Marketers Pivot from Advertising to PR in Uncertain Times

Ad buys are projected to decline by nearly 12% this year in response to cutbacks due to COVID-19 (source: IPG Mediabrands-owned Magna Global). By comparison, during the 2008 recession, advertising outlays fell by 13%.

Savvy marketers are finding they can cut ad spend and maximize ROI by turning to public relations agencies. Public relations strategies and tactics help brands maintain a high profile in media, without production costs or buying space in publications and TV time.

Both advertising and public relations help brands communicate with a target audience. That is why businesses often assume they are one and the same. However, advertising and PR are two completely different things with different goals and overall effects on the audience.  Read more about the differences between advertising and PR here.

During times of national crises dire realities play a large role in marketing decisions, not just the economics of ad spend, but also for creative development.  The COVID-19 pandemic is a case-in-point. It’s essential for marketers to be sensitive to the national mood when developing PR campaigns. As a recent article in the New York Times asked, “Just how do you go about promoting nonessential products at a time of death counts and soaring unemployment and improvised hospitals?”

While ad agencies may struggle to find the right tone, public relations practitioners are the experts in helping find the right balance between informative content and promotional messaging. Because public relations pros rely on gaining the trust of news reporters and producers on a daily basis – in good times and bad – they have the skill set to navigate messaging challenges and get them in front of consumers.

Public relations also provide brands with the implied “third party endorsement” of media, which ad buys do not.  Ultimately, news outlets to control how they tell the story, and as a result, add credibility and their own editorial spin to the marketing message. Of course, a paid advertisement offers total control over the message, but it’s a more expensive proposition.

Pivoting to PR in an economic downturn makes sense. Marketers can stay relevant and keep their messaging top of mind for consumers, minus the ad spend. That’s real ROI.