How to maximise a small PR budget

If you want to make a name for yourself, but don’t have a great deal of cash to spend on a glossy PR campaign, there are ways to get attention that don’t cost the earth. As Gavin Devine, chief executive of agency MHP communications, says: “Size of budget should not necessarily be an obstacle to securing great results.” Devine explains that the secret is to think smart, work collaboratively and be imaginative: “Time and time again we have seen simple, powerful and creative ideas become a hit with audiences and a campaign rapidly taking a life of its own, particularly through social media channels.”

Some types of PR activity is costly, so they may have to be ruled out. Devine points out: “A huge star-studded event may well make an impact, but it will usually come with a large price tag. But as our consumer and public affairs client MyHigh.St found, quality research and a well-executed campaign idea can provide the basis for some very effective work – without needing a big budget for implementation.”

Using social media is one way to reach millions of people for little cost, but you have to be careful what you say and how you say it. Devine says: “For clients on a budget, particularly charities, it is a great way to help spread a message or campaign. However, brands know they have to be creative with their content, otherwise it won’t stick. With millions of updates online every second, clients still have to be clever about what they say, who they say it to and how if they want to make an impact.”

One option for getting great PR on a budget is to call in freelance help. Louis Clark, PR manager at freelance association PCG, says that if you are spending a relatively modest amount of money on an outside PR resource, you must get the highest level of expertise you can afford, even if that’s for a shorter length of time. Clark adds: “Bringing in a top-level individual or agency to boost your profile with a really successful three-month campaign provides far better ROI than having a lesser level of expertise on board for 12 months, for example. The added bonus is that inevitably, during that three months, your internal resource will pick up lots of transferable skills that they can use to keep the momentum going once the campaign is over. Consider it as being like a shot of adrenaline for your PR.”

Freelance consultant, and founder of the collective The Comms Crowd, Sam Howard points out that freelancers offer senior expertise for less cost: “A smart freelancer is often half the day rate of their agency equivalent. And it’s not just the rates that compare well, quite often it is the more senior established PR folk that turn freelance so not only do you get direct access to senior counselling telling you how to cut through the ‘me too’ white noise they can also tell you what not to do and that saves a fortune. A busy freelancer is the best of all, as they just don’t have time to faff!”

As well as urging the freelance route, Howard has some other advice for saving money: “Do not feel pressured to make noise for the sake of it, don’t send out stories unless they add to the debate. Better to keep your comms credible and lean rather than getting a reputation for puff.

“Finally when you have a tight budget make sure you keep the reporting and admin to a minimum. Your PR spend needs to go on doing things, not reporting on doing things. For example, weekly hour-long conference calls with the client and the whole team are a budget killer. Once a fortnight one-to-one calls are much more pertinent.”

Five budgeting top tips

Jon Kirk, managing director of agency Iceni PR, offers this advice to get value PR:

1. Do your homework. Finding the right team for you isn’t always easy. But by investing a little time in your search, and by researching your options thoroughly, you can save yourself both time and money in the long-run.

2. Know what you need first. Before approaching (and appointing) an agency, be clear about your key objectives and insist that key performance indicators (KPIs) are put in place.

3. Be the labourer. You can keep costs down by doing some of the time-consuming legwork – like identifying key audiences, social media management, etc, yourself. Most good agencies will oblige if you specify your wish to be involved from the outset.

4. Ask for media lists. To reduce costs on an on-going basis, some agencies may be happy to provide you with their own media lists relevant to your sector. This will enable you to contact journalists directly once agency support concludes.

5. Ask for an ongoing PR strategy. Securing ongoing (free) publicity is usually always possible, whatever your experience of PR and the media. Most good agencies will provide you with a list of recommendations in this regard once their work comes to fruition.

What’s your ESG risk?