Summer is back – and so is business

Thursday, 29 September 2011, 12:55 | Category : General
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There have been two topics raised at every meeting I’ve had this week. The first being the weather – the glorious late summer sun which has lifted the national spirit, given we’d all been staring down the barrel of six months of cold and rain. The second is the marked change in pace of business since the start of September. After what most agree was a sluggish summer, the day the schools went back, business bat phones started ringing off the hook.

This got me thinking about seasonality in business, whether it’s changing in the same way as the British seasons seem to be changing themselves, and how this impacts on business planning. Traditionally at PRN our busy times have been January (at the start of the sales cycle for most companies); March, as companies rush to spend any remaining budget; and always September, but not to this degree. Christmas is dead aside from one big project we run each year for a retail research firm, and summer is usually pretty quiet. That’s the pattern we’ve got used to over the last five years, and it’s one we are able to plan around in terms of internal resource and capacity.

In contrast, 2011 does not seem to have followed any pattern at all. We’re no less busy in terms of incoming leads, but we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of “urgent” briefs which then disappear or get pushed back, often for several months. There is usually a specific reason in each case, but generally the year may have been marked thus far by a “wait and see” attitude thanks to the macroeconomic picture. What’s interesting to me is that despite this picture getting worse weekly during September, this month it seems that the world has simultaneously decided it’s business as usual. A quick poll of contacts across our client base shows this is the case across most sectors and size of company. We’re all delighted, if somewhat confused, by the change in pace. But we all intend to exploit it.

However such unpredictability can make business planning very difficult, not least when it comes to issues like staff capacity and marketing. How can we ensure we’ve got the right size of team in place? During quiet times we must be lean, but when it’s busy we need to know we can service clients and take on new business. And if the business cycle is changing, how do we know when prospects will be most receptive to our marketing comms?

As the physical and commercial climate continues to surprise us, we all need to be in a place where we are agile enough to quickly scale up and down and to adapt our plans for best results. Sticking to a business plan made at the start of 2011 may now be as uncomfortable as travelling on the Tube in Uggs and a winter coat.


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