Doing more with less

Limited budgets may mean fewer celebrity endorsements and swanky press shows, but the principles of managing campaigns remain the same. Morag Cuddeford-Jones talks to seven industry experts about how they make the most out of fewer resources.


The Panel (from l-r above)

Gennaro Castaldo, head of press and PR, HMV and Fopp

Vicky Bartlett, PR manager, British Dental Health Foundation

Kim Swead, head of PR, Brother Max baby products

Kerry Beadling, head of communications, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire

Garry Campbell, denior press and PR officer, Groundwork UK

Sara Doggett, PR manager, Virgin Media Business

Camilla Barnard, co-founder and marketing director, Rude Health foods

Marketing Week (MW): How do you manage PR campaigns with a limited budget?

Sara Doggett (SD): The principles remain the same regardless of budget – be clear on your objectives, understand your audience and develop tactics that will hit these targets. A limited budget puts the planning process under even greater scrutiny. A clear and concise plan that is well managed, communicated to stakeholders and is kept to will overcome this.

Gennaro Castaldo (GeC): Make it go further by working with your key company suppliers so you achieve synergies with their PR activities and agencies. Also, develop ‘contra’ deals with media partners and third parties. But, perhaps, most importantly, it pays to have productive and enduring relationships with journalists.

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other social media platforms certainly also create a highly cost-effective platform to reach a potentially huge audience for hardly any real cost at all. It can promote your brand profile and company activities and will help to shape the way your brand is perceived by your customers and the wider public.

Garry Campbell (GaC): Working for a charity, I’ve found that seeking support – whether that be financial or ‘in kind’ – from potential partners or sponsors can help to increase the reach and success of our campaigns. Coming up with a concept that fits neatly with the aims and objectives of the organisations you intend to approach is crucial to securing this support.

Kerry Beadling (KB):

Working in an NHS hospital on a limited budget is our normal day-to-day practice. Our job is to find stories and share them nationally and internationally, which relies on building strong relationships internally and externally. Social media is a cost-effective way to engage people directly.

Kim Swead (KS): You might not be able to conduct large-scale initiatives, work with expensive experts or celebrities, produce beautiful collateral and host swanky press shows, but you’re forced to really focus your energies on the bread-and-butter stuff – securing coverage for your company in the right places where you know your target market sees it.

Virgin launched a microsite for its Innovation Nation campaign

Vicky Bartlett (VB):

Big budget does not always equal big results. To me any campaign starts with research and planning, and the question, “What is it that I need to do and what resources do I have to do it?”

MW: What are the key tactics and tools you use that deliver results on low budgets?

SD: Say you need to get some messages across to chief information officers (CIOs) through select publications that are well read and respected by this audience. In this case, a single-focus media campaign could be the right thing to do. But a specific community you’re trying to target may be active on Twitter so a social media campaign is the best tactic. No matter what your budget, putting the audience first is the key to choosing the right tools.

GaC: Turning our supporters into advocates who can help spread the message behind our campaigns through their own networks is very important and social media and digital PR allows us to communicate with them directly and in real time.

KB: Twitter and Facebook are now core tools, along with the more traditional PR tactics. Since establishing a profile on these sites we have conducted a range of initiatives such as hosting expert web chats and conducting the first 12-hour ‘tweetathon’ from a maternity ward to show people what goes on behind the scenes. While resource-intensive, it didn’t require any additional funding.

VB: Stakeholder mapping is key to understanding who is out there and what they are doing. Working with other stakeholders and partners is another great way of stretching your budgets and you can also gain a valuable brand association.

GeC: Whatever tools and systems are available to the PR professional, your most important asset is your media contacts, your sense of what is a good story and what will appeal to them. Make time to keep in touch, really get to know them and what motivates them. Remember not to be too greedy – settle for a really good exclusive story in a particular publication where you feel you can trust the journalist to deliver for you.

KS: You have to make the most of the resources at your disposal. We have a large database that is great for consumer research, and a charismatic, ballsy, entrepreneurial boss. Obviously, a great product makes for an easier sell.

Camilla Barnard (CB): Digital is much harder to target than press. It’s the speed of movement that makes it difficult to pin down. But that’s also its benefit. At the moment the brand’s voice in each of its categories is what is hugely important – mentions of our brand have to be strongly identifiable as us. It’s not about volume of activity, it’s about the strong associations.

MW: How have you had to think differently to make the most of smaller budgets?

SD: Smaller-budget campaigns get you thinking about what you’re trying to achieve and your audience even more. If you have bags of cash to play with you can fall into the trap of throwing huge amounts of content out there across a whole load of channels and hoping that some hits the right people.

GaC: We’re certainly doing less advertising and focusing more on generating high-quality campaign materials that allow our supporters to ‘get’ the message behind the campaign and what they’re being asked to do more easily.

KB: We have to think about how much we can achieve for free – building positive relationships with stakeholders so that any coverage in key publications is as prominent as possible, as well as cultivating good working relationships with our staff to ensure we’re up to date with their research and positive patient stories.

Groundwork UK: approaches organisations with aims that fit theirs

KS: People can actually be more receptive when they know you don’t have a big budget to work with. For example, when working on a piece of research recently about new mums we managed to secure a quote from a parenting expert for free, when usually she charges £1,000 to £2,000 to endorse research and act as a spokesperson. You also have to be more fleet of foot and attack the ad hoc opportunities that come your way.

