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Lessons from history: how recruitment can survive a recession

With talks of GDP falling and the possibility of a recession on the cards as COVID-19 causes chaos to the global economy, I thought it pertinent to write a blog on how recruitment can survive a recession. As someone who started her PR career as the financial crisis hit, I’ve witnessed first-hand from the first day of my working life what tactics do and don’t work during turbulent times like these. Of course, I’m not suggesting that these approaches will work on a blanket basis and as a disclaimer I will add that I’m fully aware the we’re facing unprecedented times – the likes of which we’ve never seen, so naturally, no one can definitely say that if you do X, your business will survive. But we’re all human, and part of what makes us all so great is our ability to learn (well some of us anyway – I’m still waiting for my husband to learn to put laundry IN the wash basket, not next to it).

What I’m trying to get across is this: we’ve never faced this particular crisis before, but we have faced tough economic times, and being aware of what worked previously will at least act as a guide. So, here’s my outline of what helped recruitment survive a recession in the past.

Be vocal

I’ve mentioned this before in a number of presentations, blogs and webinars, so forgive me if you’ve already heard it, but a crisis is not the time to go quiet, batten down the hatches and hope your business will weather the storm. It’s times like this that communication is absolutely critical, and once we emerge from this economic nightmare, firms will be remembered for what they did, not what they didn’t do.

In fact, during the Great Depression, Proctor & Gamble bucked the trend and took action that others were reluctant to do – and they fared incredibly well as the global economy began to pick up. As the global giant saw orders from grocery stores begin to drop as the Depression struck in 1929, P&G re-thought it’s strategy having recognised that people would still need soap, perhaps not through grocery stores, but through Procter & Gamble directly.

What made this new focus work was the aggressive communications plan the brand invested in. The business actively pushed out new radio segments, pursued new marketing opportunities and even developed its own radio soap opera with its own character creation, ‘Ma Perkins’.

Be smart

Of course, while I’m wholeheartedly behind the idea that we can communicate ourselves out of this crisis and ensure recruitment survives a recession, we do still need to be smart about what we say and how it’s said. If we think back to the Financial Crash of 2008, after Northern Rock fell, there was a lot of blame and a lot of finger pointing and, in some cases, this came from firms that also became victims of the recession that ensued.

So, while it’s important to still be vocal, make sure everything remains professional, regardless of any personal perspectives on what others are doing or saying themselves.

Be different

There are two prongs to this particular point. First and foremost, be different in the messaging you’re pushing out. I think you’d all agree we’re facing a bit of information overload regarding certain topics, so simply following the pack and adding the same message to the noise won’t stand you out from the crowd. But, taking your communications in even a slightly different direction can be hugely attention grabbing. If we again consider the example of Procter & Gamble above, they diversified their message ever so slightly – they were still providing soap after all – but it delivered the results they needed.

But being different in light of this current crisis isn’t just about saying something in a slightly reworked way. With staff being furloughed and whole sectors temporarily shut down, hiring has stalled for many. But not all. We’ve seen examples of cabin crew working in groceries stores and according to recent news, the UK is flying in fruit and vegetable pickers to help rescue the crops the country is growing but simply can’t harvest quick enough. There is still work to be done in the UK – just not in the same way as we’re all used to. So perhaps consider what your business can do differently on an interim basis to support the demand that is out there at the moment.

But, for recruitment to survive a recession, be positive

This is my last, but by no means least, tip; keep things positive where you can. For those of you who follow or are connected to James Osborne on LinkedIn or are part of the Recruitment Network, you might have already seen his post about being optimistic. Essentially, James has been posting regular video updates on LinkedIn and they’ve all been pretty motivating. But he’s received a lot of stick for being so upbeat about everything.

There are those naysayers who are adamant that you can’t be positive and optimistic in a crisis, but I, along with James, disagree. When we’re all so surrounded with negative news stories, working in isolation from the teams that have become our own work family and unable to visit friends and loved ones as normal, we need that bit of light in our lives. And with the noise around Coronavirus growing, I can easily pluck a few names from the air of firms and individual’s that have had a positive outlook in the face of adversity. In comparison, I struggle to name those that have been negative. So ask yourself not only how your recruitment firm will survive a recession, but also how you want your brand to be known once we’re through this; as the firm that went all ‘doom and gloom’ before going silent, or the one that battled on with a positive attitude and collaborated with those around them for the benefit of us all?

BlueSky PR has a wealth of free resources including webinars and eBooks that you can download and use today.

Vickie Collinge-2Author: Vickie Collinge

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