Perspectives

Public relations in an economic downturn

Man looking at a stock portfolio graph with a downward trend on a tablet device

Venture capital firms and accelerators are warning portfolio companies of tough times to come. They’re suggesting survival mode is key, especially for young tech companies who have yet to establish strong market fit. Others argue if we see a recession, it will be mild.

Either way, as the markets spiral and confidence drops, it surfaces an important lesson in communicating through volatility.

Companies need to remain bullish on their long-term vision and plan, both building toward it and communicating a narrative that supports it. This is part of the puzzle in sustaining volatility—reinforcing long-term business trajectory with key audiences.

I’m not suggesting companies don’t respond (fiscally and operationally) to market conditions as Y Combinator outlined. But this is no time to get skittish in PR and Communications. The corporate narrative and expression of it remains mission critical, perhaps more than ever.

Here are the communications actions (and opportunities) we see as crucial in times like these:

  1. Revisit & shore up your corporate narrative: Are you saying the right things to (excite) the right audience? From a financial lens, make the growth (and growth potential) story bulletproof. Focus on momentum, market adoption and fit, growth trajectory and long-term vision.
  2. Mind customer engagement: Do your existing customers know enough about you? Do they remember why they bought in to your vision and solution? Find helpful ways to support and engage them. Think about how macro trends and step changes are affecting your customers—and where you come in.
  3. Take a journalist approach: Help write the industry’s story—both its challenges and opportunities in the current landscape. Create informative, but optimistic content on what’s going on. Analyze case studies from past downturns, weave in research, expert voices and other points of view. Think of the credibility boost that can give a brand.
  4. Buck the trend: Use PR to turn around negative industry storylines. Create a drumbeat of “strategic announcements” that promote key moments in corporate momentum (partnerships with proven entities, user adoption, etc.), and that show stability and continued growth. These should emanate out of a common strategy and support the overarching narrative.
  5. Create a halo: Now is the time to call on your people through an employee advocacy program. Activate social media across your broader team to celebrate the organization’s wins and culture. Your people can help your company weather the storm by reaching a wider audience with demonstrations of a positive corporate image
  6. Resist knee jerk reactions: Do you wake up every day feeling the need to respond to your competitors? Stay your course and focus on your market fit, trajectory, etc. Your employees, customers and stakeholders believed in your vision at some point. Market trends shouldn’t impede the long view.
  7. Keep a pulse on cultural shifts: That said, things will change fast. In PR, Communications and Marketing, we need to be attuned, move fast and adjust (our narratives, campaigns and messages) with intention and purposefully to reflect the sentiment of the moment.
  8. Reassure & energize your team: Probably most important, as Sequoia recently shared with its founders, is to “Reaffirm your Mission/Values. This is really important to the missionaries you’ve hired… The mercenaries are the first to decamp… Make sure you keep the missionaries.” Discuss challenges and outlook with your employees—often. Look for opportunities to energize them.

In wrapping up, I leave you with one thought. Don’t take the foot off the pedal. Focus on company vision and trajectory; employee and customer engagement; and thought leadership attuned to the current moment. Keep communicating for the long game.

Rick Murray, Alan Dunton, Annie Perkins and Darren Weiss also contributed to this piece

This article was initially published by our sister company SHIFT Communications on SHIFT Insights.

———Sarah Babbitt is the Vice-President, Agency Marketing at SHIFT Communications, sister company of National Public Relations