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Recession hits communicators outside US hardest.

In January, CW included a fax survey in its special "Communicating in a recession" supplement. We wanted to find out what economic changes our readers are experiencing and how they are adapting to them.

For any remaining skeptics, clear evidence now exists that CW readers in all parts of the world see economic conditions as being worse than last year. Eighty-six percent of readers outside North America reported conditions worse than a year ago; as did 73 percent of Canadian respondents, and 71 percent of US respondents. The geographical sinkhole of despair is located in the northeast US where a full 87 percent of readers see conditions as worse than last year.

The kinds of comments we've all been hearing recently were substantiated by more than one report like this from a Virginia state government communicator: "My office is being eliminated and I'm getting laid off. No more public relations."

One of the few bright spots is the US southwest where one-third of respondents perceive economic conditions as being better than last year. Explanation of the apparent euphoria in oil-bust country might trace to the familiar refrain: "I was down so long, it looked like up to me." The stubborn recession in the oil patch lessened last year, while in other parts of the world things got worse.

What industries Are Suffering Most?

Again, walking off with the prize nobody wants is the northeast US, and those with the heaviest step are the bankers-69 percent of readers feel this group has been hit the hardest. Outside North America, however, bankers are faring much better -only 14 percent of the respondents think that group was hard hit. They see construction (43 percent) and advertising (29 percent) as taking the heaviest economic blows.

In the overall US tally, the industry most affected by the downturn is advertising. Nailing 37 percent of the vote, advertising out-flopped banking (35 percent) and construction (31 percent) for the dubious honor.

In Canada the hardest-hit sector has been manufacturing, with 50 percent of respondents saying so. Tied for next in line are Canadian services in general, getting 27 percent of the vote, and resources (oil, forest products), also at 27 percent. Construction was named as most affected by only 19 percent of Canadian respondents, compared to 43 percent of respondents outside North America.

In Australia, both manufacturing and construction have been hardest hit, according to a communication director in the Premier's department in New South Wales. Christmas retail sales growth was below the inflation rate, and the property (real estate) market has collapsed. Thus far his department has not suffered layoffs although other state government offices have.

The survey indicates something we've recently come to know about recessions--while one geographic area suffers, another prospers. And, while one industry is depressed, others chalk up record sales.

Organizations Respond with Budget Cuts

On the other hand, the figures do indicate a general, albeit uneven, worldwide softening of the economy. We asked readers to indicate how their organizations are responding. The leading reaction--worldwide--is the budget cut, listed by 71 percent as the top choice. In Canada, it is even more popular: (81 percent); but outside North America only 43 percent opted for this choice. Most budget cuts in the US were recorded in the Southeast (80 percent) with the overall US rate at 70 percent.

Another response to the weakening economy is layoffs. Canadian and US respondents in equal quantities (35 percent) indicated their organizations were laying off employees. Only 14 percent of respondents outside North America reported layoffs.

Nor filling job vacancies is a popular response to the weakened economy in Canada (65 percent) and in the US Northeast and West where 69 percent said their organizations are not hiring replacements. job prospects are much brighter in the Central West (33 percent) and outside North America (43 percent).

The trend of hiring outside help to cope with diminished communication and PR staff clearly is in evidence. A full 57 percent of respondents indicated that they expected an increase in outside help rather than hiring more staff. Some respondents, however, expressed comments like this employee information specialist at a Colorado manufacturing firm: "No ... what I'm seeing is increased use of surviving employees required to do the work of two to three people."

We also asked if organizations had conducted some type of analysis before cuts and layoffs were implemented. A communicator in employee communication at a Massachusetts electronics company said: "No, but I did one on my own to share with the VP of Human Resources to save my job." Apparently it worked.

In Melbourne, Australia, a communicator in the banking industry reported that his firm is responding to the sagging economy by "hiring efficiency experts to smarten up the business."

Perhaps the best reflection of what communicators are up against in the flagging economy came from this woman at an educational institution in the US Southwest: "The director expects our 1989-90 annual report to cost the same (or less) than our 1988 report-with no reduction in quality, quantity or size." Cliff McGoon is a consultant and former publisher of Communication World.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McGoon, Cliff
Publication:Communication World
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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