The importance of communication roles in an economic downturn

Across the province and across the headlines, the news has been grim. Thousands of people laid off in the wake of the decline of global oil prices. Cost-cutting and cost-saving tactics are being implemented in organizations of all types in Alberta, as we hold our collective breath for the stock ticker to resume an upwards swing.

But for marketing and communications professionals across the province, is the downturn as drastic as it is for employees in other roles? Is this prime time for organizations to ramp up their public relations efforts? Chris McPhail, managing director and partner at Strut Creative, seems to think so.

“Downturns are the best times to think forward because you can then position yourself to capitalize when things turn back around,” says Chris. “We’ve seen an increasing number of clients asking the firm to plan and execute more complex, multi-channel campaigns and engagement initiatives, despite the slumping provincial economy.”

This insight may have some readers asking “why?” Perhaps you have been laid off in the past few months, or perhaps you’re worried about your job. As this blogger experienced while working for a public relations firm during the 2008 economic downturn, companies may lay off employees with marketing and communications functions first, but they then realize that they actually need those people to help with brand reputation, crisis communications, employee communications, media relations, and so on. So what happens next? Those companies who let their in-house experts go end up turning to external PR firms for the work.

Marketing, communications and public relations experts will always be needed within companies. Not only do they help the company manage their reputation internally and externally, they can help the company plan for when better times return.

As Aaron Salus, founder, chairman and strategist at Strut points out: “Today’s economy provides an opportunity for brands and companies to differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd. Innovation is almost easier to manage and execute because the market is less noisy.”

Aaron goes on to say that companies are even damaging their bottom line by cutting jobs directly tied to top-line revenue, such as marketing. “Even in tight economic times, cutting marketing budgets can result in lost sales, not improved revenues.”

What does this blogger suggest you do if you have to make the tough decisions about where to make cuts in your organization? Keep your communications and marketing team, if you can. These are the experts who can best tell the stories to your internal audiences (and this is key time to keep your employees well-informed), as well as to your external audiences, so that your organization can rebound at a faster pace than your competitors when the economy begins to look brighter.

Navigating communications in a downturn?

[This post was originally written for IABC Calgary in March 2015, but it was never published. As the economy in Calgary continues to struggle, the points are still relevant.]


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