Smart marketers will not let the economy sober the conversation

Of all the positive experiences during my more than five-year tenure at PRWeek, I am perhaps proudest that I never wrote a column in the form of a series of Tweets.

Of all the positive experiences during my more than five-year tenure at PRWeek, I am perhaps proudest that I never wrote a column in the form of a series of Tweets. Although, I admit, I did just contemplate that approach now. Just so you know – writing a final column is difficult.

I leave PRWeek as it – and the industry it covers – is about to undertake a major transition. But this column is not about me. (N.B.: Disregard the above.) And it's not about the team at PRWeek and Haymarket Media. (N.B.: But it is; quickly, this editorial team has shown a great intellectual curiosity and unflappable dedication to ferreting out important industry news. Not enough words can be spilled on the dedication of the sales, Web, events, circulation, and other PRWeek-focused teams.) This is also about this bewildering environment, and what marketers should make of it.

There would be plenty to ruminate over without economic strife, but that we find ourselves in this situation gives the timid cover to slash budgets and stick with the traditional. That is a failing policy. If you spent any time online last week, you surely came across the New Yorker article about Kellogg's marketing during the Great Depression.

“Kellogg's doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies... By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg's profits had risen almost 30% and it had become what it remains today: the industry's dominant player.”

I would urge everyone in this industry to spend a moment re-reading that paragraph, and then spend many more moments trying to impress that cause and effect on whoever controls the budgets at their companies and clients. Organizations have to trim the fat, but cannot cut deep into bone without causing lingering pains (not to mention major skeletal disfiguration).

Companies that smartly market to their valued constituents during this time will be primed to take advantage of that situation. Just because people are not spending at their previous rates, they are not turning off their computers or TVs. They will still retain marketing messages; they will still buy (limited) goods.

It won't be easy – the public has turned sharply against imperiled companies using dwindling revenues on outside firms instead of improvements elsewhere. The industry has previously failed to convince talking heads, politicians, and the populous that PR is much more than sheen. That battle must be won. The conversation must continue.

I will continue the conversation at a social media firm, where I will serve as director of the media practice. There remains much to figure out, and I look forward to PRWeek's continued excellent coverage of the ever-changing marketing communications space.

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