Looking for a deal or discount?  Me too.  As a broke college student, there are few things that get my blood pumping enough to go out and spend a ton; a sale is one of them.  I don’t go after every sale or door buster, just the ones that make the most sense.  I share a mindset with many other consumers who are buckling down and trying to stick to a budget. 

We are lazy consumers, yes I said it.  We could scan every sale paper in search of the lowest prices and clip coupons, hoping each one will be doubled.  Kudos to those who have this commitment to saving. but most of us are looking to travel the shortest distance to buy what we need, in one convenient place. 

Wal-Mart vs. the recession

walmart_logoAnywhere come to mind?  I know what you’re thinking, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.  You can walk into any Wal-Mart Supercenter and purchase dinner for your family, a card for a friend, food for the dog and paint to re-decorate your living room.  It’s a one-stop shopping experience, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. 

Although Wal-Mart has some serious opposition like Wal-Mart Sucks or Hel-mart, that doesn’t seem to be stopping the retail giant from thriving during these tough economic times.  People who complain about Wal-Mart not paying its employees well or offering them benefit packages, have hushed their griping, because they are the ones working there now.  In this recession, people have more realistic expectations and basic needs, and Wal-Mart is working hard to serve its consumers. 

Wal-Mart on right on Target

In the past, people flocked to Target in search of quality clothing and reasonably priced goods, instead of Wal-Mart.  However, the recession has turned the tables in Wal-Mart’s favor.

According to a Time Magazine article, Wal-Mart vs. Target: No Contest in the Recession, “Target’s profits last year dropped a stunning 22.3 percent, to $2.2 billion. Wal-Mart’s 2008 bottom line rose 5.9 percent, to $13.5 billion.”

The reason for the sudden shift in consumer traffic is because Target pushes its discounted designer apparel, while Wal-Mart gives the shoppers what they really want, the necessities.  People are being forced to make tough decisions about what to spend their money on; food is not an option but open-toed pumps are. 

In addition to trumping Target, Wal-Mart is benefiting from the suffering of other businesses.  Wal-Mart is getting the excess customers in its electronic and home and living department due to the liquidation of more specialty stores like Circuit City Stores Inc. or Linen ‘N Things.  Wal-Mart is simply positioning itself to be the top choice for consumers.  Good public relations?  I think so.

Perception is reality

Wal-Mart management is not dumb.  The executives knew the company wasn’t being perceived well by consumers, and decided to give it a facelift.  In 2008, Wal-Mart changed its logo and company focus to be more consumer centered.  Wal-Mart has rebranded itself as family friendly and emphasizes its everyday low prices, by matching sales of other companies.  Some people have a newfound respect for Wal-Mart because of its commitment to the everyday needs and wants of its customers.

Does that mean Wal-Mart is able to completely dodge the financial drought?  Wal-Mart’s former CEO, Lee Scott, is not hopeful the recession will cease overnight, but he believes in the strength of the brand he managed for many years.

 Re-evaluating how the public perceives its business practices is crucial to Wal-Mart’s continuous success.  However, evaluation is an ongoing process.  It allows for public relations professionals to determine what works, and what needs to be fixed.  For many of us, the brand in need of tweaking, might be ourselves.  Are you doing all you can to perfect your brand?

 

 

 

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Have you ever been in a restaurant where most of the tables around you are empty? If you walk into the Olive Garden at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening, you are almost certain to get a table without waiting. Why? Like many other industries, the restaurant business is not immune to the crippling effects of the recession.

 
People who used to go out to eat a few times per week have scaled back to save money, and venture to the grocery store more often to purchase food to prepare at home. What about the Applebee’s and Red Lobsters of the world? They have employees and bills to pay but are not making the profit to support those expenses.

Restaurants suffer from oversaturation

Restaurant oversaturation chartAccording to a New York Times article, Empty Tables Threaten Some Restaurant Chains, the United State population has grown 23 percent since 1990, and the number of restaurants has grown from 537,000 to 361,000, during that period to accommodate the demand.

Sounds good, right? No one complains when things are going well; however, a sharp decline in the demand for fine cuisine has left restaurants scratching their heads. According to a USA Today article, Hard times are on the menu at restaurants, dinner traffic has fallen 2 percent since last year and a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association found 54 percent of restaurants said customer traffic fell in January, making that the fifth month in a row.

Closings of Lone Star restaurants that left 1,500 employees jobless last year, and Starbucks recent plans to close nearly 100 low-performing locations, is further evidence to the effects the recession has had on this once thriving industry.

