The consequences of an underfunded public relations (PR) budget are unexpected costs in critical areas, including lost revenue, staff turnover, legal fees or crisis communications consulting.
public relations with Lenox Mhlanga
Last week, we advised on the necessity to budget for PR, even if the function did not exist. This should be premised on the cost of not having a public relations programme in the first place. An organisation does not know when it will have to outsource for PR counsel.
In this article, we examine the dynamics of budget allocation between PR and marketing, how measurement has a budgetary impact on PR activities and why there is the need to invest in multimedia activities.
It is an accepted fact that PR and marketing are closer than ever, yet still not the same. However, this seems far from being understood by most C-suite executives.
My experience has been that of marketing being the most favoured of the two when it comes to sharing the budgetary cake.
“Although the disciplines are integrating in many areas, including content marketing and social media, PR should be a defined, separate function from marketing and should be uniquely and properly resourced,” advises Terry Flynn, assistant professor of communications management at McMaster University.
Flynn says experience and research tells us that these voices both need to be present. Marketing and branding content has a customer-centric focus, successful in establishing a transactional relationship with the customer.
PR and communications, on the other hand, reaches additional audiences both inside and out. How you communicate with employees, for example, is different from communicating with reporters, investors or customers, he says.
It is in areas such as crisis communications and media relations where marketers are best to step back. That is what the PR or communication team is trained for. It should lead corporate messaging development and the sharing of strategies.
So when budgeting for these functions, always go by the adage of “putting money where your mouth is.” Added to this is recognising the reality that PR and marketing are separate but equal, disparate, yet complimentary.
In a previous article on measurement, we emphasised the need for PR to be able to demonstrate its value if it were to be taken seriously in the organisational set up. Yet measuring a function or performance comes with a cost.
A healthy part of your PR budget would be allocated to measurement.
“True insight into reputational metrics and their impact on strategic objectives comes from ongoing measurement, usually based on a continuous programme of research and review. Yes, you need to invest now to truly know how much to invest next year,” says Graeme Harris, vice-president public relations at Manulife.
He goes on to say that PR measurement, while flawed, is still important because it ascribes a value to the PR activities in a way that a business can understand.
I am sure that PR practitioners, even in this backwater, have come across tools that assist with media and social media monitoring. A number of them are free online, but there is a price tag attached should you want to unlock more features that make the whole experience profitable and effective.
“The increase of digital measurement can also supplement PR measurement, particularly if you see click activity on ads on stories delivered by PR. When your story is covered by the media and they promote it on social media, it’s a PR win and should be measured as such,” said Harris.
Measurement should be considered an essential part of the PR budget. It can easily be justified since it is centred around the ability to translate results that are intangible, such as changing of perceptions, translated into dollars and cents on the balance sheet.
One thing that the executive in an organisation should appreciate, is the innumerable points where money is required for PR. In addition to media monitoring and measurement, PR teams also need budget to distribute content requirements.
It is not always about attaching a press release to an e-mail and hitting the send button to send to a mailing list of media contacts that brings results. Newswire or social media platform subscriptions add value to the communication mix as part of paid media.
Hence, a budget is required for promoted posts on Facebook, LinkedIn or sponsored tweets and similar tactics across multimedia platforms. The new realm of content marketing that involves the placing of sponsored content, in conjunction with marketing, in increasingly being pushed by many organisations.
Visual assets cost money. I have been faced with the need to hire their photographers or videographers to supply non-branded, media-ready assets to newsrooms. PR teams also need subscriptions to the magazines and newspapers they pitch, with online and printed versions to consider.
Finally, Harris offers words of advice in cases where PR teams feel they are being shortchanged. He says they can defend their PR budget if they continually demonstrate ways of reducing costs.
“Be able to integrate costs with other activities [such as marketing], or use a zero-based budgeting approach, where all PR activities are funded by the business on a case-by-case basis,” Harris suggests.
In this way, one may be able to win allies, or even sympathy, from the finance department. They will definitely come in handy when push comes to shove when allocating the budget.
Lenox Mhlanga is an associate consultant with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants. He has worked with the World Bank Group as a communication specialist and is part-time PR lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile/WhatApp: 0772 400 656.