Event Recap: “Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget”

by Danielle Moore, News Generation, Inc.

It is all too common that public relations professionals are expected to create magic publicity on next-to-nothing budgets. With the extensive amount of non-profit organizations and small businesses in the Washington D.C. area, lots of PR pros are affected by small budgets.

On Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 8:00 a.m., the PRSA-NCC Professional Development committee hosted “Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” at the U.S. Navy Memorial. Panelists included: Jeff Ghannam, communications director at the Wildlife Habitat Council; Dionne Clemons, division director of communications and community engagement at the United Planning Organization; Alicia Mitchell, senior vice president for communications at the American Hospital Association (AHA); and Lindsay Nichols, senior director of marketing and communications at GuideStar USA, Inc. Karen Addis, senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company introduced the panelists and moderated the conversation.

After some brief housekeeping announcements, all four panelists gave presentations on their best practices for public relations on a “shoestring” budget. Their combined experience working with small organizations and limited resources allowed them to share great insight to an audience full of non-profit, small business and private sector PR folks.

“Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

Jeff Ghannam offered his advice with “10 Things in 10 Minutes.” He emphasized the importance of having a “roadmap” or focused communications and marketing plan as a reference point for company operations. Ghannam also encouraged building mutually beneficial partnerships with:

  • Staff who need to understand your brand and who value internal communications;
  • Stakeholders and coalitions who are always looking for companies to engage with;
  • Boards, committees, local units, and members who often need media training and can serve as a resource;
  • Customers who have the ability to spread the word about your work; and
  • Meeting attendees, sponsors and exhibitors who you should provide the tools (like social media) to talk positively about your brand.

Ghannam closed by stressing the importance of negotiation, developing meaningful networks, and the vitality of SEO.

The second panelist Dionne Clemons works to maximize her limited resources at her small grassroots organization every day. She presented on “How to De-Structure Your Department” and highlighted seven ways to save money:

  • Assess your budget – see what you have to work with
  • Conduct an audit – see what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past
  • Use your organization’s strategic plan and fiscal year calendar to help you financially plan – create your own communications plan based on your organization’s strategic plan
  • Be selective in the big projects you want to work on – decide on 5-7 solid projects for the fiscal year that align with your strategic plan and will help you work toward organizational goals
  • Create a master organizational cycle calendar – align your organization’s normal events with “pseudo-events” on the national calendar
  • Put systems in place – set up policies that guide you on how to deal with different situations
  • Spread the love – organize more ways for team members to get involved in projects they’re interested in

Clemons continually emphasized the importance of being critical when deciding how your budget is distributed among different categories. She encouraged audience members to cut out any excess expenses and consider reallocating the distribution of their budgets.

“Creating PR Magic...on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

“Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

Panelist Alicia Mitchell works for a much larger organization, but she shared examples of her successful PR initiatives that can easily translate to small organizations with less resources and a tighter budget. Mitchell focused on three platforms of promotion including:

  • Instagram campaigns – During National Hospital Week, the American Hospital Association encouraged Instagrammers to use the hashtag #myhospital to shoot short videos on how their local hospital helps the community. Mitchell’s team got more than 50 videos from across 34 different states and promoted them through social media.
  • Infographics – She encouraged the audience to invest in outsourcing a graphic designer or learning how to perfect their own graphic design skills because images help to tell a visual story.
  • Radio for audience targeting – Mitchell referenced the effectiveness of earning broadcast coverage. She talked about how using radio was especially useful in publicizing the accolades of the AHA’s medical centers’ palliative care. She urged PR professionals to consider radio outreach.

Mitchell closed with an easy acronym to remember:

M – makeover an existing PR project to make it better;
A – adopt social media because it gets others involved;
G – grassroots approaches allow you to tailor your reports or projects locally;
I – infographics help you tell a story and get people interested; and
C – the company you surround yourself with matters

Measuring ROI can be a challenge. Self-proclaimed “data geek” Lindsay Nichols broke down ways PR professionals can make it much easier. Nichols spoke about how she bases her measurement practices off of the Barcelona Principles and recommended that the audience check out ROI measurement blogger Katie Paine. Before diving in to measurement, dive in to your goals, said Nichols. She emphasized developing hypotheses about what you think will result from your projects and conducting a SWOT analysis before you begin. Once you’re ready to measure, she suggested eight cost-effective “DIY ROI Measurement Methods” for PR pros on a tight budget:

  • Pattern analysis
  • Surveys
  • Online pulse polls (ex: LinkedIn)
  • Content audits
  • Interviews
  • Roundtables, lunch, focus groups
  • In-depth interviews
  • Secondary research

Nichols said qualitative, quantitative and competitive intelligence measurements should be taken consistently every month for specifics and every year for a bigger picture. She uses platforms Vocus, Simply Measured, Social Mention, Twitter Counter, Google Analytics, Excel, Igloo, LinkedIn and more to track her data on a monthly and annual basis. Nichols was sure to emphasize the two things she always measures: the share of conversation index and the brand equity index. “Metrics prove you’re making a difference,” said Nichols. “It’s what you do with it that matters.”

As Karen Addis opened up the question and answer period, audience members presented thoughtful questions asking for advice on how to stay focused, how to show the c-suite your department’s worth, how to monetize and how to adapt to diversity in the media through introducing foreign languages.

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