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B.C.’s marketing industry proves robust through pandemic

Clients and expectations are growing alongside changing consumer demands

Marketing and public relations budgets were in many cases the first expense cut by businesses struggling to survive through the pandemic.

But the long-term curtailment of marketing and public relations efforts was not enviable, nor was it a sustainable business strategy.

Spending has resumed much quicker than many expected, as companies turn from survival to recovery and growth.

“Throughout the pandemic, especially at the beginning, there was a shift in focus for businesses and some PR budgets were naturally paused,” said Sarah Clark, partner with Jelly Marketing. “However we still found that even throughout those unknown times, businesses were still wanting to focus on marketing efforts when possible.” 

The pandemic-induced industry slowdown didn’t last long, said Katie Stevens, managing partner with Talk Shop Media. The creation of new product and service offerings during COVID-19 still needed to be communicated. 

“The need for communications still is quite strong and we’re seeing that reflected in the growth of our existing clients and the inbound leads and requests that we’re fielding,” said Stevens. 

The pandemic and economic slowdown was an opportunity for some businesses to rethink and refresh their approach to PR. 

For example, Clark saw some companies switch their strategy from traditional public relations and events efforts, to media buys, influencers and search engine optimization (SEO).

Stevens says that now more than ever, her clients are turning to digital and social media strategies over more traditional marketing strategies.

“We are seeing clients come to us and use this opportunity for what we call a brand re-envisioning,” said Stevens. “That’s taking a deep dive and looking at their mission, their values, their overarching brand story. So we’re doing more of that work.”

No longer are businesses content with channelling money into ad buys without tracking – they want to know their campaigns are moving the needle.
This has come with a shift in expectations of what marketing agencies can do.

Stevens attributes this to a couple of changes in the market.
First, as businesses tighten their budgets and pare down their internal marketing departments, they begin to rely on marketing agencies and those agencies’ ability to be cost effective. 

Second, businesses are being more mindful of their dollars. They are consolidating costs and using one marketing partner in- stead of a bunch of agencies, Stevens said. 

One trend that Jenna Kuchinsky, director of operations at Yulu Public Relations, has noticed is that clients are recognizing the importance authenticity, and living out a company’s values before bragging about them. 

For Yulu and its clients, this means going beyond market- ing and focusing on responsible corporate citizenship that takes community, stakeholders and the environment into account. 

More clients are looking to have a positive social or environmental impact and adopt a more holistic approach to marketing, Kuchinsky said, adding that this trend existed before 2020, but was accelerated by the pandemic. 

“I think that the tried and true no longer works and companies have realized that,” noted Stevens.