Restaurants find ways to turn the tables

It isn’t to say Americans don’t enjoy variety, after all it is the “spice of life.” The economic downturn has forced consumers to reevaluate where their earnings are being spent, and an obvious place to cut back is dining out.

Fancy eateries are examining the effectiveness of their marketing practices and are seeking ways to appeal to the money-conscious consumer. Offering exquisite service, special promotions and discounts and maintaining high quality food options on the menu are ways a restaurant can cater to its clientele.

A CBS segment, Fancy restaurants cut prices, offer some tips for restaurants to consider during the recession.

Food for thought

From a public relations perspective, this challenge is an opportunity for the restaurant industry to reconsider its position. Understanding the needs and limitations of your audience allows you to create affordable options. Restaurants may be taking a hit at the moment, but adapting to this recessive climate gives them staying power to survive.

There are some things I will not splurge on- quality coffee is not one of them. I have been known to spend much of my hard-earned money on strong shots of espresso. While there’s nothing more satisfying than sipping a soothing cup of joe, feeding my caffeine habit is expensive. Just when I thought there was no cure for my addiction, Starbucks answered my prayers.

Change a’ brewing

We all like a deal now and then, so when Starbucks decided to offer its customers breakfast with their coffee, I jumped for joy. Value meal is not a word that seems to fit in the same sentence as Starbucks – the combo is being called “breakfast pairings” -but the company is making changes to accommodate its audiences. For a reasonable price of $3.95, you can get coffee and your choice of an egg sandwich, cup of oatmeal or a slice of coffee cake. Who can argue with that?

Pierce Mattie Public Relations New York & Los Angeles blogged about the company’s recent changes saying, “as our economy continues to decline they are having to reconsider this position by rebranding themselves as an “affordable luxury.”

Starbucks is trying to show people they are more than a coffee chain catering to the busy executive who comes in twice a day, or the college student cramming for finals. Starbucks is meeting the needs of consumers on a budget.

In a New York Times article, Terry Davenport, chief marketing officer for Starbucks, said, “The $3.95 price point is a backhanded way to go at the four-buck perception – it’s less than four bucks, and it’s not just a drink, but food to go with it.”

Piping PR

In addition to offering an extra bang for your buck, Starbucks is also changing up its menu presentation by spotlighting the $2 brewed and iced coffees and arming its employees with information to share with customers cringing at the prices.

Starbucks is setting a trend and using the power of public relations to revamp its image. Not only is the company training its workers to be ambassadors and spread the word about the new menu offerings, but is publicizing its use of fresh, authentic ingredients. The company’s food development team spent more than one year generating two different breakfast pairing options.

Will the new value make loyal customers turn up their noses? I can’t speak for all Starbucks coffee drinkers, but I say no! In tough times, people can appreciate a deal, no matter their socio-economic standing. Many see Starbucks as a luxury brand; however, by making its products affordable, yet still presenting them in a classy way, the company will likely increase approval among customers.

Have you had your coffee today?

In this economic climate, we are all looking for ways to cut here and save there. I know I can’t afford the latest flat screen television or designer stilettos, and people aren’t afraid to tell me. Suze Orman, internationally-renowned financial guru, tells people who call into her show they are too poor to enjoy the finer things in life. News programs like NBC’s Today Show have slotted special segments such as, Money 911, which features financial experts answering the money questions of panicky consumers. The economy has become a way for businesses, organizations and individuals to jump on the “save more, spend less” bandwagon.

While television psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw shares tips for saving money by buying in bulk at the grocery store and purchasing clothing for your family at the local thrifts store, other luxurious industries aren’t faring so well.

Many consumers have taken luxury brands off their radar because the easiest way to save is to eliminate the non-essentials. That’s fine and dandy if you’re a grocer because people still have to eat, but if you’re a jewelry company, like Zales, or a lavish cosmetics company, like Sisley Paris, you may be beginning to feel the crunch of the credit crisis.

Maintaining Magnificence

Before these industries commit financial suicide, there are a few options to consider. We already know public relations is a cost-effective tool for companies during a recessive period; however, it can be used in several ways to keep these extravagant tycoons afloat in a choppy economy.

Mosnar Communications, Inc. Public Relations Blog, published a post titled, For Luxury Brands Considering Suicide, Seven Tips Before Jumping, that offers some great tips for struggling luxury industries.

1. Define Quality
From a PR perspective, this means knowing your company’s worth, even during a slump, and developing a strong message to convey. Practice what you preach by delivering the quality product you promise consumers.

2. Identify Targets
One of the most important factors in being a successful business, is knowing your audience. Understanding who purchases your product and using that information to position your brand, will help you thrive.

