Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for – or so the saying goes. The good news is that you don’t need to pay or to pray – by thinking strategically you can keep your PR running - even in a pandemic when budgets are tight across the board.
It makes sense that financial services businesses are asking whether there is a place for PR now, when so many businesses are struggling.
Analysis by Bain suggests a recession is like "as a sharp curve on an auto racetrack—the best place to pass competitors, but requiring more skill than straightaways." In fact the companies that bypass competitors in these times focus on four areas: early cost cutting, plus a combination of balance sheet discipline, aggressive commercial growth plays and proactive M&A. All of which require well-devised, well-executed public relations and communication to address stakeholders and help achieve the strategy.
The most successful companies in Bain's analysis also maintained marketing while competitors cut back.
There are a few considerations however. Public relations now isn't just media relations. Here's our view of three of the most important things you still have to get right in your public relations, even if there's pressure on your budget.
Earned, owned or paid?
The ability to communicate with customers and stakeholders lies at the heart of an effective PR campaign, and a combination of all three is ideal. When times are tough though, and there is little budget for paid comms, earned media can be very effective. If you do it right. Compared with ‘above the line’ initiatives, or paying for advertising or editorial, earned media or ‘below the line’ is far less expensive – and can have a much better return on investment.
The challenge is that it requires a longer-term commitment - to relationships with the media and to quality of content. With this in mind, there are some golden rules which can help you to adapt your content and PR strategies to ensure success.
Content is king in earned media and relevance is key to engagement
Relevance is always key to engagement, but in a pandemic your content must be particularly so. Ask yourself whether what you are offering will help, or simply annoy your customers. No one wants to hear about what you have done, how well prepared you were, or how well you have done despite the pandemic. Now is not the time to be spruiking your brand or singing the praises of your products. What is needed is helpful, insightful content which offers something of value – something which solves a problem, and has a wider appeal to other readers of your chosen publication.
There are a couple of big-picture questions which might help guide your thinking about what could be useful. For example:
- In what ways is the pandemic affecting my customers and/or investors and if so, how can I help (for example, with up-to-date information and insights into the effect of the pandemic on markets, or performance)?
- Are there any insights you can share into the actions you took in your own business which you found to be effective (and less effective)?
A content calendar (which plans and tracks content, including print, digital and social media) is the best way to organise upcoming content and assess what is working and what isn’t.
It can take some time to set up (although it doesn’t have to and can be as simple as a spreadsheet) but it will pay off with time saved in the future. It means you won’t be scrabbling at the last minute to find content or worrying that you are repeating yourself. Tricks like organising content into topic or theme pillars helps ensure you are covering off on the communication goals which underpin your marketing and business objectives in a structured and organised way.
You can also add into a content calendar the events and moments which impact your business and ensure that you hook your content to these at the best possible time. Events could include conferences, or roundtables which you attend, or when international spokespeople are visiting (in person if that happens, or via video).
Which brings me to spokespeople.
Make sure your spokespeople are prepared and available
The changing media landscape and 24-hour news cycle means that journalists are under more time pressure and expected to offer new content regularly – and there are fewer of them. The result is tight turnarounds - so making your spokespeople available is essential. No one has time to follow up, and journalists looking for a comment are likely to go to people they have a relationship with, which is where working with an agency can give you an advantage. If a journalist is looking for a comment on a story, then they need spokespeople willing to talk in as close to real time as possible.
In the end, one of the primary aims of public relations is to use strategic communication to build mutually beneficial relationships between a business and its stakeholders, or in the case of a PR consultancy, between clients and their stakeholders – including the media. Part of the way we do that is to tell stories which protect, enhance and build our clients’ brand and reputation – and with the right stories, and the right relationships – it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
What are the top PR trends for financial services in 2021? Watch out latest webinar Top 5 financial services PR trends in 2021, where we explored what’s new in financial services PR and the trends we'll see shape our work in 2021.