This month’s column comes from a recent Buchbinder newsletter modified for the PR industry. 

With an economy that apparently can’t decide whether or not it’s recovering - in December, the Federal Reserve forecast economic growth for 2013 at 2% to 3.2%, with unemployment at 6.9% to 7.8% - ongoing gridlock and gamesmanship in Washington, and political and economic uncertainty in many other parts of the world, especially with Iran, Syria, North Korea, you might want to simply postpone major business decisions. After all, why wait until the forecast is, if not better, at least a little clearer?

Why you shouldn’t wait

As tempting as the idea of putting off the inevitable may appear, it does not make sense to put decisions and investments on hold indefinitely. In fact, doing so can lead your agency into a downward spiral. Chances are, other PR firms are figuring out how to take advantage of uncertainty and they’re moving forward. So, standing still really means moving backward.

What’s more, it may be wishful thinking to expect that the uncertainty will vanish or even diminish. Some observers content that today’s rapid pace of change and continued uncertainty are likely to become a way of life. 

Leading in uncertain times

To succeed, PR executives and owners must become comfortable leading amid change. That means developing processes that are agile and resilient, rather than fearful and fragile. It also requires making decisions that incorporate both the firm’s strategy and its goals, as well as the uncertainty within which it operates. Here are six guideline that can keep your PR firm on track:

Be curious. To determine where your PR firm might be headed, identify the demographic, technological, cultural and other changes occurring outside your company, and possibly outside the PR industry and traditional markets.

Assess how those changes might impact the PR industry and your firm. For example, while it’s impossible to know exactly how the United States will look in 20 years, the trends toward a more ethnically diverse and older population have been well documented.

Gain insight on how to succeed in today’s world. In addition to your leadership team, talk to employees at all levels and from across departments. Network with peers at companies within and outside the PR industry.

Figure out what you know. The business world is constantly changing, so you need to change with it.  Soak up as much information as you can through trade journals and trade associations gatherings.

Challenge your assumptions. Given the pace at which change is occurring, strategies and tactics that worked in the past may not work in the future. As markets, technology and industries advance, you must determine whether your current plans are still relevant. I they are not, determine how your firm can stay ahead of the competition, and, as Nike puts it, “just do it.”

Focus on flexibility, agility and resilience. In times of uncertainty, company leaders and employees need to operate flexibly, agilely and resiliently. That often requires continually asking some “what if” questions and planning for a range of scenarios. For instance, what if a major client entered bankruptcy? What if your banking partner tightened its credit standards?

Examining questions like these on a regular basis can help you act prudently, rather than rashly. For example, by identifying the expenses that could be cut before you actually need to start chopping, you will be less likely to ax programs or projects that might help your PR firm down the road.  Assessing the impact of tighter credit conditions before they occur should provide more time to hunt for alternative sources of funding.

Identify needed action steps

Once you have examined the challenges and opportunities facing your PR firm, outline the steps you will take to address them. This may mean adjusting your strategy to account for changes in the market, or developing new tactics to reach increasingly diverse client groups.

Communicate honestly and promptly

Especially in uncertain times, employees need to know how the company is doing and their role in its performance. While you do not want to gloss over or ignore the threats that may face your business, convey the opportunities ahead and the role that employees can play in helping the organization take advantage of them. £