Lee Odden

Best Recession Marketing Investment? Relationships

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Search marketing has been known as recession resistant because so many companies shift or increase internet marketing budgets there in good times and in bad.  When other marketing and advertising channels don’t hold up to ROI scruitiny, tactics like SEO hold up rather well.  Sage advice on how to execute on this insight can be found at “Recession Proof Search Engine Optimization Tips“.

Another channel receiving budget attention even while marketing costs are being cut or shifted is public relations – especially with B2B companies.  A recent story in BtoB Magazine, “Marketers stay in the conversation with PR” tells the story of a company that relies on case studies as part of their PR efforts. Since many of their customers conduct research as part of the sales process, the case studies promoted via PR efforts are an instrumental part of their ability to attract new customers.

Public Relations is more than press releases and media relations efforts to pitch journalists stories about companies. PR also involves building thought leadership, social media engagement, content development, internal company communications and many more aspects of corporate communications that affect marketing. 

Due to the shift of advertising and publications online, newsrooms have been dealing with limited resources due to job loss and budget cuts for several years. The recession has not improved that situation and creates even more pressure for journalists to produce more content with less resources. Public Relations helps meet that need for content by delivering story ideas, research, subject matter experts and resources.

Digital PR savvy agencies are making both traditional media relations, digital media relations and optimized news content work together as part of a Push Pull PR strategy.  PR agencies work to partner with journalists to provide content via push delivery but can also optimize (SEO) news content to make it easy for story researchers to find companies the PR firms represent.

The trend in hard times is for companies to cut all marketing costs that are not tied to direct sales. Yet some companies are shifting budgets to smart, creative online marketing and PR efforts. When no one else is marketing, there’s even more opportunity to stand out to prospective buyers. 

As companies decide where to invest their limited marketing resources, there is a distinct opportunity to focus on investing in relationships: with their customers, prospects, employees and business partners.   

Online marketing and PR tactics such as social media marketing, online public relations and search engine optimization combine to provide a high value, modest cost and highly measurable solution for companies that need a competitive advantage.

Social media engagement helps build relationships with consumers and influencers as well as social web savvy journalists. SEO and optimized social media content makes it easier for consumers to find information online when they’re doing the research that will help them make buying decisions. It also help journalists to efficiently do the research necessary for writing stories and making decisions about what reputatble companies to cover.

That’s right: I am suggesting that there is a difference in optimizing content for lead generation vs optimizing content for journalists doing research for story sources.  This is the kind of creative effort that digital PR brings to a slim marketing budget. The ability to use technology as well as an understanding of search and the industry to gain a competitive advantage.  See: “Optimizing the Right Content for the Right Audience” for more insight.

Companies that have been engaged in social web participation long before the economy went into recession may already have an asset those looking into social media now desire: better relationships with their customers. PR, SEO and Social Media can facilitate the effectiveness of building those relationships – even for companies that are just now starting. The challenge is figuring out how to best use the resources available and what internal expertise or outside help will make best use of them.

Need more data on justifying social media and PR? Check out the new report from Marketing Sherpa: “What Works and What Doesn’t in Social Media Marketing and PR“.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. You do have a good point Lee: companies should look into social media to better their relationships with their customers. It seems it will soon be expected, just like you expect a company to have a website.

  2. I’m dealing with a client right now who would like me to “prove” to them that this is the way to go. They are in the midst of an extensive social media campaign right now and they are looking for more ways to enhance their campaign. Great blog entry! Surely helps to justify our position to this client!

    • I’m glad the post was helpful Jaimie. A lot of social media efforts are marketing driven, but there are certainly additional benefits when you consider audiences outside of buyers. There’s also existing customers, employees, the media, job seekers and partners.

      • The particular client is in the hospitality industry and we’ve created “personalities” for this social media campaign. Like snowmobiling, for example, we’re using the owner of BLADE snowmobiles (manufactured right here in northern MN). He’s got past relationships with the snowmobiling world and there are many out there yet to be created. I’ve also told the client (the hospitality industry) there comes a point where they, too, must take responsibility for building that relationship with their customers, etc, which (as we know) is just as important in developing a social platform.

        • Hi Jamie, yes it is very important for the client to take responsibility for building those relationships. Otherwise, it won’t last and it won’t be real. Most of all, the relationships won’t be as productive.

  3. Largely agreed. I think this is not just about your relationships, but the value of them. Your network is invaluable. But only so long as your network values you as well.

    It’s not about how many, but how deep. And to your point, those deep relationships can hopefully open a few doors.

    • How deep really speaks to the relevancy issue in most cases. Many companies approach social media in a superficial way and through old models of information distribution as alluded in the post.

      Those that learn the technology, the preferences and interests of communities and then “give to get” with a call to take action will realize more open doors with consumers, influentials and media that spend time on the social web.

  4. It’s not just your social media relationships, but any and all relationships that are going to matter in the coming years. I think those companies that don’t believe they need social media are going to have to look at it as another way to reach their customers.

