Rachel Hargrave, The Phoenix Partners - Life in a post-recession world

The public and third sectors may still have the jitters, but things are looking up elsewhere.

I think it's fair to say that the past 12 to 18 months have been one of the most interesting periods for businesses of all shapes and sizes. The recession was talked about for months before it happened, and yet it seemed we were powerless to halt its approach.

Some say this is because our economy is no longer independent but closely linked to what happens in the rest of the world. It is inevitable, they say, that what happens elsewhere (especially in economies the size of the US) will have an effect on us.

Some, however, just find it easier to blame the media for 'talking it up'.

But what of the next 12 to 18 months? What does the future hold? How will it play out for those of us in PR agencies and - just as important - for our clients? I can only judge by my experience here at The Phoenix Partners and that of other agencies I've talked to as I do the rounds.

Overall, many agencies in the Midlands are optimistic. Some tightened their belts during the darkest months of the downturn but those that I have spoken to recently are seeing fresh opportunities.

Quite a few reported that even when the recession was at its worst, their clients, although cautious about extra spending, remained able (and willing) to spend their PR budgets, which hadn't been cut or frozen.

Those clients, if they are anything like ours, believe that PR is measurable and, they feel, more obviously measurable than the results of spending on some of the other marketing and promotional activities, which were frozen or cut altogether.

Confidence remains shaky among our clients when it comes to increasing budgets or investing in other activities alongside PR, but PR is holding its own. Yes, we've had to be even more creative and innovative, and yes, we've had to ensure that our campaigns deliver the requisite results, but then would we have it any other way?

Looking to the future we have some great opportunities. These are in the private sector - there is nothing coming out of the public or third sectors right now.

Should we take this as a warning or are we just seeing a new cloud on the horizon? No, what we are seeing is several of our public sector clients being understandably nervous about the oft-talked about cuts to public spending. They are flagging up to us now that plans may need to be reviewed after the general election.

But it is our third sector clients who are future-gazing the most.

The fundraising and marketing director for a local charity, for which we do some pro bono work, has told me that they are expecting the wave to hit them in May 2011. I was intrigued and asked her why.

Her answer was that 2008-09 was the period when the recession hit the private sector, so 2010 looks to be the year when the public sector gets hit and that will inevitably lead to cuts in funding for parts of the third sector, anticipated to kick in next year.

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, I remain quietly optimistic. Changes are inevitable and I believe that there will be continued pressure on those working in the PR industry to further understand and realise the impact that social media, for example, are having on communication and to harness them effectively for their clients.

I also believe that the past 12 months have reminded those of us in PR of some of the essential ground rules, one of which says that what sets an agency apart is its ability to add that personal touch - and understanding - for each of its clients.

Happy hunting!


- What is the best example of campaigning journalism in your area?

The Leicester Mercury's campaign to help Loros (the Leicestershire and Rutland Hospice) raise £500,000 to complete its building extension. The extension will provide much-needed extra facilities. With only a fraction of the money needed being supplied centrally, Loros had to raise the rest. The Leicester Mercury found innovative ways to bring attention to what was essentially a fundraising campaign. It ran the Challenge Marissa campaign (Marissa being one of Loros' well-known fundraisers) and pledged - in black and white - to raise every last penny of the shortfall.

- Rachel Hargrave is a director at The Phoenix Partners

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