Demand for 'reputation management services' has surged since the recession started to bite according to Midlands-based PR consultancy Recognition Marketing and PR.

Enquiries are up four-fold as firms think how they will handle releasing news of redundancies and other cutbacks, the agency said.

Even if they are not contemplating job cuts immediately, many firms are developing PR strategies in advance of making public any bad news.

But partner Frances Bourne said businesses should look at having reputation and crisis systems in place whatever the economic outlook.

She said: “A recession concentrates the mind on management of sensitive issues during the economic downturn.

“We are being asked for guidance on how to convey difficult messages to customers and staff and requests of damage limitation support where painful cuts have been necessary.

“However, responsible businesses should look at this sensitive area on an ongoing basis”.

“Firms should think of reputation and crisis management PR as an insurance policy that in the long term can make the difference between being seen in a positive light and surviving or growing, or being dropped by customers and staff just because the wrong information may have been conveyed, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Those with reputation strategies in place in good and poor economic situations are those who will have a better long-term future.”

The country’s largest childcare operator Busy Bees Childcare is among Recognition’s clients and has used specialist reputation management services for a number of years and more recently during the company’s acquisition of competitor Leapfrog.

Leapfrog managing director Lynn Woodward said: “The Leapfrog acquisition saw Busy Bees purchase 88 nurseries from listed firm Nord Anglia in a deal worth £31.2 million.

“We brought in the PR consultancy right from the start, having already worked jointly on our own sale to a new owner.

“It is so important that confidences are maintained, but equally that good advice and support is given – in our case 24 hours a day.”

Well-known celebrity healthcare organisation The Priory is also among Recognition’s clients and has used PR services not only to safeguard its clients, most of whom do not have celebrity status, but also to convey positive messages to decision-makers, namely GPs.