Grant Nicholas, Creative and PR Director of Seren Global Media

The world of public relations is ever-changing, with new technologies emerging and new issues facing the industry. We spoke to Grant Nicholas, Creative and PR Director at Seren Global Media, a public relations firm based in Swansea, to answer some of the burning questions being asked regarding the impact and challenges he is seeing across the industry.

1). What are the biggest challenges the public relations industry is facing in 2022?

One of the biggest challenges that the public relations industry is facing is having to rebuild face-to-face-relationships, which are so beneficial when pitching to potential clients, as well as when networking. The pandemic has created a more remote-based world, and face-to-face meetings have fallen by the wayside as a result of staff working from home and events being held online.

This also makes it more difficult to connect with the right person with many companies downsizing, and through that, many former connections at particular offices or outlets have been lost.

Secondly, journalists are now seeing an overload of pitches due to the vast number of channels available to PRs. Whether that is email, text, phone calls, or LinkedIn direct messages, producing an attention-grabbing and interesting pitch email or press release is more important now than ever. It’s especially more difficult to reach out to someone you have no relationship with; therefore, your ‘hook’ must be that much more intriguing to pique the interest of the journalist.

2). With the UK potentially heading for a recession, how can businesses leverage PR to grow?

Ensuring that your messaging is visible is even more vital, as it can be the ideal opportunity to leverage market share in your favour, when many businesses are putting communications on hold. During a recession, many will be opting for different buying habits in response to this, so strengthening trust and positioning your brand as a secure and reassuring choice is where companies can gain a significant market advantage.

Continuing a communication strategy while your competitors are disregarding theirs is also a way to gain share of voice. Recessions do not last forever, and when businesses rebound it will be an uphill climb for those who have not kept up with engagement and communication with their stakeholders and customers.

Focusing on online PR is also a great way to keep your audience up to date; for example, begin writing a blog to share your thoughts about relevant topics, send out an e-newsletter about developments within the company, create engaging social media content so that audiences are involved in the conversation.

Recession is also a time to maintain momentum on existing goals, and can even serve as a time of reflection, and a chance to focus thinking on future strategy.

3). Should businesses consider pausing PR and marketing during a recession?

In my experience, I have found that the clients who have stayed the course when it comes to PR have benefitted massively once the recession period is over, as taking a back seat will often result in competitors gaining a market advantage at a time where each customer is so precious to your business.

That does not mean budgets can be reconsidered and adapted, but it’s important to remember that PR is a long-term investment. Recessions are a time of crisis and difficulty for businesses, but the long-term benefits of consistent engagement cannot be understated.

Consistent engagement is vital to stay relevant in the public sphere and solidify market share, whereas disregarding this will halt any momentum, and there are plenty of companies ready to take your place. PR that is cost-effective, efficient and engaging can be your ticket to standing out from the rest.

Continuing your communications will also give you an opportunity to learn more about your audience, discover how their needs will change during the recession period and how your product or service could address these changes. Reviewing social media engagement and website traffic analytics can give you a full summary of an audience’s habits, and can help shape future goals.

4). How can a PR Strategy be used to future proof a business?

The current state of the economy can be one that business owners meet with apprehension.  Rising costs, inflation, and recession are dominating our headlines, but having a sustained and focused PR strategy is vital for businesses who are focused on the future.

We typically see that businesses which cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish though they are saving in the short-term. These businesses eventually have to dedicate more budget to marketing to regain the lost traction.

At a time where marketing and traditional advertising may take a backseat, PR is imperative to maintain and nurture relationships with current stakeholders, and a great chance to develop beneficial relationships that focus on longevity.

Multi-year sponsorship opportunities may become available at a discounted rate as many businesses consider the financial implications of such opportunities. It’s about being pro-active rather than reactive, and consistent communication lends itself to that notion, displaying to the market that you are in good shape promotes a positive perception of your brand. Become a beacon of information for your audience, speak on current issues, provide help and advice where you can to reinforce this positive perception.

Additionally, creating a positive perception goes hand in hand with ESG – or Environmental, Social and Governance, which analyses a business’ impact on society regarding investment, transparency and social responsibility. Having a dedicated focus regarding ESG will position your business as a forward-thinking entity and help keep momentum going, while showing your audience that the company is trying to make a difference.

5). Is public relations a recession proof industry?

During a recession, we often see businesses put their communication strategy on hold as there are more pressing matters within the business. Directors will be looking to cut costs where they can, and some aspects of marketing may be considered surplus to requirements.

The approach that I would take is to adapt your marketing strategy to the essential channels that are most successful and beneficial to your business. It’s not a question of if marketing should be paused, it’s more of a case of how you market, whether that is shifting budgets away from more expensive channels like TV/radio advertising to more cost-effective solutions like social media advertising. If this is the approach that is taken, it’s important to tweak the messaging and goals to suit the chosen channels.

For business owners, advertise what will sell – not what you want to sell. At a time where consumers are more financially strict, there is no benefit to pushing more expensive offerings or products, as it is not feasible for your audience. Instead, focus on the less expensive product, which is both cheap to produce and sell; this will be a win-win for the business and consumer.

In terms of the message itself, during a recession, audiences do not want to be bombarded with sales talk, as many are in difficult financial situations too. Best practice would be to take a more empathetic, understanding, and compassionate tone which audiences will resonate with and appreciate.

6). What are your predictions for 2023 in the PR landscape?

As a company, we try to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changes to the industry such as new technologies and improved methods of communication. I strongly believe that being proactive and adopting new approaches is what sets PR firms apart, as being stuck in the traditional way of thinking is not beneficial and may result in playing catch up further down the line.

In terms of the future, we have definitely seen a steady shift in companies no longer utilising traditional forms of media like TV, radio and print advertising, which can be very expensive and difficult to track the return on investment. I expect to see a further decline in offline marketing, with companies choosing to adopt trackable alternatives such as social media advertising, which is more tangible, cost-effective, adaptable and direct.

I also expect to see further investment in ESG, promoting transparency, authenticity and integrity in marketing and promotion, with a focused emphasis on authenticity as we have seen increased use of illusory language. Consumers no longer just want to buy your products; they want to see what you are doing to help the issues we face in society today. Companies are no longer allowed to watch from the side-lines, and those who are active in addressing issues, investing in preventative measures and sustainability practices are those who will reap the rewards.

The use of online events has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, to the point where events and meetings are done remotely as standard, and in-person meetings have become the alternative. I think this will continue into 2023, as the benefits of online events are there to see. Online events are more accessible and scalable, not to mention the time and cost-saving benefits.

This is a trend we believe will become universal, and are actively piggy-backing on. We have recently announced that we will be providing online courses of our own, sharing our expertise within digital marketing and public relations for marketeers, professionals and business owners alike.