Communications on a (teeny) budget

At Parkin Whitman we love working on marketing and communications for fledgling organisations and new projects. It’s exciting to be there at the start of something, and we enjoy being able to make a big difference in a small team.

We’ve been there from the outset for a number of new arts ventures such as the Literary Kitchen Writing Festival, Kidenza: Classical Concerts for Kids, and our very own Abergavenny Writing Festival.

These start-ups and new projects often come with tiny – or zero – comms budgets. They also tend to be low on owned media – properties such as websites, newsletters and mailing databases which organisations develop over time. But in our experience the disadvantages are more than made up for by the buzz, commitment and enthusiasm of a team who can’t wait to share their project.

Here are some tips for communications at the very early stage of a new project or venture.

Don’t skimp on the planning. It’s tempting to jump straight in and start shouting about your project. Try to resist. Taking the time to plan and develop your communications strategy will help you target your resources, reduce risk and gain buy-in, as well as providing a roadmap for the route ahead.

Be very clear about your objectives (in years 2, 3 and beyond, not just the first 12 months), research your market and competitors, and really understand your audiences and stakeholders. Your comms need to support your overall business strategy and in particular should align very closely with your fundraising plan. Make sure, too, that you are realistic about how much time, money and capacity you have for  your communications.

Use all your resources. Get everyone together, put the kettle on, and make a list of all your existing communications tools and any useful contacts. Earned media, such as endorsements through third party newsletters and social channels, local and professional press, event appearances and word of mouth, are going to plan an essential role in the initial comms plan. Research what’s out there, who you know, and how you can make best use of these free channels.

Commission professional design. You don’t need to spend much, but you do need a decent visual identity. In our experience using a local, independent designer will be far more cost effective than a big agency and far more personal than an online service. You can brief them face to face, answer their questions, and give them a better feel of your project and who you are. Ask for your logo in different file formats and in different sizes (for use in banners, social media, letterheads etc). You should also ask the designer to recommend a font and layout style so that your communications will look consistent and professional.

Develop a clear pitch. You want to talk about your new project to everyone you meet, so as well as the usual key messages you will need a clear pitch. Make sure you can describe the concept in a few simple sentences. What’s the idea? What is different about it? Why is there a need? Who is it for? It is also worth taking the time to write a longer description which can be used on your website and in funding bids.

Social is free. If you really can’t stretch to a website yet (although see below) then social media is the best place to start. Don’t spread yourself too thin: just identify two or three platforms that best suit the audience for your project and focus on those. Generally, Twitter and Facebook work for everyone (and FB in particular for creating a local community of interest). LinkedIn is best for B2B/professional comms; Instagram and Pinterest are great for visual content. There is lots of useful analysis available such as this article in webtrends. Don’t forget to monitor your social media so you can understand what works best

Use a Website Builder. Investing in a website may seem a big financial outlay, but there are some amazing off-the-peg website builders available, such as Weebly, Wix, and the super-stylish SquareSpace. We use WordPress for small sites like our own one and the Abergavenny Writing Festival, with help from brilliant low-cost web designers such as Clever Little Fishes.

Don’t forget the content. It’s not uncommon for organisations to develop the most detailed communications strategy imaginable but to overlook the actual content of their communications. What are you going to be saying in your tweets, or on your website? Sometimes there will be obvious subjects (a new artists or writer; an award won; milestone passed); other times you might be scratching your head for something to say. Make sure you have a content plan, and try to include strong images and multimedia as well as text.

Gather as you go. From the start of a communications project you need to build your resources. That means being always on the look-out to capture information and content as you go along. Collect contact details to populate your database (this will be your best friend in future). Ask your audiences for feedback and endorsements that you can use in marketing materials. Make sure you take photos and videos so that you can start building up a strong image library.

There is lots of information online about communications planning, and help for new organisations. We particularly like the start-up support from The Prince’s Trust and the case studies and toolkits available from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

If you’ve got a new project you need communications or marketing help with  then we’d love to hear from you. Email or check out our website to find out more.