3. Promote Confidence
You know that saying, “Fake it ‘till you make it” ?  Well, this is where it becomes useful. Exuding confidence that your company can withstand the bad economy, will translate to consumers and competitors alike.

4. Build Relationships
Although a little cliché, good PR begins with building strong relationships with others. While you may be looking over your shoulder to scope out the competition, they’re doing the same. But why work hard when you can work smart? Form alliances with other luxury brands or non-profits to increase brand awareness and product value.

5. Blog Now
Consumers are no dummies and have opinions they aren’t shy about sharing on the blogosphere. Put your brand out there and voice opinions, address misconceptions and enhance the relationships you have with your key audiences.

6.Launch PR
When consumers don’t have the extra cash to toss your way, you just have to earn it. The best way to gain trust and establish credibility is to promote your brand in a natural, untainted manner. PR offers the benefits of marketing and advertising, without the monetary obligations and skepticism.

7. Don’t Quit
It’s true, winners never quit and slow and steady wins the race. Nothing happens overnight, but if your loyal customers see you prevailing when things aren’t so sunny-side-up, they too will continue to believe in the brand you’ve built.

Basically, you have to keep it moving to give your brand a facelift. This recession won’t last forever, nothing does. Saving your brand is worth it. Have you pampered yourself lately?

Tell me if you’ve heard this somewhere before: What is public relations? Am I the only one who loathes this question? I have been asked to define what I have been majoring in for three years now, to friends, family and the occasional curious stranger.

I consider myself creative and I never give the same answer twice. I could be generic, no offense to every Kent State professor who taught me this definition and say, “It’s building relationships between different audiences.” Generic is not my style. Unfortunately, I don’t have a working definition because public relations is defined by the situation, not a textbook.

That’s the easy part. The tricky part is explaining the difference between advertising and public relations, and why public relations is the superior choice in hard economic times. When companies are looking for ways to tighten the purse strings, they often look at the public relations department and want to eliminate it. This goes back to my initial question: What is public relations? If a company doesn’t understand what public relations is doing for it, then what’s the point?

Scale

Scale

Tipping the scale

Public relations is the ideal communications strategy during a recession. I’ve mixed my thoughts with those of David Culver and Beaupre & Co., to offer some reasons PR is a sound investment during a recession.

Credibility is key

Public relations is credible, which is a must during a recession. A company’s customer base gets shaken up a bit when the numbers go down. People begin to question everything, but public relations can alleviate some fear. Customers want to be able to trust the messages they receive and make decisions based on what’s safest. Public relations professionals can communicate a company’s messages to key audiences without it translating as a sales. Public relations is building and maintaining relationships, generic but true.

Less is more

Companies don’t always recognize the potential of public relations, because every objective is not always easily measured. But when companies have less money to spend, public relations becomes the solution. In addition to being credible, public relations is more cost-effective because it focuses on gaining free publicity through media pitches and strategic messaging versus paying for advertising.

PR is measurable

Sometimes public relations isn’t measurable in the way we always want it to be, but how it needs to be. During an economic downturn, public relations professionals become more valuable to journalists. This is because newspaper staffs, like every other industry, are facing lay-offs and journalists are more open to well-crafted pitches from public relations practitioners. This allows for positive positioning of a company and for public relations professionals to provide good content.

Versatility pays off

I like to think of public relations as a chameleon. It wears a few different hats during a recession. Public relations doesn’t rely on one medium to convey a message, but a variety of ways to reach different people.   Traditional and non-traditional media play an important role in getting the word out about a company and retaining a strong customer base.

Not to say public relations is the only way to turn a company around, but it’s certainly an integral part of doing so during the recession. When a company gives public relations professionals a chance to do their job, it give itself a competitive advantage. I don’t know it all, but I know public relations is a powerful tool in a poor economy. Do you think public relations is worth it to businesses?

What are you waiting for….sound off!

Employee getting the boot

Employee getting the boot

Although I enjoy obtaining my daily dose of news via NBC’s Today Show, CNN and the Daily Kent Stater, it seems like lately it’s the same old story: ‘Corporate Tycoon Downsizing’, ‘Company Cuts Workers’ and ‘Land of the Layoffs.’

You have to admit it’s getting a bit out of hand. I know we’re in a recession but what about all those employees who have or will soon lose their jobs? My first thought is always, “Wow, I’d really hate to be losing my job right now.” My second thought, stemming from being told by my PR professors to think strategically is, “Wow, I’d really hate to be the one telling them they’re losing their job.”

