Saturday, February 28, 2009

Any good news? The lowering PR barrier.

Sitting recently in the lounge at Chicago airport, watching 'The Situation Room' on TV was not a joyeous experience. Statistics crashed down relentlessly on screen. This is, for example, we were told, the first time on record when all 50 states have seen simultaneous rises in unemployment. And, to get the point home it was backed up with voxpops of the recently redundant from across the country. The unavoidable conclusions was simple: there's nowhere to run to.

But, equally, there's plenty to run from. The front page in St Louis announced that a million people in Missouri alone received food stamps in January - the highest number ever, and Missourians make up only 6m of the 300m in the US.

The same story is true in every 'developed' market I visit - horrific headlines, often with the added implication that the situation is at its most acute just where you, the reader/viewer, are sitting.

The problem with PR plans has always been that no-one wants to publish what brands want to broadcast - or at least, not on the news pages. This is, clearly, the moment to challenge that wisdom. A deftly delivered brand-good-news story (maybe linked with the CSR agenda to give something back in hard times), could capture disproportionate column inches and airtime.

Is PR planning the driving cog of 2009 marketing?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Budgets - the cut that dare not speak its name?

I know half my marketing is wasted - this year, I really wish I knew which half.

There's incredible pressure on budgets. Its only February and yet budget 'revisions' are already hot topics. Kneejerk responses are to cut the peripheral (out goes the loyalty programme) or the long term (out goes the training budget) in favour of the big, predictable and immediate.

These are almost certainly bad prioritisations if they rob the future and eliminate chances to innovate. But any other path requires leadership - and if the top isn't sending out the right messages, what hope for the rest.

Paul Walsh of Diageo speaking on 13th Feb confirmed a cost cutting exercise involving redundancies and a headcount freeze. Yet when asked about media cutbacks he was quick to respond "We're actually not cutting back, but we are benefitting from real media deflation". A very odd position - what makes media spend sacrosanct, and puts it beyond question?

Companies that have invested in their brands through previous recessions have performed well in the longer term. But that is not necessarily the same as simply continuing to spend the media budget regardless. When savings must be made there is good argument for doing the opposite.

For many established brands, a single deep cut - taking brand advertising completely out of the mix for 2009 - could be used to ringfence all budgets for innovation, new launches and promotions. The gradual dilution in equity that is the typical product of a period of time off air may be a lot easier to address in the future than a lack of talent, or an empty pipeline.

Do you agree? And will anyone be brave enough to take this path?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Back story - Keep Out The Cold

A few thoughts already shared with Tomorrow:AM's friends and clients can be downloaded here
Keep out the cold. Disruptive strategies for economic winter

Phoenix Manifesto

Plan Phoenix is born of recession. Businesses face urgent and complex decisions and choices. This is no longer business as usual (if it ever was). New realities require new strategies, but if previous answers are obsolete, what price experience? Especially as risk and fear tend to stifle the debate - creating a conspiracy of silence. We need more opportunities to ask difficult questions.

Plan Phoenix is a response to deafening silence. An attempt to provoke, interrogate and debate the emerging economic realities and their impact on marketing.

Alex Bicknell
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