As PR professionals, we’ve all had our fair share of clients with incredible projects but with a serious lack of budget wiggle room. Yet, we take them on because we truly believe in them, and because as PR mavens we’re used to making even the impossible happen!
However, it’s still important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between a client with a small budget, and a client who is simply just unwilling to expand their budget. The latter usually never works out, and often times—after much back and forth—they either give in or disappear.
For those clients you love, but that come with a barely-there budget, follow these creative tips to help you do more, with less.
1. Be realistic with your client from the start
You may expect a client’s expectations to be realistic, given the tiny retainer/budget they have to work with. Unfortunately, I’ve found that often its the clients with smallest budgets that come with the highest expectations. Nip this potential problem in the bud right away by setting clear expectations.
Most often, clients need to hear assurances that their brand is important to you as their publicist, and that you’re committed to brainstorming all kinds of possibilities for them and their project. At the same time, it’s important for you to be clear about what type of results are realistic. So have an honest conversation with your client, letting them know the pros and cons of different PR or marketing strategies within their budget. Explain your capabilities (and any prospective limitations), based on the amount of hours you can dedicate to their brand, based on your rate.
2. Prioritize organic PR over paid opportunities
When you don’t have any extra money to spare, social sponsorships and paid influencer campaigns are out. Instead, focus on traditional PR outreach possibilities and what you can offer beyond a free sample and a check. Think about what your client has to offer that you can use to their advantage to attract the right attention; editorial samples, a free product trial, private tour, exclusive interview or event invite can help to establish goodwill toward your client.
Can you organize a press event, or book desk side appointments to give editors a personalized experience of the brand? Or perhaps there’s a way to fit your client into a real time marketing campaign. Paid sponsorships are such a small part of PR (and such a recent development in the grand scheme of things), so show off your bootstraps and bring new opportunities to the table.
3. Make timing your ally
It’s difficult to jump from brainstorm sessions to pitching, to closing placements, and back again. Before you start the proposal phase, take the time to mine through campaign ideas and story angles so that you have a general sense of where to begin, before you start tracking hours. Consider whether you can realistically do your best work on such a project. Mapping out your approach from the start will not only save you time, but also help you from hitting any surprise barriers. Chance favors the prepared, after all.
I’ve found that often its the clients with smallest budgets that come with the highest expectations. Nip this potential problem in the bud right away by setting clear expectations.
What are the PR opportunities you can take advantage of immediately? Does the client’s product or service that play well with the current calendar, or is it likely going to be months before the media timing is a fit? For a highly giftable client coming to you for help in June, for example, those holiday gift guides are going to be huge. If they are coming to you in January, however, you won’t be able to take advantage of that gifting angle. What will be your approach as a result?
4. Focuses on quality coverage rather than quantity
What is it exactly that your client wants to achieve and what kind of results are they looking for? When you’re limited money-wise, quality always triumphs and sometimes even this fact has to be explained to your client.
One great placement in a top tier magazine beats three mediocre mentions of the brand in three different publications that may or may not be read by your target customers. You want your client to be seen and recognized by their target consumers. This may take a bit more time, but it’s well worth it, and in the end will really pay off for both you and your client. Prioritize your efforts on ensuring the ensuring the coverage in publications that can truly move the needle, and on securing on-message coverage that the company can parlay into new opportunities.
Small PR budgets are workable, if the client has a compelling story to tell, and if you have the relationships and know-how to make the most of your time spent on the account. However, without smart planning, clear expectations and creativity, your ultimate success hangs in the balance.