More Bigwigs Weigh in on What to Do in a Downturn

Ad Age Offers Experts' Advice as Part of Occasional Series

By Published on .

Ad Age explores what marketers, media and agencies are doing to survive and even thrive in the downturn.
NEW YORK ( -- Now's the time to go big. Or small. Dominate social media. Or stick to what's tried and true. In these stormy times, how are you supposed to discern what is right for your brand? There is no silver bullet, as you well know by now. As part of an occasional series, Ad Age puts forth what the experts are thinking regarding the recession. Send your ideas to Marissa Miley.

Richard Edelman
"This is more than a recession; it is a realignment of priorities and expectations. Companies and brands must recognize the evolution from shareholder to stakeholder society, with broader objectives such as community benefit and social good alongside profit maximization. The line has blurred between corporate reputation and brand marketing. You cannot buy a positive image; you earn it through action. The best path forward is public engagement blending policy and communication, a decentralized, democratic approach and association with the important issues of our time.

Business must also regain lost trust by demonstrating its willingness to partner with government and civil society. The new approach must be to inform the conversation where it is happening rather than reverting to scripted messages in a paid format, for there is a dialect between control and credibility. The best spokespeople are those with personal experience, expert credentials or from the mid-levels of the company, supplanting CEOs or athletes paid to play. Today smart brands use social media to listen; Twitter for customer services; and engage with people to tap into their desire to solve some of our challenges."
Richard Edelman,

Agencies need to stop treating social media and other new technologies as add-ons if they wish to remain relevant -- and in business. "Most agencies are adding 21st-century tools but still using a mid-20th century marketing model. Building a modern brand requires a whole new model."

Rob White, partner,
Zeus Jones,

"If you're a big brand, and you have the cash, now is the time to double down, keep your spending up, and try to grab market share so you come out of things on top. If you're like the rest of us, with limited money, I think the key is to adopt a war-room mentality, keep your eye on the prize each month or quarter out, and start becoming iterative, nimble and reactionary to the changing climate. Look at the environment, look at your results, make a new short-term plan, execute, measure, wash, rinse, repeat. It sucks, but it'll keep you from being locked in to big choices that you might regret if things change again in six months."

Rick Webb, co-founder and chief operating officer,
Barbarian Group

Esther Lee
"Understand what new attitudes and behaviors your key prospects are adopting during these times -- as consumers but also as human beings. For some categories, this is obviously and wildly different now vs. during good times (financial services and automotive being top-of-mind examples). In some cases, these are more subtle (snacks and the search for comfort eating in bad economic times, for example). But, recognize these new needs, fears and pain points as insight and context, not necessarily as messaging. Brands should still leverage their unique points of view and value propositions and not join a bandwagon and undifferentiated sea of 'salve positionings.'

Engagement strategies need to evolve. How people go about their life routines clearly changes as their livelihoods change. How they want to engage in a brand conversation is as important to reassess as what the brand now has to say. My guess is that closer proximity and intimacy/personal marketing will become increasingly important as people feel increasingly disassociated from other social structures and start to gravitate towards the comfortable and familiar."

Esther Lee,
former CEO,
Euro N.A.

"Think about earning and owning your media in addition to buying it. Earned media is media you don't buy but earn the hard way. PR is an example of earned media. Word-of-mouth is another. There are still a lot of marketers out there buying their media when they could earn it, and earning it a lot less expensively on earned media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The total amount of money flowing out of marketers' pockets to agencies won't decline and will likely go up, but the mix is headed for important changes."

Fred Wilson,
Union Square Ventures partner

"First and foremost, one has got to remember that no matter how hard the struggle is today, recessions do end. This one will too. So if you burn the furniture today, you will not have anything to sit on when the business cycle swings upward. One of the most important steps an organization can take now, be it agency or client, is to figure out what needs to be in place for you to be first out of the gate when money starts to flow again and then set a process in motion that will ensure you get there. I think that is a point that is so easily missed. Have a plan in place for better times. They will return, eventually."

Robert Mathias,
managing director,
Ogilvy's Washington office

"For better or worse, Washington is now -- at least in the short run -- the new center of gravity for the U.S. economy. Decisions that are made in D.C. over the next 12 to 24 months will have a dramatic impact on the long-term shape of our economy. Instead of running away from Washington, the smartest companies are embracing the town -- demonstrating to policy makers that they want to be part of the solution and play a role in our nation's economic growth. The Washington political set is looking to support companies that can create jobs and opportunities for the American people. In short, it's time for companies to reach out a cooperative hand, not clench their fists, when it comes to the Beltway."

Josh Gottheimer,
exec VP-worldwide,

Joe Tripodi
"Don't waste this opportunity to enhance brand love. This is the time to engage people and deliver experiences that excite them in unexpected ways. As an example, we recently introduced a new global marketing campaign around the idea of 'Open Happiness.' We are bringing it to life not only through traditional advertising but through the release of a music single, online experiences, social media, impactful point-of-purchase materials and the integration of the core creative idea into all of our existing properties, like the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This is not the time to stop talking with consumers. If you use this opportunity to broaden your dialogue with the people who love your brands, you will come out of this period with a much stronger and deeper relationship with them."
Joe Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial leadership officer,
Coca-Cola Co.

"Continue to consider all options in the marketing mix and if you can't outspend, outsmart your competitors. Be efficient by ensuring that all communications are in line with your audience so that there is strategic consistency across how you are marketing online, in-person and in traditional media. Be far more proactive in how you demonstrate and deliver value but also focus on values. ... Corporate and brand reputations, especially in times of high anxiety, can be the key differentiator for all of your stakeholders. While much of the marketing and communications focus is on lower cost, it's a higher impact strategy and innovation that can often make the difference. This will help position your business to benefit from the growth that typically follows recessionary periods."

Andy Polansky, president, Weber Shandwick

Most Popular
In this article: