Advice for communications teams facing tight budgets

When times are tight one of the first things that gets the chop is spending on communications and marketing.  People who’ve had roles in the PR and Marketing departments of major companies have probably seen it many times over.  No one really pays much attention until times get tight and a nano-second later there’s a memo from the Finance Department asking you to trim your budget.

But sometimes reluctance to spend money on communications isn’t just a result of financial caution or an economic slowdown.  Often it is a direct result of the marcom team failing to adequately make their case.

Board rooms and senior management teams tend to be dominated by “hard numbers” people with qualifications in accounting, finance and economics.   These guys aren’t easily swayed by fluffy images and catch phrases, they want numbers and words that stack up.

One of the great failings of many internal communications functions is the obsession with outPUTS rather than outCOMES.  The folks in senior management may think your powerpoint presentation with copies of the proposed brochure, media campaign or advertising was very nice, but they clearly weren’t convinced of the need to spend the money.

So here are a few tips on getting the cash:


  1. Put yourself in the shoes of the approvers - understand the key issues THEY are focussed on and worried about right now.
  2. Ensure you anticipate their questions - including the unspoken questions running through their heads as they read or watch your presentation (they might be smiling while you talk, but the questions running through their head may be very different).
  3. Be brutally honest with yourself - if this was YOUR money, would you be convinced of the need to spend it - and what WOULD it take to make you feel comfortable?
  4. Pitch the spending on the basis of an investment with a return - not just a budget to produce certain outputs (or a repeat of what you did last year)
  5. Clearly articulate how the proposed communication expenditure relates to the company business plan.
  6. Explain the precise ways in which the proposed expenditure is designed to achieve objectives - it might be improving reputation, improving relationships with key stakeholders, lifting propensity to purchase.
  7. Be prepared to be accountable in reporting back on how it went and if possible nominate your key performance indicators. 

In tough times great communicators stand up to be counted by presenting powerful arguments for their companies to keep up the conversation with their customers and key stakeholders.  That means being able to communicate internally as well as externally.  You can’t have one without the other.