I refuse to call it a recession anymore. It's obviously more than that. And yet, I don't want to be a hysteric and use the "D" word. So until things get much, much better or worse, it's "the hard times".

Can you tell that I'm not an economist?

It doesn't take an economist, however, to see that these "hard times" are more than just a monetary rough patch. We're going through something and when we come out on the other side it will not be as it was before. Dramatically so, I believe.

I believe media audiences are making a dramatic shift once and for all. Where media audiences go, advertising dollars follow.

One of the top executives at Interpublic Group (one of the world's largest advertising groups) is presenting the results and conclusions of their new research on consumer spending at conference in Sydney, Australia today (yesterday now? tomorrow already? I never can remember!).

Here's the nuggets to know:

- U.S. advertising budgets are expected to tank 20% this year. However, special promotions and public relations will likely stay afloat.

- While economists are predicting "the hard times" to start turning the corner next year some time, after reaching bottom this year; consumers aren't buying it (or much else, it seems).

- Their surveys show people are looking at canceling their cable television subscriptions and landline phone accounts to save money. However, they plan on hanging onto their (read carefully, folks) broadband connections and mobile accounts.

- These same people say when times get better they have no plans on going back. They are making cuts in the way they spend for good.

- Conclusions for small businesses: with your limited ad budgets, spend wisely. Traditional media buys (print, television, etc.) are "out", online advertising and text message ads are "in". We've seen it tilting this way for a few years now.

Here comes the tipping point!

"We're telling clients that while budgets may be cut, don't cut innovation or your commitment to emerging technologies. Because this is where you'll find consumers."

-Nick Brien, Interpublic Group

One other tip: advertising is in free fall. That means there are bargains to be had for the little guys. If you do want to put some money into traditional media buys, there's never been a better time to pick up a lot of loose inventory for pennies on the dollar.