As a kid, I eagerly awaited each year’s pre-holiday arrival of the Sears Wish Book. This cornucopia of toy ideas would keep the brothers and me captivated for hours as we prepared our extensive Santa list. Each time we thumbed through the catalog’s pages, our lists grew longer.
When I figured out that I was in no way going to get everything my greedy little self desired, I methodically prioritized my list based on what I wanted, what I needed and what I thought would pass muster with the parents. If I’d received a bike the previous year, I knew the fancy one with pink handlebar streamers staring out at me from page 96 of the Wish Book was out of the running. I’d have to wait at least another year when my old one was more beat up and I’d grown a few inches taller. So I’d move something else, like a Barbie Dream House, to the top of my list and not chance a year’s supply of socks and underwear.
Communications Planning Sticker Shock
Let’s leave the idealized bliss of childhood and time travel to last week when I had a great first conversation with K.T., a potential client who said he was ready to optimize his website and expand his business.
I developed a reasonably priced proposal that recommended a variety of activities, ranging from search engine optimization projects to message development and online content strategy planning. I broke down fees by project and sent K.T. a note saying we need to talk about the proposal elements, look at his budget and figure out what made sense for today as well as for the future.
His email response of “$$$” was really nothing more than a nice way of saying, “Oh sh*t, that’s a lot of money.” He’s been awfully quiet since then.
Make the Wish List Doable
What I think K.T. and other newbies thumbing through the professional marketing and public relations services catalog don’t realize is that they don’t have to buy out the store. Any business, whether it’s a multi-billion dollar enterprise or a one-person shop, has to mesh its “I WANT” with its “HERE’S REALITY,” just like I did with my Christmas list back in the day.
So before tossing the catalog aside in disgust or simply crossing off the most expensive items on the list, a business decision maker needs to step back and take some time (and maybe pay a few dollars for expert guidance) to come up with answers to the following questions:
- What is my specific objective/desired outcome of these activities? Don’t give me any of that “I want my business to grow” generalized BS lingo. Instead, figure out if you’re wanting to gain new clients, sell more products and services to current clients, expand market awareness of a new product or elevate your individual reputation as the go-to thought leader in your area of expertise. Get specific..
- Who is my target audience? Once you know what you want to do, figure exactly who needs to react for you meet your goals. Again, get specific.
- Which communication tactics are preferred by my target audience members? If you’re trying to reach the old-school good ‘ole boys club, your communication tactics will be different than if you’re trying to reach millennials who are influenced in a much different way. You don’t need to spend money on a webinar or tradeshow booth, no matter how fun or cool it would be to do them, if your audience is more responsive to Facebook promotions.
- What do I need to do to successfully execute these tactics and not waste money or time?
- Cross off the wish list anything that doesn’t support the specific communication tactics you figured out in Step 3.
- Determine exactly what you have to do and in what order to make the communications successfully happen.
- Go get cost estimates.
- Apply the cost of essential actions to your budget, looking at both the short and long term.
- Start chipping away at the actions as your budget allows.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve determined your best target audience communication channel is via social media. What you don’t want to do, however, is spend the money needed to build a slick Facebook landing page or invest the time it takes to establish a Twitter handle following if your website hasn’t been touched since a cousin bought you a domain name five years ago and threw up some starter pages. Instead, your investment timeline and budget should focus first on preparing your website for public consumption. Why? Any social media followers who stumble across your company on Twitter or Facebook will visit your website. If it’s an outdated mess, you’re setting your business up for embarrassment in the sometimes harsh social media ecosystem.
Marketing and PR are not “all-or-nothing” undertakings, so beware of practitioners who insist you must buy out the catalog if you want to do it right. Instead, find someone who will help you determine your priorities and work out a plan that meshes with your time and financial capabilities. Remember, the strategy to achieving success with your marketing and PR activities is not all that different from the strategy that goes into developing a Christmas wish list. If done right, you too will one day walk downstairs Christmas morning to see a beautiful new bicycle (or increased sales) as your reward for your patience, prioritizing and planning.