CB: There can be benefits to acting on a small, entrepreneurial scale. When we talk to journalists they are interested in hearing the story from the horse’s mouth. That’s a learning [curve] for us as we grow: to always maintain the integrity of the brand. It’s something [drinks brand] Innocent has done well.

MW: What kind of return on investment (ROI) do you expect to get from a PR campaign?

SD: That will always vary dependent on the objectives you’ve set in the first place. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting those objectives nailed in the first instance and this is what will drive your return on investment or targets. A social media campaign on a small budget could have a simple ROI of the number of website hits and click-throughs it generates, or more complex analysis around engagement or sentiment generated.

GeC: Perhaps I should, but being in-house I’ve tended not to think in terms of setting targets other than being opportunistic and grabbing as much as you can in any given circumstance.

GaC: The main aim of our campaigns is to raise awareness, both of the issue we’re highlighting and of our organisation. We measure this through increases in press coverage, social media and website analytics and sign-ups to our newsletters.

KB: Evaluation of any campaign is key to what we do but this is not just based purely on a direct financial impact. At the moment we are running an internal campaign on reducing pressure ulcers, which can cause pain and distress to patients. So far these have been reduced by 70 per cent overall. This is obviously a fantastic result in terms of care, but a knock-on benefit is that it has already saved the trust around £600,000 by reducing the amount of time patients spend in hospital.

MW: How do you measure ROI?

VB: We use a number of tools to measure and evaluate, such as Google Analytics and Hootsuite to measure internet use and social media. We also use advertising value equivalent (AVE) as a ‘dipstick’ to gauge media coverage. All campaigns will have specific targets set against key performance indicators, key messages and tone of voice and these are evaluated throughout the campaign and amended where appropriate.

KS: Measuring PR ROI remains a challenging proposition with PR implicitly resisting hard metrics. Much of what we do is determined by the buzz we create, enhancing brand awareness and brand loyalty – all of which is often hard to catch, let alone measure. So while not all PR can be quantified we tend to look at a mixture of tangible and intangible ROI.

KB: Depending on the campaign and objectives we might measure the increase in Twitter and Facebook followers, the media coverage in terms of which key publications articles appear in, clinical outcomes such as the reduction in pressure ulcers mentioned before, or increase in demand for certain consultants and their services following campaigns.

GeC: You can generate a whole load of stats to say X delivered Y, but which in truth do little to move public opinion or perception. The key thing is to achieve some level of critical mass where you can.

SD: Don’t fall into the trap of measuring things just because that’s what’s normally measured. If it isn’t relevant, don’t measure it.

MW: What examples can you give of campaigns you’ve run on limited budgets?

HMV says contra deals with media partners can work when budget is lacking

SD: Virgin’s Innovation Nation campaign launched early this year. We wanted to get businesses and public sector organisations excited about innovation through technology. We also wanted to champion the innovative work that’s been taking place in the UK. We developed an awards programme and microsite, in partnership with The Guardian, to enable CIOs from the private and public sector to share content and enter great examples of work to be judged by an expert panel.

We used our own contacts to get the right people engaged in the initiative and had some amazing people take part in the campaign. The initiative culminated in a ‘winners’ event where CIOs from across the UK got the opportunity to network and share their success stories, as well as meet some Virgin Media Business spokespeople.

CB: Our ‘rants’ – video vox pops that we run on our site and at festivals where we have a presence – have been invaluable due to their ability to harness the power of viral. We get our festival and distribution partners involved and they then use it on their own PR properties. This activity feeds back to our brand without us having to send out a press release. It’s an ideal way to get the message to our core audience without managing any media list.

KS: The majority of our product launches are run on limited budgets. Ray – our bath and room thermometer – was launched with a budget of under £1,000. Using only Facebook and one retail partner,, we ran a four-week campaign which involved cross-channel marketing, helping to drive traffic between the Brother Max and Kiddicare websites.

This involved a series of Facebook and Twitter posts, an email shot to our 190,000-person database and a focused media relations programme with a number of ‘mummy bloggers’ and the parenting press. Web traffic to the Brother Max website rose 73 per cent, Facebook fans increased 20 per cent and Twitter fans by 18 per cent. We had positive reviews and coverage across the key parenting press. Importantly, all Rays were sold out after one month of activity.

MW: Is there a concern from PR professionals that, if you prove capable at running a campaign on a limited budget, those holding the purse strings will cut the budget further? How do you perform but ensure your department remains as well resourced as possible?

KB: This is always a risk, particularly given the drive to cut costs in the public sector. However, I feel that being able to prove that real results have been delivered – which benefit patients and improves the NHS Trust’s reputation for low cost – strengthens the case to keep our team well resourced, as we can clearly evidence the benefits we deliver.

KS: For smaller companies that operate their PR in-house, I believe budgets will always be susceptible to further cuts. While success should encourage further investment, often it translates into that investment being placed elsewhere. To avoid budget cuts it’s useful to prove your activity can deliver direct exposure for your brand in more revenue-driven ways. The closer you can align the PR activity with the sales and marketing activity the greater chance you have of keeping your department well resourced.

GeC: It’s always good to be a team player so that investment can go into areas where it is felt it can do best for the company, but if you’re not careful you diminish your ability to create effective PR for the brand.

VB: Obviously you need to be seen to be performing and delivering value for money against the budget, but then you build expectations that you can do this again. This is where a healthy streak of common sense and honesty is needed. It is important to set specific performance indicators and objectives before the campaign starts and also to be rigorous when setting a budget. Most of all it is managing the expectations of your client, boss or the board.



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