Budget cuts: what to do when the axeman cometh
Does your new financial year bring a cut to your internal comms budget? Don’t panic! Here’s how your company’s graduates, your iPhone and the inside of the kitchen cupboards could be the secret to success on a shoestring.
Divide and conquer
If you’ve lost headcount, forming a comms network could help plug the gap. You may already have a formal editorial board or an informal network of ‘eyes and ears’ who you use for feedback. Why not broaden their role as the people who draft the first version of news stories?
– A template will focus their drafts for you to then finesse – quicker than starting from scratch. Provide an outline table with prompter questions like ‘How does this project fit with our strategy – which of our goals does it support?’ ‘What problem will this solve?’ or ‘Which of our behaviours was behind the teams’ success here?’
– Consider bringing your network together for a comms skills training day to help them become more confident in this new role. If you’re less comfortable delivering it yourself, ask a colleague from Learning & Development to help you structure the session and potentially run it with you.
– If you need help on measurement and you’ve lost the budget for the annual comms audit, talk to L&D about using the graduate intake. Grads are usually given a team project to work on – perhaps it could be internal comms effectiveness this year?
Choose what to lose
If you’re asked to make a certain percentage cut to your spend, the ball’s more in your court. In the ideal world, you’ll already know what works best from your regular measurement and feedback. If your insight is ancient or non-existent, buy yourself some time before giving your boss the new budget breakdown and conduct some research. For speed, you might need to use an external agency but more likely you’ll be pulling together a few focus groups, emailing a sample with a survey, and hitting the phones for some ‘mystery shopper’ feedback.
You’re in damage limitation mode now so your questions need to focus on the right things. You’re less interested in whether people “like” the magazine or think your posters are “eye-catching and well-designed”. You are looking for a link between what people know about the business objectives and where they picked that knowledge up from. You need to understand if people agree that your feedback loops are working and their points are acted on. And you want to demonstrate where people took the action required, followed the new ways of working or otherwise changed behaviour as a result of what communication.
Rachel Miller shared her short guide on conducting an internal comms audit with the Institute of Internal Communication. Read more tips on measurement on my blog or download CIPR Inside’s measurement matrix via AllThingsIC.
Channel shift or channel shove?
I love this phrase from Kate Bentham. She was talking about the tactics deployed by some local councils to move their customers to contacting them via particular (yes, cheaper) routes. You can read her full post here. I think Kate’s points apply to employee comms as well – haven’t we all heard “The print magazine’s too expensive – we should just use the intranet instead”?
Back in IC utopia, you have the measurement that tells you how effective your channels are. If not, do not pass go, read the section above on measurement. Sometimes, though, the axe swings even though you have a strong case for a particular channel. Here are some of the cuts I’ve lived through and what I’ve done about them:
- A move from print to digital – using an agency: Going online keeps the professional look without the print and distribution costs, and with increased interactivity as a bonus. Your current print agency should be up to speed with ezines and quality online magazines. Alternatively you can self-serve with tools like SnapComms that feed content to people’s desktops and Newsweaver where you can produce great-looking online newsletters that are a cinch to add content and can be targeted to the right people using your global address book. Or move to mobile with an app.
- A move from print to intranet – without an agency: if you’re putting all your eggs in the intranet basket and doing it all in-house, you’ll need some savvy signposting. Do a little channel-shifting of your own and push people to the intranet more. Posters can be your friend here. Deploy your newly-formed comms network to get the posters printed at their site and up on the noticeboards or in the kitchens. Top tip: the inside of the mug-cupboard door is the new place to be seen! The comms team and your network can even use their own email signature to advertise key content on the intranet.
- Cuts to the video budget: time to make a virtue from necessity. Video is perhaps the area where you can sacrifice production values without damaging employee perception – and, much evidence shows, actually improve how viewers rate it. During a crisis or change, a video of the CEO or leader shot on your iPhone and uploaded promptly will be worth more than a slick version that took a week to appear.
Talk is cheap
Moving from top-down corporate messaging to clearer employee voice is the goal of many comms teams. Instead of creating content, we aim to curate the conversations that help people collaborate, share ideas and forge the connections that matter to them. A forced move away from more expensive channels to social platforms like Yammer or Jive will open up networks and help people form communities around the topics that matter to them. Who’s using what for social media? Rachel Miller has this great round-up which includes case studies and overviews of some of the most popular tools and platforms.
Low-cost campaigns masterclass 26 February
How do you deliver on your new shoestring budget without losing effectiveness? This is nothing new to comms pros in the public sector. If you’re quick, you can get to a masterclass on delivering low- or no-cost campaigns on 26 February in Birmingham. It will feature winners from the Comms2point0 unawards.
Focus on the future
You’ll never be a strong position to defend against budget cuts if you can’t demonstrate what’s working best and the risks associated with removing it. So look at yourself before someone else does. That way, you can be proactive in deciding when and where to prioritise spend. And who knows – you might even unlock the budget for the big stuff. Jenni Wheller, group head of communications for SSP, told the Institute of Internal Communication all about getting the pounds to match her plans.
Dwindling budgets are a fact of life. But they’re also a chance for comms folk to show our famous creativity in delivering when you have champagne tastes but a lemonade budget. These were a few of my tips and ideas – what cuts have you faced and how did you adapt and survive?