I’m not going to argue here that PR should be sacrosanct. If business has
slowed dramatically and you are making reductions across the organization,
there’s little choice. My point is simply this: Keep communicating — no
matter how much you need to reduce spending. It can be done.
Does this mean your reduced-spending PR will be as effective as your
approach in good times? It certainly will not. But we’re talking about a
crisis situation, here. So, find ways to keep pushing content out the door.
Why? Because if you don’t keep active in your normal channels during this
crisis, people will wonder what’s happened. And by people, I mean customers, investors, the media, partners, employees and others whose impressions — correct or not — can have long-term consequences for your business.
A start-up that suddenly goes radio silent can easily be thought headed for
the deadpool. What will that mean for fundraising? For deals under
negotiation? For attracting new talent? An established organization that
stops communicating creates uncertainty. Would you want to do business with a company that has questions swirling about its survival?
The next topic, then, is obvious. How can a company keep communicating with significant cuts? Maybe you just laid off your director of marketing and PR?
Perhaps you’ve fired your PR agency? How is this to be overcome, when the
necessary skill sets have just left the building?
The answer is simple, and should be self-evident to all the entrepreneurs
reading this. Do the best you can.
In this situation, a less artfully crafted press announcement is far better
than no announcement at all. Reduce quantity. Accept somewhat lower quality.
But get your story out. Keep making announcements. Reach out in those key situations where you normally would. Assign the work to someone who can do a decent job of it. But get it done.
Here are some areas you can focus on:
*STORY GENERATION.* It’s probably your head of PR or agency lead who would have driven efforts to select the activities you publicize. If this person is gone, the role should be shifted to a senior executive, even the CEO in
smaller organizations. It is this person’s responsibility to say: “We’re
launching XXXXX. That’s a good story. We should do some PR.” Often, this is
the hardest role to replicate with depleted resources, which is why I
suggest making it a senior responsibility. Once a story is decided, the rest
is just execution.
*PRESS RELEASES.* Though many bloggers hate releases with a passion, they remain the currency of outreach to the mainstream media. So, keep them rolling. Write them shorter — just the facts. Don’t worry about fine
wordsmithing. Write solid, informative headlines. Put the real news at the
top of the release. And write a short, no-spin quote. Done.
*PITCHING.* A press release without follow-up is like a car without gas. It
just won’t go. What to do? Assign someone, it can be an administrative
assistant if necessary, to follow up on announcements by calling down your
press list with a simple message: “We just sent out a release. I wanted to
make sure you’ve received it and ask if you need anything further.”
*NEW MEDIA.* Bloggers are really the easiest to reach in this kind of
situation. They don’t want press releases or PR pitches. Just a quick email
with the news, preferably from the CEO or a senior executive. Ideally,
you’ll put the news on your company blog and include a link to that post.
Then, just track coverage in your feedreader and feel free to comment back
on any coverage.
These are simply a handful of specific actions, and I’ll go into much
greater detail in subsequent issues. My main point today is to get you into
the mindset of communicating in a crisis environment. It doesn’t need to be
pretty. It won’t be perfect. But you do need to keep it moving until things
get back to normal.
A little extra work now can eliminate very serious problems down the road
when the economy improves. You do not want to hear: “We thought you guys had disappeared in the recession, so we went with XXXXX.”