Advertising & Marketing

Wednesday, 15 July 2009 14:07

Don’t lose your voice in the cool economic climate

{pp}Communication is what connects you with your customers, staff and other stakeholders, so it should stay high on the priority list in an economic downturn says Ronelle Bester, MD of Red Ribbon Communications.

It is puzzling that during an economic downturn, companies look at cutting their public relations (PR) budgets. It is understandable that traditional advertising budgets might get slashed, but PR is a critical element in connecting a business with its stakeholder groups, whether they are customers, staff, shareholders or partners.

The bottom line is that we can’t stop communicating. Human beings and the organisations we form are inherently social, and communication is part and parcel of what we do. If you cut your PR budget, you won’t stop communicating, you will just do it less effectively, and this will have an impact on your profile with your stakeholder groups. Also, less of a focus on communication during a downturn means that you will have to work much harder to gain the ground you lose by slowing down on communications in a recession. By keeping communications consistent regardless of the economic climate, a company is well positioned to take opportunities as they arise even in a downturn, and build momentum when business conditions become more favourable.

Perhaps part of the problem is that companies view PR only as media relations—a nice to have to build a bit of a profile. The reality, however, is that PR is actually relations with your publics, i.e. all people and groups who are connected with your business. These days, ‘PROs’ are multi-skilled executives who can help a business manage its communication to various audiences and across a number of different channels. While traditional media relations will always be an intrinsic part of PR, the online medium offers significant opportunities to deliver tangible business benefits. In today’s connected world, borders between countries are really lines on a map from a business point of view.

Having a strong online presence and harnessing the medium as a communication tool can open up new markets and get you exposure in ways previously not possible. To maximise the potential of this medium, PR companies are rolling out digital strategies such as search engine optimisation, social networking initiatives and blogs for their clients. Many agencies ghostwrite company blogs, taking the pressure off executives while maintaining the company/person’s individuality and style. This can only be achieved when a PR agency is seen as a core part of the business, has sight of its strategy and a direct line to the senior management team, including the CEO. Smart companies, therefore, are ones that see communication as a critical component of their business.

Rather than cutting PR spend, companies should look at the marketing and communications budget as a whole and see how they can harness more of what PR companies do to make their interactions with their publics work harder for them. After all, the third party endorsement factor that comes via PR has a lot more credibility and builds trust among stakeholder groups. And trust is a fundamental component in keeping customers, staff, stakeholders and partners loyal—particularly relevant in a downturn.

About the author
Ronelle Bester, MD of Red Ribbon Communications (, started her career in technology at Dimension Data as marketing manager of the Western Cape. She has a BTech degree in public relations from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and has lectured in public relations at both the University of South Africa and Varsity College.

Contact information:
Ronelle Bester
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Read her blog at
Follow her on Twitter at @ronelle.

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