Marketing in a Recession

The easiest targets for small business cost-cutting measures are its marketing expenses. However, just because something is easy doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. There’s an old marketing adage that says when times are good, you should advertise but when times are tough, you must! Of course, effective advertising can be a costly exercise and it is very difficult to choose between, paying for your basic operational costs versus an advertising campaign. Nevertheless, the point remains ever-present for any business wishing to ride out an economic cloud – you must remain in the public’s view!
Applying the premise of getting the “biggest bang for your buck” the two most important and valuable marketing efforts – if done effectively - that should be undertaken during difficult economic times are sponsorships and public relations.
Sponsoring community events or charity groups can be especially effective if you select one that is of significant interest to your target audience. The Alberni Valley is blessed with a tremendous number of community groups who are really helping to build the foundation of the community’s future economic prosperity through the staging of various sports and arts events as well as charitable fundraisers, which, in and of themselves, are becoming highlights of the local social calendar.
Sponsorship goals can be both of a short term or long term nature. Over the past few years we have played host to significant, international-caliber events such as the Tall Ships Festival and the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge that dominated the community’s attention. These represented exceptional opportunities for local businesses to provide sponsorships in which many further leveraged the linkages and visibility to achieve tremendous return on their investments. There are also a number of very successful ongoing, annual events that offer great opportunities for local businesses to strike continuous sponsorship deals that will provide stable visibility and a brand image of “success by association” that is a much desired marketing trait to achieve among target audiences. I immediately think of the positive association and partnership between the Tseshaht Market and the Alberni Valley Drag Racing Association’s annual “Thunder in the Alberni Valley”. We are months yet away from this event but this sponsorship has, obviously, proven its value since I can recall this as an example from top of mind.
Some key considerations your business must make before entering into any sponsorship agreement are:
•Does the event or organization reach my target market and does my target market think positively of that event or organization?
•Does the event or organization represent the values and philosophies important to my business, me and my staff?
•How can I leverage the sponsorship? I.e.: use of logos, reciprocal web links, provision of contra, on-site activations, event perks such as tickets or promotional merchandise, press releases, etc.
2.Public Relations
Public relations are seen as the “gold standard” of effective advertising. Public relations can reach a large target audience, enhance or create business credibility and although you can spend big money contracting a PR firm public relations, as most know it, costs no to little money. The key to getting noticed by media is to provide something that would be of interest to their target audience. All media are on alert for stories that are different than what is typically being reported. During down economic times this means success stories from the small business community; especially if it plays on community pride!
Has your business managed to find a new market that has managed to increase your sales? Have you been able to capitalize on opportunities that exist due to other business’ unwillingness to take risks? Are you a new business that has managed to capture the imagination and excitement of your community? Have you won any awards or recognition from outside the immediate region? Did your business step up as a major sponsor to support or even save a community event, facility, attraction, or charity? Does your business have any human interest stories such as mentoring youth at risk, providing opportunities for other challenged people, or have you, as a business owner overcome your own personal barriers to achieve success? All these are examples of stories that media may be interested in publicizing for you; especially as readers become increasingly wary of constant “doom and gloom”.
Keep in mind that, although people are growing tired of all the bad news stories, perception is reality. Unfortunately, I am frequently hearing rumors of businesses that are in distress or about to close. Upon further investigation, those rumors are not always true. It is important for your business to do all it can to provide positive messages in your community to ensure it thinks of you as a business that is solid and will stick around for the long term. It’s easy to cut back on advertising. But, every economic down cycle has proven that those businesses that continue to commit to their communications activities are those that not only survive during hard times but end up thriving when the upswing comes around again. If you are a business that wants to be around for the duration you are encouraged to think even more strategically about your marketing communications activities. Sponsorship and Public Relations are very likely your best method to receive the greatest return on your investment – just be sure to have a goal, target audience, budget and follow up plan in place.