Martin Hunt: When times get tough don’t ditch PR!

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AS we all know, the rec­ession continues to bite deep into our pockets and there seems little sign of green shoots appearing, even though spring is just around the corner.

However, as Bill Gates is rep­uted to have said, if he was down to the last dollar of his marketing budget, he would spend it on public relations.

Public relations is not Ab Fab, not turning the crap into credible or the dull into delicious; it is about maintaining your public profile to keep your name front of mind.

This is now the third recession I have endured in my career and, despite difficult times in the past, we have always got through it and we will do so again. However, those who maintain their PR budgets and PR campaigns will be the first to feel the benefits when the economic “spring” finally does return.

The majority of Scotland’s businesses are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). We need to support each other and those businesses who make our towns, cities and the rural communities thrive must be encouraged to take a positive stand in keeping ahead of the game.

A very recent example of a business that successfully built their public profile through the media is the Harris Distillery, a new, proposed, whisky distillery at Tarbert. When told that they were to be the recipients of grant aid from the Scottish Government, the company instructed a business PR campaign in order to seek further investors to bridge the funding gap and this was achieved within a month of the campaign being launched. All being well, we will now see a new industry established in the Outer Isles that will create jobs and benefit not only the local economy but also the wider economy of Scotland.

Public relations has developed to encompass social media, with a wide range of tools such as viral campaigns, Twitter, Face­book, apps and instant messaging all playing a vital role in maintaining a businesses presence in the market. However, tweeting, for example, does need to be effectively managed – the recipients of tweets don’t want to know what you had for breakfast, unless, of course, your client is Kellogg’s! Tweets must have genuine interest to recipients.

Social media takes time to successfully execute, but it is time well spent if it reaches the right audience. An example of a highly successful viral campaign was when a bottle of Veuve Cliquot was found in a Scottish castle in 2008 which was found to be the oldest bottle in existence at the time. The bottle was returned to its place of origin and now takes pride of place in the museum at the Veuve Cliquot HQ. A viral campaign about this bottle conservatively reached more than 100 million viewers or readers.

Clients who choose to spend their budget on PR benefit greatly as it is more cost-effective than advertising. A recent example of this is a training establishment that deliberately chose to use PR over advertising. At the end of the first year, a full evaluation of the campaign took place and it showed an increase in course enrollment from 20% to 80%, with the PR campaign proving to be a highly effective method of achieving increased student numbers at a lower cost than an advertising campaign.

Planning timelines and seasonality, whether that be form production schedules, judicial, parliamentary or academic terms, is imperative to the success of your presence in the right publications at the right time – don’t think you will make the Christmas gift guides by sending out a release in December or launching a new academic module in September without planning long lead magazines to ensure coverage at the time when the desired audience is there to receive the message.

While we all look to save money during difficult times value for money, topic-related, project-based campaigns are often an excellent way to ensure business profiles are maintained.

Being seen to comment on issues as opinion-formers is a good way to maintain profile; however, the constant drip of substantive stories continues to be the most cost-effective method of reaching the audience and allows constant monitoring of industry issues for comment.

As with many industries, when the going gets tough rec­ruitment suffers. Dropping PR can be likened to the reduction of apprenticeship schemes and the result is, five years on, there is no one to do the job. Drop PR and loose your identity.

PR is also about observing changes in culture, attitude and responsibility, particularly corporate responsibility, so to maintain your corporate responsibility programme, retain your retainers and you will be the first out of the wood.

• Martin Hunt is managing director of Tartan Silk Public Relations

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