Spending on PR isn’t falling

Washington Mutual may spend less on public relations this year, but the facts are that long-term trend is of investing more in PR. That’s why we disagree with Duncan Brown’s un-evidenced statement that PR is falling in importance.

Spending on public relations and marketing has continued to increase in recent years, even in the tech sector. Spending on public relations in Britain, for example, has risen by one third since the year 2000. This might not change, even during recession: During the recession of 1991, spending on public relations increased, while spending on advertising decreased.

Generally, we think that’s wise. Research at Harvard Business School shows that firms that maintain their sales and marketing spend during a recession are the ones that grow best. What we might see is a shift between the proportion of PR staff that are in-house or agency side. PR agencies can suffer in recessions because more PR staff are hired in-house. However, public relations agencies grew employment in the past year by focusing on healthcare and government work.

Of course, recession means shifting tactics. Spending needs to be pushed out from the centre and towards support of national subsiduaries and business units that are driving sales. PR, AR and advertising are all getting aligned more directly to sales. Specialist public relations activities, like influencer relations and blogger relations, are also growing – but generally not at the expence of other marketing disciplines.

Seth’s post, which Duncan uses as a source, doesn’t argue that PR is falling in importance, or suggest any trend at all. He names some brands which didn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on launching but which got their PR after launching. What he does argue is that great publicity is a gift, but not something firms should chase.Of course other’s don’t take such a dim view of PR spending, including Bill Gates, who famously said “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations”.

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