When Times Get Tough

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By Steve Oppenheimer

(September 2003)

When the economy is in high gear, it’s easy to stick with best business practices and carefully considered risks. But when times get tough, you may become pressured to make deals you normally wouldn’t. Of course, when money is tight, it is prudent to consider some compromises. Beware, though, of crossing the fine line between prudence and desperation – you could well do long-term damage to your business and your reputation, and you might not be able to recover when the economy does.

Companies and individuals can respond to hard times in a variety of ways – some wise, and some dangerous. One dangerous response is to get so aggressive that you become unpleasant and even undesirable to do business with. For example, one company pulled its ads in an issue because it didn’t win an Editors’ Choice Award. That sort of knee-jerk thinking does not build positive business relationships for the long haul.

Another danger is sacrificing long-term interests to gain short-term advantages. For example, a company might lay off specialized staff to meet budget goals, but if it goes too far, it will lack the talent to move forward when the economy recovers.

Furthermore, in hard times, people are tempted to do things they would normally consider unethical or immoral. For instance, would you produce a soundtrack for a porn project if you had moral objections to porn? What if your financial picture was dire and the pay was good? It’s gut-check time.

In magazine publishing, the pressures to take unethical actions can be quite direct. Sometimes a hard-pressed advertiser demands that we run only positive coverage of its products. The pressures can also be subtle. In the past year, revenues have been down for all of the music-tech magazines, resulting in budget cuts. In that context, if a manufacturer pulls its ads because of a lukewarm product review, the result could be further cuts and even layoffs for us. The advertiser doesn’t even have to say anything; with some companies, we know the threat is there. Some magazines give in to such pressures, although they won’t admit it. We simply won’t do it, no matter what the repercussions might be.

It ought to be gut-check time for manufacturers who generate these pressures, too. A well-targeted, credible magazine is an important advertising vehicle, and if advertiser-imposed economic pressures reduce a magazine’s ability to maintain quality, people will eventually quit reading the magazine. That means the advertiser will lose an important way to reach potential customers.

Here, it is important to remember that a down economy actually presents a good opportunity to reinvest in your company, so you will be competitive when the crunch ends. It’s also a time to think creatively, to find fresh marketing and sales approaches that don’t cost a lot of money.

Whether you are operating a studio, a band, a magazine, or a widget factory, the bottom line is not just the number on the spreadsheet. It also includes doing business in a sensible, ethical, and just way. Yes, times are tough; let’s use that as incentive to draw on our creativity and to find our inner strength so we can stay the course.

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