Technology and the emergence of the Internet have revolutionized the way most companies do business. The use of the world wide web as a promotional tool has become increasingly widespread, and Public relations consultants invariably use web marketing as an integral part of their advertising campaigns to reach the broadest possible customer base cost-effectively. The recent recession has, however, affected many of these consultancies adversely since most businesses are now opposed to non-essential expenditures, and advertising has been one of the significant casualties. But this does not necessarily indicate that public relations consultancies cannot thrive during recessionary times as well. Instead, it may be necessary to adopt a different strategy to appeal to potential customers during lean times.
PRW Communications is a small, UK-based, public relations company headquartered in Basingstoke. The Company consists of a group of freelance experts in web marketing, digital photography, and P.R. work, and therefore. At the same time, it is based out of Basingstoke and caters primarily to companies in this region. It also has clients from all parts of the U.K. as it comprises freelance workers from all over the world in its roster.
The Company has clear goals – it works with small and medium businesses to help them find cost-effective solutions to their promotional needs. It promotes itself as one that can understand the challenges that are faced by small companies and the problems that they have to cope with because PRW is itself A small organization consisted mainly of professionals working freelance from their own homes and thus saving on overhead costs. (FR) (www.prw.biz).
The Company’s free web marketing health check (www.prw.biz) is one of the tools already used to gather in more customers. This is an online form that requests customers to provide details about their existing web marketing, so that the Company can offer an unbiased report about the relative efficacy of the techniques that are being used, including a Google report. It seems very likely that this is an excellent way for the Company to attract new customers. On the one hand it offers the organization the opportunity to gain cost-effective access to a vast potential customer base. On the other hand, it provides the organization with the opportunity to offer its services in improving the public relations and web marketing efforts of these customers. Moreover, since the Company is comprised of freelance professionals using computers to communicate with each other while being based out of their own homes, the reduction in overhead costs offers a significant cost advantage to the firm, which is beneficial during the current recessionary period.
The strengths of the Company may, therefore, be listed as follows:
- We have a clearly defined target customer base.
- A clear understanding of the difficulties faced by its customers
- Low overhead costs
- A team of professional experts employed by the Company
- Efficient networking among the associates
The weaknesses of PRW are as follows:
- Lack of a robust institutional base and clearly defined leadership hierarchy
- Lack of a proper, centralized office facility, which impairs its reputation as a quality establishment
The Company does have some strengths it can put to use, especially during these difficult times:
- Access to professional talent
- Pay per lead website optimization service at no extra charge
- Customer-focused approach
The most significant threats the Company faces are:
- The recession and tightening budgets of customers
- Increased competition from other public relations agencies for existing business available from existing businesses
During recessionary times, a more significant number of public relations consultancies are fighting for fewer customers, as more businesses either become bankrupt or choose to cut down their spending on advertising. As a result of the increasing levels of competition, customer expectations about levels of service from public relations consultancies have also changed and become more demanding. More and more consumers are becoming more skeptical of the services they are providing (Albrecht and Zemke, 1985); thus, PRW Communications will need to develop a plan to persuade consumers of the high rates of return that can be extracted from changes in the kinds of advertising strategies that these companies use.
In working with this Company, my primary objective would be to develop a new strategy to sustain and improve business during the current recession, by trying to avoid losing existing customers, particularly because my field of expertise is human resource management.
Retaining existing customers is likely to be much easier than trying to attract new customers during this lean period, since most businesses are not likely to make fresh investments, especially in advertising. To retain existing customers; therefore, it is necessary to convert them into loyal customers. Loyal customers would be an asset to PRW because they would provide higher profitability in the long term and help PRW to sustain itself through the recession, while also reducing operational and advertising costs, which would give the Company a competitive advantage. (Frank, 1992; Carmen, 1970). Such customers are also likely to transmit positive word of mouth messages to other potential customers, who are more likely to trust such accounts rather than extensive advertising by PRW.
In targeting existing customers, a new business strategy must be developed to maintain constant communication with customers and keep in touch with their changing needs, so that their campaigns can be changed or modified accordingly to be effective in recessionary times. This can be achieved through regular mailings that offer creative suggestions on marketing strategies during a recession. For instance, since PRW deals primarily with small and medium-sized firms in the Basingstoke area, it can suggest promotional collaborations between different clients. The promotional campaign of a firm of solicitors could, for example, be integrated with the promotional campaign of a psychiatric clinic. An integrated marketing approach would allow advertisement of the solicitors’ services at the clinic and advertisement of the clinic at the solicitors’ offices and websites.
