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The last few years have left many a marketer feeling pummeled from all sides. Budgets are strained, customers more savvy and prospects increasingly skeptical, yet your mandate remains. Whatever the strategies or tactics, everyone wants results. They are looking to you to deliver more with less.

Marketing professionals struggle with a great paradox here: in a tight economy, marketing becomes even more vital—but it is usually the first expense cut from the budget. This issue's dilemma is the battle for a budget.

Have you been able to negotiate for the resources you needed? Did you lose out to the demands of another department? SWOT Team, we want to know how you have handled not just the squeeze on spending but also the pressure for increased performance that usually accompanies it. From bootstrapping to best practices, how do you get results, respect and the budget for your marketing agenda in the current climate?

Don't have the budget blues? Let us know what keeps you up at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tap into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of this group, it works. You could win a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

You can also revisit our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice on the use of PR as damage control.

Unite and make a difference!

• Give advice about this issue's dilemma.

• Read your peers' responses to the previous dilemma (below).

• Submit your own dilemma.

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weaknesses

I'm having a hard time convincing my boss that it takes money to make money.

For the third year in a row, our executive team has mandated budget cuts across the board. I am under pressure from my boss to produce results, but am having a hard time convincing her that it takes money to make money. I have updated our marketing plan for the coming year and require additional funds to execute and meet our target.

My boss seems to think that we can simply remove a few tactics here and there and still reach our sales goals.

What is the best approach for getting my plan approved with the budget I require? Can your readers help?

—Anonymous, Marketing Manager

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

How can we use PR to correct bad management decisions and inferior customer service during financial difficulty?

This past year, a young retail store (three years old) that I work for was facing some real financial difficulty. As a result, along with poor management of how the situation was handled, customer service was severely jeopardized (customers felt like they were getting the runaround about their orders). The damage has been done and bad publicity spreads faster than good publicity.

How do we fix this dilemma? Can your readers help?

—Anonymous, General Manager

Summary of Advice Received

Dear Anonymous, SWOT Team members have given their best advice for making the most of a less-than-perfect situation. This is a touchy subject that takes great courage to disclose and to manage. Thank you for seeking the advice of your peers. Their responses symbolize exactly what this column is about: building, or in some cases rebuilding, your business through community.

Although your question centered on the use of PR, one SWOT Team member made this poignant remark:

PR cannot, on its own, turn around the company's fortunes, and don't let anybody lay the responsibility on PR to do that! It's a job for everybody in the business.

The advice of the SWOT Team constitutes a holistic approach:

1. Communicate honestly with customers about the past and the future.

2. Enlist the help of the entire team in your recovery efforts.

3. Show goodwill by engaging your community.

4. Give customers something positive to talk about.

1. Communicate honestly with customers about the past and the future

If communication was not handled well during the crisis, don't let that stop you from communicating with existing customers who may still have a negative perception of your company.

An anonymous SWOT member raises many questions about the nature of the “damage done” and recommends honest communication as the place to start:

Were the orders delayed or wrong? If delayed, by how long? Are you talking about many customers or a few? Do you know who your unhappy customers are, or was the information extrapolated from a few calls or concerns? The PR strategy you deploy will depend on the true nature of the problem. Regardless, the bottom line will require your being honest.

2. Enlist the help of the entire team in your recovery efforts

More than ever, in times of financial difficulty your front-line staffers are your most important link to your customers and play a vital role in the recovery process.

An anonymous reader emphasizes the importance of involving your staff in the creation and practice of an internal culture of good service as part of the recovery:

This is where crisis management comes in and you should seek skilled assistance. Generally speaking, however, you need to look at which groups are most affected and address these first. For instance, if you receive complaints, respond. Be open, apologize, and say what you're doing to fix the problems. Develop clear and direct communication channels with customers and communicate as often as needed. Invest in staff retraining—ensure that your staff knows about and practices good service. This should be a mantra that forms part of your internal culture. Look at your overall communications—what messages do you want people to receive and what are they receiving now? Are they the same? Are your key messages reflecting the way you want people to perceive your company? Does your staff know what these messages are?

Assuming you don't have a crisis management strategy and a communication strategy (which is implied by your dilemma), then you should create these, ASAP. Contact a good public relations agency and be prepared to listen to and take their advice. Ensure your staff is included in the process of developing the communication plan. This plan should be designed to right your immediate problems, as well as provide a strategy and tactics to ensure it doesn't happen again.

3. Show goodwill by engaging your community

Paul Roberts, Manager of External Communication for WorkCover Corporation (South Australia), who receives credit for the opening quote, goes on to explain how his company worked with the community in recovering from a financial crisis:

I worked for a major bank that lost several $billion (Australian) and which was bailed out by taxpayers. The marketing/PR team worked across the business to ensure we communicated with the right people so that some of our major foreign investors did not pull out. They were advised of the problem, how it was being fixed and that the bank was stable. They were kept informed of our progress throughout the recovery period. We effectively retained all of our local customers. In reviewing this outcome, we believed a key reason for this was that our organization had established substantial goodwill over many years as a strong, locally focused sponsor of large and small community events. The many people we helped were valuable voices in rallying support for our organization.

My advice in the short term: rebuild your customer service as a key priority. Tell your customers and stakeholders what you are doing to fix your problems and get involved in the community if you are not already. Begin building a positive profile (start with something small that your PR people can really work). For example, a program providing work-based training for disadvantaged local kids etc. I have never forgotten the lesson from the case above: build your communication and community links in the good times and you are more likely to have their support if something should go wrong.

Principal of Eight Twenty Strategies, Marc Bodner, also questions the extent of the damage and provides his recommendation for community building:

Is the store fulfilling the orders, or are the troubles so deep that customers are in very real jeopardy of losing deposits, payments, etc.? If the store is fulfilling orders, and has turned the corner, then PR can be a very valuable tool. Create an event tied to a charity or local organization that will get noticed in the community. Admit to having been through rough times, and credit the customer for having faith and allowing you to right the ship. Build a new community-based position that will encourage the press to respond, and allow you to begin rebuilding a loyal customer base. Do this and you'll see daylight, but go down the wrong path in fulfilling this and you might as well turn out the lights!

“Whatever the business, there must be some sort of a social responsibility position this enterprise adheres to,” says Mr.Yaman, CEO of Fidelo, who remarks on the good that can come from a bad situation by not only getting involved in the community but doing so with the purpose of social responsibility:

For each apology/correction that the company makes, your company can do more than just make up for the discomfort caused. For example, plant a tree, or undertake a community activity that reflects your company's position of social responsibility. Later on, that same cause, built from the ashes of discontent may be the jewel in the PR crown of your firm.

4. Give customers something positive to talk about

Finally, when the heavy lifting of the recovery is underway, you can work on sharing your new direction with customers and generating positive word of mouth.

Lorett Pellettiere Calix, an Administrator for CEDAC, gives these tips:

Try some visible changes—remodeling, repainting, or different window displays—to highlight the perception that something has changed, and attract people back into the store to see what's different. Once there, astonish them with tremendous service. Hopefully the word will spread almost as quickly about the great new shop.

You've shown great character, SWOT Team—thanks again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Yvonne is a “customer engagement coach” and President of EVE Consulting, helping companies achieve sustainable market leadership through the power of customer engagement.