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Public Relations Recession Survivor's Playbook

Courtesy of Spring Associates
Dennis Spring, president and founder

Much has been written about the devastating effect of the 2009–2010 recession and how it has depressed new hiring in public relations and the economy as a whole. Many an unemployed practitioner will attest to the struggle to get reconnected to a viable, good-paying public relations job at just about any level.

But what of the so-called “survivors” of the recession? How did they manage to hang on dearly to their jobs, and more importantly, how are they going to continue to stay employed and flourish in the months and years ahead? Right now, it’s anybody’s guess as to how long it will take this “technical recovery” to trickle down to the legions of unemployed in public relations and in the nation as a whole.

In mid-January 2011, the public relations business showed signs, however slight, of renewed vigor. From our public relations executive search perch, agencies seem to be the first group that’s started to add staff at mostly the $100K+ level to handle the new business that had been won in the new year. But, the same thing happened in 2010.

In January and February of 2010, both agencies and corporate public relations departments opened with a salvo of mid- and senior-level positions presumably to handle new budgets and new business wins. By the end of the second quarter 2010, much of the hiring enthusiasm had noticeably died down to a trickle. Well, you know the story for the rest of the year.

Advice abounds for the unemployed. Now let’s talk about the survivors and what steps they need to take, and plans they need to make, in order to keep their jobs and careers moving forward in 2011.

Add value — stay relevant
Showing up every day is only half the battle. Contributing to the bottom line and/or departmental goals is what will keep you getting noticed by the powers that be. Your attention to what matters most to your boss is your job number one. Doing whatever it takes to “move the needle” is the surest way to stay on top even when you don’t recognize how your actions are directly benefitting you personally.

Keep learning about your business and/or your clients’ business
Don’t ever stop learning about your company’s goals or what makes them money. When you don’t know enough about the ways your company makes profits, or the issues they are facing, you run the risk of becoming superfluous. The more you know and the more you strive and understand how your efforts are felt all the way to the bottom line, the more valuable you become to management. Therefore, the more likely you will keep your job and possibly even get promoted.

Spectators watch while others win
Doing your job and not pushing the limits of your responsibilities will usually ensure you employment during good times. But, during these stressful recession times, just doing your job will ensure you a pink slip. Survivors know that going beyond your job description equals a ticket on the employment train to a meaningful career. Stay in the game, keep pushing, and you will continue to survive as the slackers fall by the wayside.

Express your thoughts
If you are a passionate survivor who takes his/her job seriously, you probably know more than you give yourself credit for. Most people have mastered even the most complex jobs within six months to a year. After that, you’re probably so proficient at what you do, you’re actually only using a portion of your brain power to accomplish what has become routine tasks. A survivor recognizes this and attempts to make their job more interesting by recommending to management better, maybe more creative and efficient ways to performing their job. Stating your thoughts about job improvement to management should have a clear bottom line component that illustrates your passion, understanding and knowledge of your job. If you don’t speak up, management will think you are disinterested, or worse, lazy.

Master social media
The 2011 public relations world mandates that everyone have more than a passing knowledge of the new social media tools. Senior-level public relations executives should have enough social media understanding to be able to oversee more junior executives in their social media realm. Knowing the benefits and the limits of social media will also help the public relations executive know what’s possible. Keeping up-to-date with the latest developments will keep the public relations executive current and aware of all the public relations possibilities on the landscape.

Get the best business advice you can find
Seek out all available personalized, professional advisors who can help you navigate through the twists and turns of the ever-evolving public relations landscape. Talk to everyone, read everything, but only embrace advice coming from people who are in a senior, professional capacity who fully understand your situation. Everyone’s professional world is different. Therefore, trusted, personalized, professional guidance is critical to making the right career decisions.

These are just some of the ways that a recession survivor can hold onto their job and prosper in decidedly uncertain, changing environment. Be aware, however, that the longer your tenure in a job with a static title, the more likely you will reach the upper salary limits of your title and the upper limits of your job description. Not necessarily a good combination when looking for a new job. It’s a personal decision involving the balancing of a number of variables as they relate to one’s overall career.