PRW would gain additional business from both clients. Still, the advantage offered to both clients would be the facility of reduced advertising costs because they would be able to access and tap into a potentially broader market than a solo campaign could have achieved, but at half the price because the other business is paying the other half of the investment. By offering its clients this facility of continual promotion but at reduced prices, PRW conveys an impression to existing clients that it cares about them and is sensitive to the need to tighten advertising budgets during a recession.
Research carried out on customer satisfaction has revealed that consumers evaluate the quality of service they receive at an organization by comparing it to their expectations of what such a service should be (Gronroos, 1984). When the performance of a function at an organization matches the expectations that customers have of that service, then the result is a satisfied customer. But this in and of itself may not be adequate to ensure that an organization can sustain a competitive edge. Instead, it becomes necessary for consistently superior levels of quality of service to be maintained if customers are to be kept satisfied enough in a globally competitive economy, so much so that they keep returning to use the service.
Thus, apart from offering fresh, innovative approaches to promotion, the Company must also take pains to contact customers regularly on the phone to discuss their problems, concerns, or difficulties and suggesting new ways of increasing business and boosting earnings. Rather than being attentive only at the beginning of a campaign, customers may expect much more from PRW during stressful times, and constant contact is likely to provide a great deal of reassurance to customers about PRW’s continual commitment to their interests.
Many small improvements can be made into web-based marketing campaigns without incurring any costs because the electronic medium offers the facility of making changes quickly and inexpensively. PRW is already providing free development of highly optimized, customized marketing websites where payment is to be made on a pay per lead basis. The website creation is done at no extra charge, and the points are not shared with competitors of the clients either; as a result, it offers an attractive, cost-effective solution for customers. If PRW continues to provide such services and improves them by optimizing customer websites in such a way that they crop up most often on as many Google or other searches as possible to generate maximum advertising outreach for customers, but does not charge its customers any extra amount for them, then it is likely to surprise the customers charmingly. Their expectations about the levels of service being provided by PRW would be exceeded, constituting a level that would delight its customers. (Kundampully, 1997).
Other examples of web-based changes could include the removal of clutter from client websites, minor reorganization of promotional material, improving the clarity of pictures posted on sites, etc. If such small changes are offered free of charge, customers are likely to be more receptive to suggestions such as search engine optimization and improvements in graphic design to generate fresh promotional and advertising copy. All of these measures are likely to enhance and retain PRW’s existing customer base.
It must also be noted that PRW’s customer-centered approach also offers ample opportunity to gain new clients. PRW currently utilizes the formal approach to customer-based marketing through the SIVA model –Solution, Information, Value, Access. (www.prw.biz). The customer’s needs, perceptions, and satisfaction become the central objective of this approach, which first questions whether the solutions being developed are appropriate for the customer’s needs? Has the customer been provided with adequate information to make a decision? Is the customer aware of the potential value of the resolution, i.e., what it will cost and what its potential rewards are, and where can the customer gain access and purchase the solution?
This approach is useful for PRW because it enables the Company to be entirely customer-focused and develop solutions that are targeted to the customer’s needs and budgets, while also making the customer aware of the ratio of benefits received as compared to the costs of the service. This is an aspect that the Company can develop further as a part of its new business strategy. During a recession, businesses are more conscious than ever of the ratio of costs to benefits gained from promotional campaigns. They are more focused on learning more enormous benefits while incurring lower costs. If PRW can refine its customer-based approach and offer cost-effective solutions such as web optimization services and pay per lead services while also retaining customer trust, it is likely to gain significant benefits in terms of customer loyalty. Such a strategy is also expected to increase new customers for PRW because the ratio of benefits to costs will be higher with PRW than it would with other Public relations consultants. Since PRW also has the facility of access to professionals scattered across the United Kingdom, it can widen its marketing efforts and seek customers from other parts of the Uk outside its localized area of Basingstoke.
