Back to basics public relations

Happy New Year – or is it?  If it seems like a bleak mid-winter day after a long seasonal holiday, and you are facing an austerity budget for 2009, perhaps it is time to focus on the basics of public relations.

To get you started, I’ve put together a list of 12 approaches for recessionary PR:

1. Renew – you cannot afford to stand still in PR, and do-nothing/spend nothing approaches are futile and short-focused.  Look at new ways of doing things, which will give you an interesting challenge and also help you develop fresh ideas.

2. Review – take a sanity check on all the things you do within the PR function and identify ways in which you can work smarter.  Looking at what has worked well in the past – and more importantly, what didn’t, is a good way of identifying where you can cut time and money.  Focus on the essentials, such as writing clear press releases that communicate a relevant news story, rather than pointless puff.

3. Reduce – if your budget has been cut by x%, it is vital to understand the difference between fixed and variable costs.  If you cannot eliminate fixed costs, then look at the opportunity to maximise your investment.  If you are already committed to spend a certain amount, then look at how you can share the load with other functions or get more out of the service, event or opportunity.  When your costs are mainly variable, then look at how you can make small reductions that can soon add up.

4. Relate – the core of public relations is the ability to build and maintain positive relationships.  Look at ways of making personal connections with others – inside and outside your organisation – which are of mutual benefit.  Instead of focusing on a mass mailing press release (which may seem the easy option), call a few journalists and discuss feature ideas.  You are likely to achieve quality over quantity – and that can make a real difference in terms of impact.

5. React – generally, it is better to be proactive, but reacting to emerging opportunities (or threats) is vital during times of change.  It is tempting to just stick to the plan and do nothing more, but those who are able to move fast and first will benefit from unexpected returns at a time when others are likely to be more lethargic.

6. Reason – be very clear about why you are doing something.  Does it add value and achieve results (short or long-term)?  Understanding the theoretical underpinnings of PR helps you think logically about your activities and how to best reach your goals.  There may be activities that have always been done, but ask why and see if there is an alternative way of achieving the objective (if indeed, there is an objective).

7. Rebel – be prepared to say no.  When times are tough, it needs people who are robust and able to stand their ground.  Challenge the rules and make things happen. 

8. Rebound – if you’ve suffered a knock-back, then dust yourself down and get back on your feet.  Whether you’ve been made redundant or have had a good idea rejected, don’t despair.  The best time to strike is immediately and you need to use your energies to find a new opportunity rather than to feel sorry for yourself.

9. Recycle – why not revisit a good old idea?  Stories that worked well in the past can offer an opportunity to be updated or just reused.  That doesn’t mean stealing someone else’s work, or regurgitating stale stories, but taking an idea as a starting point for new activities.  Don’t waste your time reinventing something that works well – just spruce it up and away you go.

10. Reciprocate – find ways in which you can give and return favours.  Consider bartering and other different ways of maximising your time and budget.  If your CSR budget, for example, has been cut, can you help charities in other ways that don’t cost money?  Many not for profit organisations are used to working on small budgets, so get together over a cup of coffee and share ideas of how you can still deliver on CSR without busting the budget.

11. Reckon – many PR folk are numerically phobic, but you must keep a count on the pennies.  So get your accounts department to help you set up easy spreadsheets or other ways of monitoring your budget spend.  Make sure your suppliers have purchase orders and understand how to get paid promptly to avoid additional pressures on those you rely on.  Some companies pay more quickly if discounts are offered – this might be a win-win strategy for you both.

12. Reflect – being pragmatic is essential.  Remember, nothing lasts forever and no matter how bleak the mid-winter seems, it is always followed by Spring.  Look for signs of improvement and act on positive information.  The media will be interested in good news over the coming months, so find it where you can.

Most of all, be resilient – PR practitioners generally enjoy a crisis, so see this as a time when your natural skills come to the front.  A basic approach to PR may enable the profession to cut through all the glitzy nonsense and focus instead on what we do best.  Building relationships, communicating clearly and protecting reputations.

Published by

Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Back to basics public relations”

  1. Heather
    I do agree with so much of what you say.
    I wish it was mandatory reading for all MIPAA members

  2. Great post, Heather. Maintaining or event boosting PR investment in these tough times can indeed produce value, as we’ve also discussed many times on our blog..

    Perhaps if enough PR professionals and business leaders raise their voices to point out that PR programs need to be augmented to adhere to best practices when the market is weathering a storm, rather than cut entirely, more clients and prospects will take heed!

    Best regards,
    Linda Forrest
    inmedia Public Relations
    web –
    blog –

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