Rick leads SHIFT communicationa performance communications company that helps clients change paradigms, categories and business trajectories
Now that we’re on the brink of another recession, I’ve been thinking about what it means for both my own business and our customers. One of the benefits of age is that I’ve already lived through four of these cycles: the early ’80s, early ’90s, the dotcom bust, and the 2008 market implosion. common lessons removed from all lessons.
One of those lessons is that recessions often tear away from us the business dynamism we take for granted. Even though we anticipate change, the proverbial turn of the tide usually happens much faster than we planned.
There are two commodities that stand out to me the most because they tend to become scarce. The first is a good idea: capital is starting to dry up from both customers and investors. Y Combinator (who is behind the success story of many tech companies) recently warned his wallet of this, stating that the odds of success at fundraising are extremely low — “even if your business is doing well.”
The second is trust. In a declining economy, doubt and uncertainty can overtake confidence and confidence in the short term. I’m not just talking about the economy and spending, but rather doubt in a business specifically. When in doubt, this often has a snowball effect. A few pessimistic views change the market perception of the ‘general’.
Businesses and their leaders need to fiercely protect and radiate trust in times like these.
Maintaining confidence during a downturn
Protecting trust depends on taking smart business steps. But what I want to emphasize is that the way you communicate those smart moves is just as important as the moves themselves. Despite many time-honored arguments to the contrary, PR and communication are intrinsically linked to business performance, and this is all the more true in a soft economy.
There are a few specific messaging rules to focus on in a recession. In no particular order these are:
• Your vision for the company
Remind all stakeholders that you will continue to deliver on your commitments. Make an effort to restore faith in your vision, your long-term plan, and your sustainability as a company.
• Business changes, good and bad
Agility and innovation can drive growth, especially during weak economies. Companies that revolve around market shifts have a strong story to tell that can build confidence and build momentum. On the other hand, complacency and defensiveness can destroy momentum, reputation, and appreciation. Cost-cutting initiatives often backfire. Getting ahead of potentially negative news, such as layoffs, and adding context and empathy to the story can help mitigate risk, manage credibility, and minimize negative audience reaction.
• Your humanity
People are still shocked by the pandemic, social injustices, war, natural disasters and countless other problems that have befallen our world and have dominated the headlines in recent years. Keep in mind that this is the first recession young workers will face in their careers. We have a very fragile society and must lead and speak with that in mind. Humanity is reflected in the actions you take, the tone and words you use, and (for better or worse) the speed with which you react.
Consistent and proactive communication can help run all three of these message lines. Prioritizing it as an organization and as a business leader can not only help maintain the confidence that such a scarce resource becomes during recessions, but you can actually gain ground on it.
Challenging the continued relevance of your story
A lot has changed in the past 30 months. And while one of those things probably isn’t the DNA of your brand and company, it’s more than likely that the story you told pre-Covid is outdated, unattainable, and possibly even offensive to some. Challenge your team to ask your stakeholders, inside and out, for their honest feedback on what you say and how you say it – what works and what doesn’t.
People are looking for reasons to stay loyal to or change brands based on how closely they feel connected to each of them. You want your story to be a catalyst for positive change, not negative. Don’t let your story or a calm voice amid the uncertainty of the downturn scare them away.