Greater need for PR during tough times

For companies that are thinking of cutting back on their advertising or marketing budget as a result of the global economic slowdown or the uncertainties generated by the war in Iraq, Jack Modzelewski has only one thing to say. Don’t, says the president and chief operating officer of the European operations of Fleishman-Hillard, the biggest public relations firm in the world in terms of revenues and which recently signed up Greek media communications and public affairs company Civitas as an affiliate. Modzelewski says the trick – in order to keep a company in the minds of consumers during difficult times – is to adopt a more effective and direct approach such as public relations. Using a combination of the media, experts and people whose opinions and knowledge are respected, public relations could effectively communicate a message where advertising cannot. «Companies during bad economic times are looking for ways to have more direct communication with their customers and they want to do that at a high value and they want to get feedback,» he says. In Greece, the public relations market took off during the stock market boom in 1999 as companies discovered the need to promote themselves to investors and stock analysts, says Dave Robinson, executive vice president of Civitas. «It really gave a boost to the public relations industry,» he says. Contrary as it may sound, Robinson says the need for public relations is greater now even as the Athens stock market appears to be heading for its fourth bearish year, losing about a tenth of its value since the beginning of the year. He says it is an opportunity for companies to spend their money effectively at targeted markets, thereby ensuring measurable returns. «Companies need to change from proactive measures to defensive ones. There is more need now for public relations as they re-engineer their business,» he says. Modzelewski says public relations are expected to catch on among entrepreneurs who start their own businesses and are becoming more sophisticated in the value of effective communication. He says the current focus on corporate governance, stemming from the Enron scandal, is another reason why companies need to consider public relations. «Public relations firms can act as intermediaries between the government and the company,» Modzelewski says.