What separates winners from losers in a recession?

8. January 2010 10:57

I was asked by an editor to give some thought to what makes for good marketing and business in the face of another year of hardship in the building and construction industry. So below are my 5 Tell-Tale Signs of what, in my humble opinion and my experience of two severe industry recessions, mark out the winners from the losers.

You can also read our 'Seven Day Plan' (top tips for a week's worth of things companies can do to improve their marketing and communications) in today's TTJ magazine - see page 22.

What would you add to this list? Please do drop me a comment below.

1.  Winners invest in relationships
… and they invest in the people who forge these relationships. They listen closely to the sales team and front line staff, and are passionate about little things that make a big difference.  They find time for real conversations. 

2.  Winners wear their customers’ socks
They keep looking outwards, eyes firmly on the horizon.  They actually know more about their customers’ businesses than they know about their competitors (never the other way around). They prioritise market research and market intelligence, have a powerful contacts database or CRM system, and they could make spookily well-informed guesses about the issues that will be discussed at their customers’ next Board meetings.  They sell solutions, not materials with a mark-up.

3.  Winners don’t let the stress show

In recessions, customers need a lot of reassurance.  Winners always stay true to their corporate values and keep communicating.  They remain easy to do business with. They are seen to treat people well.  They pay on time. They bring their best suppliers much closer to the business so that people are more willing to go that extra mile for them.  Word soon gets out that this is a confident company that you want on your side in rocky times.

4.  Winners keep their heads above the parapet

A big part of building confidence is about maintaining visibility – particularly through cost-effective tools like PR, awards, networking events, online communications and social media.  They don’t spend loads but are highly targeted and focused and they integrate all these marketing activities very tightly together so they squeeze out every ounce of value.

5.  Winners just get on with it
Recessions don’t last forever – this time next year the market will be entirely different, and to be honest the most successful clients we are working with today have been vigorously lobbying, meeting journalists, manoeuvring into position and shaping that market since last January. They are much more likely to say “we never waste a good crisis” than “let’s put that on hold until we see what happens after the election”.


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Corporate responsibility | Marketing strategy | PR strategy

Guest blog - Graham Norwood on the future for property agents and developers

9. May 2009 12:13

I was delighted to hear the other day that Graham Norwood has published a new book - the well-timed title 'The Housing Downturn: Picking up the Pieces'.

It sounds like it's full of useful stuff:

  • The first book to analyse the effects of the housing downturn
  • Comment from a range of senior industry figures on what they believe led to the downturn
  • Structured guidance for estate agents and property developers on how to survive and grow their business.

Graham is a well-known and highly respected property journalist, author of several books, and a regular contributor to The Observer, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, FT and an equally impressive list of foreign papers and property industry journals. He has kindly covered a host of stories for our clients over the years, and has been a thoroughly nice person to work with to boot!

Graham also has an unique insight into the property world, so I have great pleasure in publishing this guest blog and helping to promote his book. My copy's on order. I hope yours will be too!


From Graham Norwood
9 May 2009

There are looks of deep concern on the faces of estate agents and developers all over the country. They've had an extraordinarily bad time with no sure end in sight.  

But talk with them - as I do all the time, as a property journalist - and sooner or later a smile will appear.

The reason is this. The housing market’s runaway train, with its prices soaring from 1993 until 2007, has finally stopped. But it was not down to the estate agents.

A few tabloids and their readers may still think agents and developers are the devil incarnate. But most of the country – no, make that the world – blame the banks and not the property industry for the slump in house prices and the broader economic malaise gripping the globe.
But surely there is something that the property industry can learn from what has happened? Well yes, there’s plenty to learn, and that is why I have written a book setting out how many agents and developers fell by the wayside in the downturn following late 2007.

Did these agents and developers have to fall? Were they as well prepared as they could have been, ahead of what was an inevitable downturn? Of those agents and developers who struggled through the slump, are there lessons they could teach the rest of us regarding their business models, their attitudes and their skills?

I think so, because it would surely be a mistake to simply wait for an upturn and assume all will then revert to the same world that we inhabited in the decade to 2007.

My book does not pretend to have complete answers but is perhaps most useful in raising questions, the classic role of the journalist during the ages.

Luckily I have been able to speak with most of the country’s leading developers and agents, and draw on some international examples. I come up with some suggestions about how the residential industry in the UK can move forward to avoid reinventing the wheel – and tripping over it when the next downturn comes.

Will you agree with my conclusions? Possibly not. But now is the time for all of us to think how we can move forward from now.
Click here to see 'The Housing Downturn: Picking up the Pieces' on Amazon.


Managing in a downturn - remember to keep communicating

23. January 2009 17:15

The FT has started another of its excellent Mastering Management series this week. 

The focus of this special report, predictably, is on managing in a downturn. And I'm heartened to see the importance of internal and external communications highlighted so clearly. Here's an extract from Stefan Stern's intro (I've put bits in bold):

"... There are only so many ways you can tell a company to 'conserve cash'. It will probably turn out to be the business catchphrase of 2009. But while managers are understandably in a hurry to stem the flow of cash out of the building, in particular by reducing headcount, they risk cutting too deeply into the flesh of the organisation, and making future recovery much harder to achieve. Easy advice for an outsider to give – and hard for a manager to take for when survival is the number one priority – but sound advice all the same. Don’t get rid of the people who actually make your products and services worth buying in the first place.

"Second, the rumour mill is almost as big an enemy to senior management right now as collapsing customer demand. All the management gurus agree that leaders have to invest much more time than they might think is necessary into communicating with their staff. And “communicating” means listening as well as telling. In his new book The Leadership Code, Dave Ulrich estimates that a message may have to be communicated as many as 10 times, in a variety of means or channels, for it to get through and be understood.

"Offering as much certainty as possible will also help kill rumours. Binna Kandola, managing partner of business psychologists Pearn Kandola, argues that knowing you have lost your job is a better outcome for most employees than being in the dark about your future.

"Third, keeping your head down, retreating from markets and turning introspective, while a natural human response to bad news, is a terrible option for businesses. Now is not the time to abandon partnerships and joint ventures, or to close yourself off to other outside influences. Keep an open mind to new initiatives, remain an active networker and ensure the organisation is not collectively burying its head in the sand.

"Fourth, remember that recovery will come – eventually. Research and development needs to continue. Revenue streams that may have temporarily dried up will start to flow again. But capacity that you cut back on now may be hard to resurrect. And again, excessive redundancies – which carry a significant cost in any case – will deprive you of the talent you need to make the most of the upturn. You will only have to hire it back again, at great expense, in a year’s time."

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Employee communications

About the author

Liz Male

Liz Male is a PR and communications professional specialising in construction, property and sustainability in the built environment. This is Liz's blog on the foundations of good communications, covering everything from the basics of media relations to topical ponderings on strategic comms issues. Follow Liz's more concise thoughts on Twitter: @lizmale

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