Last week, I led a two-day course on media and advocacy for Delaware nonprofits. Like I do with any course, I started by asking, “what do you want to take away from this class?”
For marketing execs, "shoestring budget" often means "pull yourself up by your bootstraps."
I got lots of good responses. And a perennial favorite surfaced: “what kind of marketing & PR activities can I do on a shoestring budget?”
It’s a fair question, as lots of organizations have a lot to accomplish and don’t have nearly enough budget to get it all done.
While there’s no silver bullet — no single low-investment, high-return tactic that works for everybody — I always recommend starting with some strategic thinking.
It sounds all lofty and pie-in-the-sky, but 60 minutes of critical thinking will prioritize audiences and marketing activities that generate the highest return for low-investment, which is the same thing as “doing the best you can with a shoestring budget.”
- Thin-slice your audience. Reaching out to the “general public” is very, very expensive. Creating audience segments that you’re comfortable with is important because it lets you prioritize them and think about how to reach them. Can you put a face and name to your audience? Can you imagine them all in one room? Then you’re getting close to having a dialogue with them.
- Compare tactics side-by-side. Take a look at your options based on return on investment (ROI). Make a grid with three columns. In the first, list your options for marketing and PR activities. In the next, list the anticipated return for each. In the third, list the anticipated investment of both effort and resources for each activity. This 15-minute activity has saved my clients — and many others — thousands of dollars.
- Measure. For my money, it doesn’t matter exactly what you’re measuring, as long as you’re measuring something (press hits, Facebook engagement, event attendees, website visits). Those early results help tell measure progress and tell a compelling story to your stakeholders about successes & challenges.
- Stick with it. Marketing and PR is about building relationships and trust: with your audiences, with media, with your skeptical boss, etc. Relationships take time to develop; starting and stopping marketing and PR is not only a low-ROI way to do business, it jeopardizes valuable relationships.
Truth be told, it’s an instructive exercise for marketing programs of all stripes — for budgets from one dollar to 5 million. The results may surprise you and achieve your goals more efficiently than ever.