PR Toolbox: Something from Nothing

All too often, clients say “there is no budget” for this, even though they have identified a need for a PR campaign that you know, hand on heart, would cost well into five digits. It’s the same problem, whether you are working for a cash-strapped charity, or a world-leading brand with a mega promotion budget. I call it “Sweet’s Law”- there is NEVER enough budget. And it has a corollary, too- “whatever budget you are given, your need will grow to exceed it.” So, PR professionals need to be able to conjure up something from nothing, to work their alchemy to turn a basic, boring activity into a real gold medal winning campaign that changes the way people think and behave.

So, here are four basic rules to apply:

Rule One: sometimes, the best ideas come from having nothing at all. Start with a “zero based budget” and you will be able to show your client that you are applying the most precious commodity of all- your intelligence. If the client has no way to pay for expensive agency time, then base your campaign on engaging others who can devote time, for free. Volunteers, “co-creators”, stakeholders who have a reason to get engaged- all can be a source of the arms and legs (as well as ideas) that you need to get a campaign underway.

Rule Two: beg, borrow or steal (no the last one is not advocating criminal activity, but just a bit of creativity). If your client has no budget, there may be someone in their organisation who does have one. I have raided many a marketing budget in my time for a purely PR activity. You just have to convince the other department that what you are doing matches their needs too. That’s called partnership working. Sometimes, it’s just a cash flow thing, and you can actually get paid- just later. Re-structure your invoicing accordingly, and you may find that next year’s budget suddenly has your campaign in it- or at least the delivery date, so you can get paid. Also, don’t be afraid to use other resources that exist within the organisation. I have hijacked many a research budget for other purposes. If you are underspent in one area, then “steal” the budget to fund your activity. Also, remember that there are few patents pending on clever PR ideas; if you have seen something work effectively on another client or campaign, “recycling” the idea is perfectly acceptable!

Rule Three: use low cost tools that actually engage, rather than high cost glamour items that flatter the client. Sometimes, a decent social media campaign is far more effective than a glossy brochure. It may involve hand-held webcams, and low production values- but if it works on YouTube, why shouldn’t it do so for your client? Don’t let your own ego make you push for the expensive solution when a cheaper one will actually deliver.

Rule Four: grab your partners. Haven’t got the resources? Then go find someone who has and do a deal. Sponsorship is an ideal way of engaging a key audience. Don’t always go for the “sugar daddy” who has money’; sometimes benefits in kind are more useful, particularly if they come attached to some volunteer help from the employees of the partnering organisation

The catalytic converter that can kickstart a campaign is usually an idea of two. So focus your efforts on that and the rest may come surprisingly easy.


About catherinesweet
Academic, professional, communicator, stakeholder in a dozen different disguises

2 Responses to PR Toolbox: Something from Nothing

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention PR Toolbox: Something from Nothing « Catherinesweet's Blog --

  2. To me, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of PR.

    Reading about CIPR award winning campaigns, the ones that did the most ‘stuff’ are not nearly as impressive the ones that made the most of what they had.

    To use an incredibly nerdy analogy, I spent the summer before university fixing computers in my local area, and occasionally building a few as well. It was far more enjoyable and personally challenging making the most of a tight budget and squeezing every last bit out of a system than simply being handed a blank cheque and told to buy whatever happens to be the fastest components at the time. A manlier PR student could probably relate a similar story back to football, or cars, or something.

    Either way the principle remains the same. Victory is all the sweeter if it’s been won through clever management of resources. It’s more impressive making something from nothing than just converting a huge budget into a huge campaign.

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