In August 2008, when it appeared we were headed for a major economic collapse, I addressed my team with a speech called "Is it Nice or is it Necessary?" I told them to review the work we were doing for clients and if they were doing anything considered "nice," to expect the account to be gone within 60 to 90 days. If they were doing "necessary" work (crisis, direct sales support, social media, employee communications, IR, executive thought leadership), we would likely retain that business and possibly even grow it. Four months later, my address to the firm played out as predicted.
The years 2006, 2007, and most of 2008 were lush and clients didn't have to make tough choices. In late 2008 and 2009, clients had to slash budgets to the bone and all that remained was what absolutely had to get done. PR firms who were on their game in 2009 figured this out quickly. Some even prospered in the world of the "necessary." Others faced major losses and staff cutbacks.
So what have we learned? PR and communications have risen in the ranks of executive perception. PR is no longer seen as a "nice to have." It is clearly a "need to have." For the first time in my career, I would say that reputation management is at the tip of every CEO's tongue. We are now seen as the doctors who can save the reputations of our corporate patients. The economic collapse, coupled with the PR industry's grasp of the social media landscape, is propelling our business forward.
We have a massive opportunity ahead. For the first time in my career, the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The Economist are writing about the rise of our profession and the golden road ahead. Private equity firm, VSS, forecasts that spending on PR in America will surpass $8 billion by 2013, with much of the growth coming from online. But as economic times become more positive, let's not lose focus on what "necessary PR" is and what it is not. It is not armies of publicists flacking the next new thing. It is strategic counsel, crisis management, and social and media relations that support business goals.
With more communications channels to navigate, an evolving social media landscape, and a 24-hour global news cycle, the demands on talent are high. In addition, with the convergence of disciplines, PR professionals will need to analyze communications issues through a wider, multidisciplinary lens. From what I can see, I think we are up for the challenge.
Jennifer Prosek is CEO of CJP Communications.