Planning a PR budget is no one’s idea of a great time but—spoiler alert!—you do not want to go flying blind when it comes to forecasting your spending.
This is as true for PR activities as it is for anything else. And while you may or may not have any influence over how much funding is in your budget, you can get more out of it through a careful examination of your needs and looking at all available options, especially ones you maybe haven’t considered before.
To make this advice as relevant to as many of you as possible, we’re going to focus on the big-picture aspect here because the more detailed you get, the more those details will depend on factors unique to your circumstances. This is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all situation.
What field are you in?
Do you operate locally, regionally, nationally or internationally?
Are you promoting a product or a service?
Are you part of a lean operation that might use freelancers or do you have dedicated teams to deploy?
Are you dependent on paid media or relationships with journalists?
We could go on all day with questions that create smaller and smaller segments of PR needs but let’s keep things general and stick with the big ideas that apply to everyone.
With that in mind, here are tips and ideas for planning a PR budget.
Find a baseline and adjust from there
How much did it cost to run your PR last year? Last quarter? Forecasting into the financial future is much easier when you have a baseline to start with. Where did your spending not match the results you got? Where could you have used more resources and where did you spend on something that really didn’t impact results?
Obviously, this is a basic strategy that applies across business activities and for good reason. Using your past expenditures as data points to inform decisions going forward is key.
And just because budgets are set up on an annual or quarterly basis doesn’t mean you’re locked into a spending plan (well, it shouldn’t anyway…). You don’t have to wait for the planning round of a new budget to recognize when a certain spending category is going nowhere or getting killer results. Stay flexible and be in a position to redirect resources to where they deliver the best return and away from black holes of wasted money.
Get the best possible internal information on your upcoming needs
Decisions about the amount of money you assign to different items in your PR budget don’t take place in a vacuum. There are several factors in play, including what exactly you’ll need resources for in the upcoming weeks and months.
Yes, it’s an obvious point but your public relations budget should reflect your PR goals, so having an understanding of them first is a necessary starting point. You’ll need to know, for example, how many product launches are coming up and what kind of media campaigns need to be built around them.
Some of them might be absolutely critical to your company while others might only require basic support. These are the kind of factors you’ll need to be aware of when designing the road ahead.
Getting feedback from Sales and Product teams lets you make more informed decisions when planning ahead. It’s also a good way to avoid unwelcome surprises and prioritize spending.
This is a good place to squeeze in a reminder that no matter how good your information is, the road ahead can be full of unexpected bumps and detours. It’s also a good excuse to use our favorite Mike Tyson quote (yes, really…):
”Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Plans rarely go according to, well, plan. When the inevitable happens and your plan goes off the rails, it’s good to have resources built into your budget to help you get back on track. Hold some of your funds in reserve for a “just in case” scenario should it arise. At the end of the budget cycle, if it’s still there, finding another use for it won’t be a problem.
Try a shorter iterative cycle
Why do we always default to annual and quarterly time frames anyway? Sure, it’s just the template for much of life, especially in business, but you might find an advantage in breaking the routine here.
Much like a sprint in software development, try a marketing sprint of whatever time you might need to determine if a given part of your PR campaign budget is paying for itself or not. When the results are in, go straight back to the budgeting discussion.
Of course it won’t always be the case, but very often the effectiveness of a particular PR activity will be clear right from the start. Why do you have to wait until the end of the year or quarter to decide if a certain activity should continue to appear in your budget appropriations or not?
Keeping campaign life cycles short gives you more opportunities to manage your PR budget efficiently.
Reexamine your content marketing strategy
Organic reach is not what it used to be. This has obvious implications for inbound marketing strategies at a time when it’s harder than ever to stand out from the online crowd anyway. This is no accident—Google and Facebook together control a ridiculous percentage of online advertising and everything is set up to feed paid ad funnels.
If Google search ads along with some combination of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube don’t have a bigger role in your public relations budget than they did even last year, you have a problem.
Also, the kind of content you’re sharing is always something that should be up for review.
You might need longer-form content to generate better leads. You may need a better variety of content to suit different audiences engaging through different channels and platforms. Or perhaps your existing content library is showing its age and is in need of a makeover. All of these things cost money and need to be reflected in your budget.
Decide if you’re going for quick wins or playing the long game
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to choose and could spend as much as you needed to meet both goals. In this world, however, we’re all often faced with choices like this.
Making a big impact in the short term is measured in different ways based on the particulars of your business. Whatever the details, this is likely to include a sharp increase whatever metric matters most to you—mentions, subscribers, conversions, etc. These are attainable but may come at the cost of being low on resources after short, intense campaigns are completed. Holding something in reserve is a good idea if possible.
Your PR budget breakdown can go the other way too. If your strategy is influenced by longer sales funnels or anything that forces you to think long term and spread out spending accordingly, you may be exposed when opportunities arise. Once again, holding some cash in reserve serves as insurance against unexpected costs.
Use the right platform for managing your PR
You didn’t think we would leave this out, did you? Using the right tool for your PR activities can streamline processes and save time while opening new opportunities to connect with media contacts.
For example, how much time would you save and how much more effective would your outreach be if you had access to a curated database of journalists, easily searchable by location, speciality, publication and more? Answer—a lot of time and much more effective.
Why spend hours looking for just the right contacts when you put together the perfect media list with just a few clicks?
Or how about the option to create an online newsroom where you can direct journalists with a simple link instead of an unwelcome request to download some attachment to your mail?
It’s the perfect online space, fully customizable with your branding, where you can post all the information any journalist could want, both current and archived. Why encourage contact to go searching across the web for something when you can serve it up yourself, all in one place?
And even the best PR tools, fully loaded with all the extras, don’t cost as much as you might think, especially given the value they can add in terms of gained exposure. Don’t overlook the importance of keeping your PR toolbox supplied with everything you need to optimize the way you get your message out and the audience you build for it.
Asking for more
Let us finish up with a few words on the subject of expanding your PR budget. Besides, the topic of putting together a budget is never too far away from a conversation about boosting the numbers involved. Getting management to turn on the tap for public relations and marketing is notoriously difficult so how should you go about it?
With a focus on measurable results.
In this age of analytics, it’s best to talk in terms of numbers. PR and marketing isn’t the domain of vague, unmeasurable forces it may have been in the past. Sure, it’s hard to put a value on everything but you can most definitely place a specific value on many things.
Like it or not, ultimately ROI is the only metric that counts. The upside to this is that if you can answer the question of how much comes out if you put another dollar in—answer it with an amount greater than one dollar, of course—then the facts will support your case for a larger PR campaign budget.
The data you need to make that case is out there if you know where to look and how to collect it. If you use media monitoring systems, Google Analytics and other data reflecting SEO performance and social media engagement, you can easily map your digital performance against PR campaigns and other events you have run.
With the numbers on your side, getting a greater financial commitment to PR activities comes down to simple math rather than guesswork about your effectiveness. Collect the data, link changes to your PR activities and getting that increase won’t be nearly as difficult as you might expect.