    And, as you said, Lee, they are going to have to find a way to stay in touch with today’s journalists. This is probably going to be hard for a lot of established companies to come to grips with.

    Sounds like you don’t think it’s too late to get started?

    • Rather than social media relationships specifically, I mean using social media to create and/or enhance real world relationships.

      Companies that sell something to a customer and then continue to provide value through social channels are building upon that first experience with a continued relationship.

      As for journalists, yes – companies and PR firms that don’t figure out that the fish have moved in the pond are going to go home hungry. Social media channels don’t make sense for every industry and every situation by any means. But for those that do make sense, it’s a matter of getting social or goodbye because the competition is certainly figuring it out.

      It’s never too late to be social 🙂

  5. There are some great points here, this really is a time to cement relationships.

    I was chatting to a friend the other day (he manages a huge ppc budget with agency help) and he said what he really needs right now is his agency coming back to him saying – “guess what? – we’ve found a way we can reduce spend by x percent but still keep the leads coming in at the same level” . . .

    BUT in reality he gets “if you’ve got an extra $10k this week we’ve found a great term that we think will work well for you!”. . . His reaction? Erm no

    Moral of the story? Your clients are probably struggling. Go the extra mile, help them out, help them cut costs, make more money … And cement that relationship 😉


  6. Relationships are key. Not only with current customers and potential customers, but with employees as well. Social media can touch on all 3 and with a relatively low cost. I think it would be foolish for a company, no matter what industry they’re in, to at least consider social media.

    • Great point Kasey, I’m with you. I think the challenge for many companies is figuring out how to start. That sort of uncertainty gives agencies like TopRankMarketing.com a lot of new business. Companies can do many things on the social web on their own. Good agencies can speed up such efforts as well as ensure quality and a focus on objectives.

  7. Avatar Anette Gangnæs says

    You make a valid point, relationship is what businesses should be based on, because without people there is no business. Customers are using the Internet more, even my mum ordered a holiday online, by her selves.

  8. You can’t beat relationships. They keep you afloat in the good times and bad. It’s always great to know people because that connection could be your next job, project, partner etc.

  9. It has become clear in my few months of exploration of social media that it is very effective. I kick myself every day that I didn’t investigate it earlier. Perhaps 25 years at a very large (and now bankrupt) newspaper and television company dulled my perspective on alternative media more than I realized.

    What I don’t know for my chosen new industry (agriculture) is how to assess how popular social media will be in the future. Will it eventually break through age and demographic barriers to get to rural users in the 50+ bracket which, unfortunately, seems to be the age of most farmers? In the same vein, will it ever be truly effective for people that aren’t office or workstation based? Can we really get farmers, truck drivers, and air-conditioning service men to “tweet”?

    • That’s a very good question Andy. The answer should be straight forward to get: search twitter for conversations on those topics. If it yields no results, then maybe the ag market isn’t quite ready for Twitter communications. That might also mean it’s early days and you can get a first mover advantage. You might also find there are some early adopters to microblogging in the ag industry, which means it’s time to listen and engage.

  10. Great to see how a post can evolve to cover related topics, each of these points I’ve discussed recently with colleagues:

    – ‘give to get’ engagement philosophy
    – depth of over quantity of customer relationships
    – first-mover advantage for brands engaging in social media

    Another sound recession marketing strategy that social media facilitates are initiatives that can work both the retention and acquisition sides of the coin. Solutions that can better engage and retain current consumers while at the same time reaching new ones via WOM and social media are not just smart but more efficient.

  11. Great post, Lee. This argument can’t be stated enough. When I talk with clients about social media, I cut straight to the chase about how members of their buying communities (B2B buying communities in particular) are empowered like never before to influence each other on what products to use. At the same time, I tell the clients, they are just as empowered to reach them (in the right way).

    • I think “in the right way” is a consideration that speaks volumes. Too many efforts are oblivious to the norms of the social communities and members that PR/marketing is trying to reach.

  12. Avatar Lee Sellers says

    The beauty of social networking is that can build relationships by executing on one of the foundations of creative business leaders.

    Sales are a transfer of enthusiasm.

    Think about it, loyalty is function of enthusiasm gained though interaction with businesses and customers of those businesses. Am I excited enough to tell other people? Will that excitement linger until my next purchase decision?

    You are spot on. Those who understood are positioned well.

  13. Social Media Networking is such an innovative revolution at such a time in our economy. The relationships that these companies are building through such means are what is going to help keep them from sinking during this downfall and it’s something companies who aren’t involved in should immediately begin looking in to as a safety device to stay afloat.

  14. Well said Lee. Thanks for pulling this together so concisely. Especially redefining PR as people should understand it today. It seems that so many companies are “reacting” this way now rather than thinking and planning this approach strategically. I do believe that those who are even testing these new networks of relationships will thrive in a post recession world even in the internal workings of their company.

    Thanks again for the insight and helping grow redpepperland.com

  15. Social networking and relationships are the key, and very crucial in business. Forging good relationships and maintaining them, by providing a service will in turn reflect upon your own success.