by Ross Goldberg

In the spring of 2009, during the very height of the Great Recession, I had the opportunity to write an article for Small Business Digest, which they aptly titled “Economic Downturn is Not the Time to Axe Public Relations Budget.” Eleven and a half years later, as we survey the economic state of our country and the unsustainable chamber of horrors we are all living through, the importance of public relations has taken on renewed relevance.

In business, things aren’t always as they appear; and some line items that seem on the surface to be superfluous may actually be the very expenditures that need feeding as they can mean short-term success and long-term staying power. Public relations is just such an example. The ability to manage perception and influence decisions has allowed many a company to rise above the crowd and actually keep their doors open despite what is going on around them. Yet because the profession ironically does a poor job of properly positioning itself, there is often a misguided gravitational pull that makes it among the first to be cut in a financial downturn.

This is one of the biggest mistakes a business can make.

Just as a company is examining its financial state, customers, too, are examining theirs. It is in tough economic times such as we face today that consumers shuffle their financial cards and become even more selective on what to spend and where to spend it. When bank accounts are taking a shellacking at astonishing speed, people are not inclined to gamble on the unknown or jump to the latest carnival barker. They want products, services and businesses they can trust.

Nothing builds and supports these wants like public relations. Public relations spawns customer trust and loyalty because a good public relations program marinates in the four most important elements of trust: integrity, honesty, promise keeping and loyalty. A program having this as its foundation is best positioned to attract new customers while keeping the old. It also helps with galvanizing employees, a challenge employers face now more than ever as they live through furloughs, “open for business” signs posting up and coming down, and pivoting to find new ways to deliver their goods amidst the greatest public health crisis in the past 100 years.

If companies don’t think they have the money for public relations, they should think again. Public relations is the most cost-effective way to spread a message when compared to the smorgasbord of other marketing options. Advertising, direct mail and other sales initiatives all cost more to execute than public relations. At a time when the pandemic is tearing at the very fabric of the nation’s economy, public relations is the needle and thread that can enable a company to keep its name prominent and positive while spending dollars wisely.

It is easy, and perhaps even tempting, to remain in the shallow end of the pool until normalcy returns to our country. But nobody knows for sure when that will be or what the new “normal” will look like when we wipe the slate clean. The companies that emerge from this economic downturn stronger and better positioned will be those whose brand remains strong, whose values remain true and whose reputation remains unpolluted. Sounds to me like a job for public relations.