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7 Things to Consider When Budgeting Your PR Dollars

I received an email yesterday from a friend asking for some advice about what she should do with their website. She articulated (in great detail) the pros and cons of revamping her website. I struggled how to respond, and finally wrote this back:

“I think that I get too excited about shiny objects to give you an objective opinion.”

Money - PR BudgetingThis email chain led me down an interesting rabbit hole: how often do we allot budget to “shiny objects” that are incongruent with our overall PR plan? Or how often do we invest in these “shiny objects” only to find that we could have achieved far more utilizing different tactics?

I experienced this phenomenon often in my career, but one instance in particular stuck with me. The CEO of my company contracted a consulting group to drive business efficiencies, and they kept a perpetual contract for afterwork. When I came into the company, it was immediately evident that some of tactics that they were using were limiting our sales. And of course when I pointed this out (with the finesse of a blunt instrument), I began an adversarial relationship with (sadly) the primary driver of our business. (Incidentally, feel free to ignore any future posts that I write on diplomacy).

My point being that vetting the merits of different PR tactics should be done upfront in the planning process. Otherwise we become too psychologically or practically committed to unsound tactics.

What I want to do in this post is articulate seven important considerations when budgeting for PR, so that you are considering all tactics and employing the right tactics (irrespective of their shiny qualities).

1. Are your goals clearly articulated?

Budgeting PR - Steam Engine

“(The) effects of PR can now be measured to a greater extent than ever before in history.” – Gregory Galant

The advent of digital PR changed a lot of aspects of the discipline. Most notably (at least for the purpose of this bullet): measurement.

With e-commerce, cookies, promo codes and the like, it’s extraordinarily easy to build some mechanization into your PR plan for measuring outcomes from actions. Any social platform has this already, but many businesses build promo codes or referral questions into traditional PR campaigns. (Where did you hear about us? How much do you love us? Will you be our Facebook friend? Can we email you stuff? Etc.)

Devil’s advocate says: If you don’t articulate your goals and their measure, you will appear and act like you don’t know what you’re doing (because you have no awareness of what the outcome of your actions is).

2. Can you do the work in-house?

In house - PR Budgeting

“PR firms are a mile wide and an inch deep…. You and your employees, however, are an inch wide and a mile deep.” – M. Alderton

No two firms are alike, so there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. But most CFOs would tell you that you should reconsider your third-party contracts on a regular basis and here’s why:

It costs more to outsource than it does to keep the work in-house (presuming you can’t outsource your PR to another continent).

Here’s the catch: there will be experience, tactics and leverage points that only third-party firms will have, which is why it is completely reasonable to outsource…. so long as you have clear goals and metrics for success.

Devil’s advocate says: If you cannot do the work in-house, you should outsource or choose different tactics that you are more capable to execute.

Want to learn the easiest way to measure PR? Sign up for Kami Huyse’s free webinar now!

3. Are you targeting the right audience?

Theater - Budgeting PR

“In most cases, neither PR pros nor their client contacts are representative of the audience they need to reach.” David E. Johnson

Here’s a point that I don’t think is too controvertible: an advertisement on Pinterest will reach a quite different audience on Reddit.

The point here isn’t that either has more value than the other, they each have MORE value to their respective audiences than the other does. Or put more succinctly, you should always know who you are trying to reach with your messaging, and should focus your tactics on that audience.

Devil’s advocate says: If you do not target your messages appropriately, they may end up beside this (from: /r/funny):

4. What is your competition doing?

Competition - PR Budgeting

“Collected data must be converted into intelligence. This is accomplished through analysis…..(this) helps decision-makers to draw effective conclusions from limited data” – excerpted from STRATEGIC AND COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS: Methods and Techniques for Analyzing Business Competition by Craig Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan

I recently sold my old Fender Telecaster on eBay. Before I posted it, I looked up similar guitars and had a rough idea of how much I would make by selling it. I considered selling on Craigslist and a couple of other sites, then determined that eBay gave me the largest pool of prospective customers to sell to. This is more or less what a competitive analysis does.

From a PR perspective, I want to understand what other people are doing and whether I can mimic and build upon their success. If, for instance, a competitor is getting good traction promoting posts on Facebook and poor click-through on AdWords, I would want to understand why and adjust my tactics accordingly.

Devil’s advocate says: If you don’t know what your competition is doing, it is probable that they are going to be more successful in the long term.

5. Are there blue ocean opportunities?

Blue Ocean - Budgeting PR

“Blue oceans denote all the industries not in existence today—the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over.” – W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota, you’ve probably see signs for Wall Drug. In fact, that may be all that you see for miles on the freeways leading into Wall, South Dakota. The effect of seeing all of these billboards is powerful: the desire to visit their store crescendos to the point that you almost certainly will make a stop there.

I don’t want to skew the original concept of a “blue ocean” too much, but what I mean in a PR context is an opportunity to communicate your message by a means that no one else is using. You may find these by looking at best practices in other industries (the Wall Drugs of the world) or by finding an emerging technology or platform whose audience is adopting at a faster spell than brands.

Devil’s advocate says: If you don’t look for blue ocean opportunities, you may be communicating your message in the same obfuscated funnel that everyone else is communicating theirs in.

6. What does your audience think?

Hands - PR Budgeting

“A/B testing is still not as common as such Internet marketing subjects as SEO, Web analytics and usability. People just aren’t as aware of it. They don’t completely understand what it is or how it could benefit them or how they should use it.” – Paras Chopra

While discussing the impact of digital on PR, we’d be remiss not to mention A/B testing. It is like having the opportunity to poll your audience in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” – for every single press release, or social post, or communication you send out, you can determine the most effective message that you could send out (for very little cost). It is like focus group testing except cheaper and better. (Amazon has a great synopsis on the math behind A/B testing here.)

In the context of PR tactics: when considering an expenditure at a large scale, it may make sense to test different versions or even different tactics to determine the most effective means to communicate and distribute your message.

Devil’s advocate says: If you don’t sample your tactics on a representative audience first, you had better have as good or better instincts than your audience every single time you do something.

7. Do you have a regular schedule to review your PR Plan?

Calendar - PR Budgeting

“True strategy is about placing bets and making hard choices. The objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success.” – Roger Martin

Finally, you have a great plan: in-house, tailored to your audience, industry standard (maybe better), vetted by a sample of your stakeholders, with clear goals and metrics. You now need a habitual timeframe to review those goals and metrics to see how your tactics perform against your goals. And you need to be prepared to adjust tactics if they are underperforming.

Of course none of these considerations will guarantee you a great PR Plan or the most effective spend of your PR budget, but the Devil’s advocate might point out that without proper planning you could be completely ineffectual and never know. And no shiny objects can cure that condition.

Jim Dougherty is an expert on social media and technology who blogs at Leaders WestFor more marketing advice from Jim, click here.

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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