaningful results, and communication hold the highest importance in maintaining clients. Arguably, client service is the dividing line between firms whose clients scatter and those who stay, especially in an economic downturn.

It's well known that it costs five times more to attract a new client than to organically grow an existing client relationship. As a bonus, retaining clients through loyalty often results in requests that go beyond initial needs. By building plans that reach new areas - such as convergent media and online technology - we can provide PR tools that further drive clients' business goals. This situation creates a profitable investment for both parties and keeps clients coming back.

Times of trouble can either make or break a relationship between a firm and client. Slow business provides the opportunity to leverage client communication. It is not uncommon to have clients that are unresponsive to e-mails, canceling meetings, or so busy at times that they seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. When our clients need more attention, such as when their businesses are struggling, it is our duty to adapt to their needs and provide the necessary service. Through this additional communication, we can bridge from a weak client relationship to one that carries weight and substance.

Furthermore, when a client crisis - such as the economic struggles that businesses are facing now - arises, it's more effective to have a PR team already on board. Providing our clients with reliable, strong counsel allows them to be better prepared to weather the storm when it occurs. Even though you might want to cut your travel budget to adjust to the changing economy, in-person meetings once a quarter or twice a year can pay back the travel expense five-fold.

While increasing PR efforts to drive success in a slow economy might seem like it's a risk to businesses, once the relationship is established, ideas, growth, and concrete planning can follow. By proving its worth through strategic planning, communication, and meaningful results, in the good times and the bad, your agency ensures the success not only of its clients, but also of itself.

Gini Dietrich is the CEO of Arment Dietrich.

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