It is not only essential to retain customers, a new business strategy for the Company to survive in recessionary times must also include optimization of its employee base. Murphy and Burgio-Murphy (2005) have laid out five essential aspects that every firm should know about employee retention. The most valuable suggestion they offer, however, is that some employees in the firm are more expensive than others, therefore the higher the degree to which a firm focuses on retaining the top-performing employees and eliminating the low performing employees, the higher its level of success. Motivating its best employees during this recession poses a challenge that PRW must meet if it is to continue to survive.
CPA Consultant Steve Erickson recommends ten techniques to aid firms in hiring and retaining employees. (Annonymous, 2007). Some of these techniques that PRW could apply include (a) building an employee referral network (b) differentiating the firm, by building unity within the firm and having a clear focus on internal and external service categories (c) working on the proper clients by evaluating them and allowing employees to work with the good ones to motivate them (d) creating a culture of success and helping employees to feel successful due to being associated with such a firm (e) consistent communication which results in benefits for everyone and (f) eliminating all negative talk within the firm and promoting a positive attitude in solving staffing issues. These strategies are likely to be very helpful in ensuring that the best employees stay with the firm and continue to generate positive results for customers, which also helps in the retention of those customers with the firm. It is effortless for employees to feel negative during a time of recession as they become the victims of cost cuts by companies, but maintaining a unified, positive approach could help counter these adverse effects.
It may also be necessary to motivate employees more strongly to improve morale. In the case of skilled employees, one of the most commonly used methods used by employers to attract the best candidates to their firm is to offer good monetary high pay, contract incentives, and desirable opportunities (Pfeffer, 1998). Since this may not be a viable strategy during a recession, flexible human resource policies and an inclusive culture constitute non-monetary rewards that are likely to provide a higher motivation for employees to join an organization and to remain in it. As Herzberg has argued, employees are more likely to be motivated by factors such as achievement and the work itself rather than merely money. (Herzberg 1968) and this may be especially relevant during a recession.
Lastly, it is also vital for the Company to ensure that it adheres to regulatory policies laid out by the Government if it is to survive in a tight market. The Company strategy must ensure that proper systems of corporate governance are in place, taxes are regularly paid, and profits/losses accurately reported, so that the Company’s reputation as an ethical organization is preserved. A public relations firm not only prepares promotional campaigns for other companies, but its reputation must also be above board if it is to attract more business. In the case of PRW, its primary stakeholders are its broad base of professionals working out of their own homes, so that overheads are reduced, and the Company can survive more easily. Hence the Company must preserve the integrity of its stakeholder base and develop human resource policies such as profit sharing, enhanced inclusion in corporate decision making, and increased appreciation to satisfy the intrinsic motivation of these employees who are also the primary stakeholders in the firm.
All of the measures recommended above are likely to be very helpful to the Company in surviving the recession and emerging as a firmly integrated business entity. The difficult times offer an opportunity for the Company to develop into a lean and efficient organization, where creativity and innovation have to be extended to the fullest to cope with the challenges being thrown up by the current financial environment.
- Albrecht, K. and Zemke, R. (1985) Instilling a service mentality: like teaching an elephant to dance”, International Management, 40(1): 61-67
- Anonymous, 2007. “Ideas that work to recruit and retain staff,” Journal of Accountancy, 204(2):19
- Carman, J.M, 1970. “Correlates of brand loyalty: Some positive results.” Journal of Marketing Research, 3: 67
- Frank, R.E., 1962. “Brand Choice as a Productibility Process.” Journal of Business, (January): 43-44
- Gronroos, C., (1984), “A Service Quality Model and its Marketing Implications,” European Journal of Marketing, 18(4): 36-44.Herzberg, F. (1968) One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees, pp 85-95 in Harvard Business Review: Breakthrough Ideas: 15 Articles That Define Business
- Practice Today: Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston USA
- Kandampully, J., 1997. “Firms should give loyalty before they can expect it from customers,” Managing Service Quality, 7(2), pp. 92-94.
- Murphy, Mark, and Burgio-Mark, Andrea, 2005. “The Deadly sins of employee retention,” Leadership I.Q. Press.
- Pfeffer, J., 1994. “Competitive Advantage through people.” MA: Harvard Business School Press
- “Pay per lead in the U.K. – expand your customer base and increase profits with qualified leads,” http://www.prw.biz/1kit/Default.aspx?alias=www.prw.biz/1kit/prw; <Accessed February 24, 2009