Commentary

Goodbye 2010, The Year Of Austerity

And I'll bet you all thought 2009 was a killer.

Initially, I believed that 2010 would be a game-changer year. I was convinced that budgets would creep back up again, clients would become a bit more cheery, gloom would be banished to the South Pole and that the new normal would be, with our newly honed set of values, a well-balanced fabulous.

Well, it delivered in part. Twenty-ten has certainly been a game-changer of a year, but not in the ways that most of us (in our PR world, at least) had expected.

The "new value system" that we were looking forward to never really materialized. Instead, it seems we have collectively created a skewed perspective characterized by fear, hopelessness -- and some would add xenophobia (fear needs a scapegoat, right?) as evidenced by the most divisive political climate this country has seen in decades.

But I digress ...

The transition into austerity this year has proven to be a double-edged sword for our industry. Fiscal concerns have moved us into positions we had not encountered before. Through trial and error, we've redefined our own values and are now managing resources in new and effective ways that are paying off. But it hasn't been easy.

I'd like to share some of what I and my team have learned from a year of austerity.

Never be desperate

Some of the worst client hires -- yes, we hire clients -- were made this year, in the name of billings and cash flow. Forget the saying that cash is king. We found out the hard way that some clients ended up costing us far more than we could have imagined. "I'm Sorry We Hired You" is not a healthy way to view your customers. No price (or client) is worth the sacrifice of your mental health or employee morale!

Focus your efforts on the markets you know best

You can't be all things to everyone. Really. Focus on what you know and improve on that knowledge. Focus on what you love, and your passion and dedication will become contagious. Specialize and own your space. We got rid of practice areas that were either unrelated to our core offerings, or were already too crowded. As a result, we've gained recognition by becoming very focused on several industries -- it was the best move we made.

Which brings me to...

Learn to let go of crap, traditions, and fear-based "playing it safe" actions

We all know that change is hard. Adapting to new ways of doing business and handling clients in a more-for-less climate is difficult for most people. Turning down or letting go of business -- even if it's not good for your agency -- is really hard. But still, we need to find courage to embrace change and evolve with the marketplace. There's no point in wasting time and energy in thoughts of how it used to be. Whatever it was, or will be, it won't be that again.

More lemonade making

The proverbial lemonade stand has grown. We've learned to make do with a whole lot less of everything -- time, money, sleep, holidays, shoes -- the list goes on. But a few things we cannot do with less of are ideas, creativity and motivation. Without more of these in our profession, we are doomed.

Austerity measures are counterproductive 99% of the time

When you limit your thinking or reduce it to "just get by," you will never, ever grow or get out of that place. To become more efficient is one thing, but to operate from a cheapskate stance is another. In 2010, the worst year of our trading, we expanded our staff, locations and client service offerings because we couldn't run our agency in pause mode. Think big, but take responsible risks.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

With clients, staff, stakeholders and, well, everyone you meet. People appreciate honesty and authenticity. They also want to be communicated with, not at. Small gestures of authentic, personalized communication will go a very long way -- especially if you have bad news.

Get off the downbeat bus

We are in the business of image building and shaping perceptions, so liven up, people! No one likes hanging out with a loser. Recognize that there are so many opportunities to be had, or created and carpe diem already. To be sure, the PR industry will go through some significant changes in the coming year, but we are ready.

So goodbye and farewell, austerity, and welcome, 2011, the year of new opportunities and reinvention.

Tags: pr
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3 comments about "Goodbye 2010, The Year Of Austerity ".
  1. len stein , December 23, 2010 at 10:04 a.m.

    totally agree, is time to be an authentic communicator, and fire those bad clients... but fewer shoes, I don't know...?

  2. Susan Von Seggern from SvS PR , December 23, 2010 at 1 p.m.

    Love all your columns Vanessa, thanks for your consistently clear eyed view of our industry. Some of the lessons you relate here I learned in the .com bust/post 9-11 recession, so thankfully I didn't need to relearn them. Never be desperate, let go, communicate and put on an upbeat face being the tops. 2010 was actually a good year for me, ~20% revenue increase over 2009 so no complaints. Based on the continuing clients and the inbound new biz inquiries I have been getting lately, I think 2011 will actually be a banner year. Onward and upward!

  3. Adam Hartung from spark partners , December 24, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

    Exceptional list of 7 ways to improve business in 2011! All leaders need to get over the cost cutting and "core focus" efforts that have been hurting value, and start looking forward. Read more about implementing these 7 steps at Forbes.com http://t.co/dkGTjLq or The Phoenix Principle http://bit.ly/hwuxtg