Unfortunately, that’s the downside of being a public relations professional during a recession. Fortunately, that’s exactly why public relations professionals are so important during a recession.

Akron tire company slashes jobs

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. , the largest U.S. tire maker, announced it would be eliminating nearly 5,000 jobs due to the decrease in demand for new tires. An Associated Press article cites the decrease in demand as part of a chain reaction sparked by the struggling automotive industry.

“The Akron-based company said demand for new tires is weak as auto sales slump and the market for replacement tires is also down because people are driving less.” The article quotes Kevin Johnsen, Goodyear contract coordinator and a staff representative, about the company’s position on the job cuts.

“We always have concerns about companies laying off members and we’ll do everything that we can to protect our members,” Johnsen said.
The Akron Beacon Journal published the following about Goodyear:
“Goodyear did not say where, or when, it will cut jobs this year.”

Public relations perspective


Rob Jewel, author of the blog PR on the run, said the management at Goodyear has created “an environment of uncertainty” for its employees. I could not agree more. It’s a known fact there’s a strong correlation between trust in management and employee performance. There doesn’t appear to be much two-way communication happening between employees and the management team. This is where PR people come in. It’s absolutely imperative for the workers to know what’s going on, even if the rest of us don’t. Keeping them in the loop will likely boost morale, even in this doubtful period.

In his blog, A shel of my former self, Shel Holtz suggests nine tips for communicating layoffs.
1. Involve company communicators in layoff planning.
2. Communicate clearly to all interested stakeholders.
3. Be human.
4. Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
5. Focus on the survivors.
6. Articulate the end state of the process.
7. Pay special attention to top performers.
8. Don’t spin it.
9. Be transparent.

During this recessive time, PR people are vital fixtures in any company. In all my textbooks, public relations is loosely defined as communicating and building relationships. At its best, public relations also focuses on maintaining those relationships. Sometimes we all have to be the bearer of bad news, but approaching the tough issues with sensitivity and tact can make all the difference.

Take-away: Communicate well and they won’t kill the messenger.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

networking_professionals3I’ve been having the same dream at least once a week for the past two months.  In the dream, I’m dressed professionally, portfolio in hand and ready to take on the world.  The only problem is everywhere I go I see signs saying “Not Hiring Here.” Sound familiar?

 

Being educated and driven doesn’t mean much in an economy where even the most seasoned professionals are struggling to stay afloat. 

 An article appearing in Sunday’s New York Times, With Prospects Grim, Colleges Aid Job Search, identifies this as one of the worst job markets in recent memory.  Students are uncertain about the future and don’t know where to turn to for help. 

Recognizing the economic hardship its students are facing, New York University hosted a seminar called “Recession-Proof Your Job Search,” to help students identify marketable skills and locate gainful employment.  The article suggests you look for jobs where “sales are up.” 

As public relations students, we’re armed with an arsenal of applicable skills to be used in almost any field.  You may want to work in corporate PR, but you may find a position in the healthcare industry.  Be creative and be flexible because a positive attitude can turn a dismal job hunt into the opportunity of a lifetime.   

 Network

Have you ever heard it’s not what you know, but who you know?  This idea holds true, especially in the world of public relations.  I’m always being told to network with as many people as possible to increase my chances of obtaining an internship or job.  Until recently, I couldn’t see the value.  Everyone seems to have an impressive resume but not everyone has a professional connection to give them an edge when seeking employment.  Andrea R Nierenberg, president of business communications company, The Nierenberg Group, explains how a good first impression and fine-tuned networking skills can go a long way. 

Brand Yourself

 It’s important to know what your skill set is so you can easily apply it to the task at hand.   The professors at Kent State are advocates of branding yourself.  In my classes I’m always being told to make myself stand out, and not just using conventional mediums.  We have a presence online as well.  The Brand-Yourself blog explains how we can brand ourselves through Facebook or Twitter by making a professional impression. 

Suggested Tips:

1. Use visuals: Writing isn’t the only way to express thoughts and ideas. A captivating image can go a long way.

2. Short bios are best: Clear and concise writing is a must in public relations, so why not show off your skills and brand yourself in a brief “About Me” section.

3. Develop a web portfolio: Make sure to keep an up-to-date portfolio online to showcase your abilities and frame your sparkling personality.

4. Easy contact information: Employers have better things to do than search for your contact information all day. Make yourself available and easy to get in touch with.

A recent article on Cnet News states there is a substantial increase in traffic on the social networking site LinkedIn driven by the poor economy and recent layoffs. 

 The moral of the story is know your worth.  Market your skills and let PR be the perfect recession profession for you!