When the economy is unpredictable, it’s challenging to plan. Yet, plan you must. Even when you love your PR and marketing agency, during these times, it’s tempting to cut marketing and PR budgets. I know both sides of this fence. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 75% of my career, including during 9/11, The Great Recession, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Having witnessed the fallout from slashed budgets, I’ve learned that taking your foot off the gas doesn’t slow the engine. It kills it. You can’t eliminate marketing and increase sales. What you DO need to do is shift marketing strategies. These 4 ways to save on your agency budget will ensure you gain or maintain valuable market share while reducing marketing and PR agency fees.
If you like your marketing or PR agency, keep them. You can negotiate with your existing agency; hiring a new agency has hidden costs. Eliminating a well-oiled, top-rated agency will cost you productivity and results when you need it most. If things are going well, check out our advice from leading agency owners about reducing your agency budgets. If you’re hiring a new agency, these tips will help you get off to a great start and a budget that allows for growth while you work efficiently with your new agency.
1. Content: Make It Sticky
When times are good, brands with ambitious goals do whatever they can to get meaningful results faster. But if you’re reducing budgets, you should focus on the longer-lasting things. As a colleague of mine once said, “I don’t know why everyone wants to go viral. I want my content to be cancer. I want it to stick around and be hard to get rid of.” This is the mindset to be in when trying to reduce costs.
Two types of media stick around forever: owned media and earned media. Your owned media is any channel you control, where create 100% of the content, like your blog or your email marketing. Your earned media appears on channels you don’t control or create, think magazine articles, and (organic) reviews.
Blog posts and earned media are the superglue of sticky marketing and PR levers. Because they DO last so long, and they are customer-facing, these are excellent areas to focus your PR agency on. The ROI will pay dividends now and in the future.
There’s a third blend of content emerging – and that’s contributed content. Sometimes there are fees associated with contributed content, and it always goes through editorial control, but it is a highly credible way for you to (mostly) control the messaging. This type of content has another advantage: thought leadership. Activating your thought leadership is key to its stickiness.
But longevity is only one benefit of this content; repurposing is another. For example, blog posts that are listicles are excellent SEO boosters, and you can use a listicle to generate many social media posts, same with an article that includes your product.
You want your stickiest content to be the best quality. If you’re reducing your budgets in other areas, now is not the time to hire an untested blogger referred to you by your nephew. Now is the time to focus your budget on doing what you do well. Very well.
Highly useful, sticky content is the most valuable and should be a budget priority.
2. Strategically Reduce the Scope
Chances are your agency is providing you with a suite of services. Instead of eliminating high-value output, focus your budget on those items to reduce your scope.
Take a deeper look at what your agency did this year that worked for you. How did they excel? While you’re asking yourself this question, think about it in the “Make it Sticky” content but also in the areas where narrowing in on the scope would provide outsized value.
One way to secure high-value PR is product-driven PR and bringing thought leadership and awards programs in-house, or vice-versa.
Another idea, instead of working with 15 different micro-influencers, you work with one on a strategic year-long campaign. Maybe your branding company could produce long-form content only and you can craft social media posts in-house.
Instead of a campaign every quarter, work with your agency to develop one excellent, well-thought-out campaign throughout the year and focus your efforts on making that campaign exceptional. This brings me to my final recommendation.
Another area that can save your money is fewer meetings with your agency. While meetings are essential, especially early in the relationship, this area could drive some savings if you’ve been with your agency for a while.
3. Plan Ahead
Nothing is more expensive than last-minute. If you’re reducing your budget, planning can save you a lot of money. For example, if you’re planning on a video shoot, secure your videographers and editors well in advance with a solid deposit and you’ll find it easier to negotiate the rate.
The same goes for your agency contract. Sign early regardless of whether it’s a new-to-you agency or one you’ve had for a while. Signing early gives you an edge in negotiation. If you like your agency and you will commit to a longer term, you’ll be able to command better rates, and even lock in “economic downturn” rates for two years.
Press releases can be purchased in bulk as well. So if you’re planning on several announcements, if you buy in advance, you can save thousands of dollars.
4. Strategy: When They Zig, You Should Zag
To save money and get more bang for your buck, redefine your calendar. Shy away from the dates and times of the year when your competitor is most likely to do something, and instead select a campaign period when you can own the conversation.
Alternatively, re-thing your share of voice KPI. When dominance is your key strategy, you want to track it against your biggest aspirational competitors. If simply staying present is your goal, track your share of voice against a competitor nipping at your heels, one who is your peer and one who is aspirational. For your aspirational competitors, your strategy should be to cede some of your share of voice so you can squeeze in on your competitor’s territory. For your peers, you want to maintain equal, if not better, footing, and for the one nipping at your heels, you want to own the conversation so they don’t squeeze in on yours.
5. Maximize Partnerships and Internal Initiatives
Now is a great time to double down on successful partnerships or find new ways to align for new partnerships. Be creative in the ways you align, and you may be able to create a news worthy story just by creating a collaboration. Another way to maximize your budget is to turn your storytelling focus on highly valued stories the media is already writing about, like purpose-driven initiatives. These types of stories are much easier to get a lift on than the traditional “thought leadership” strategy that most of your competitors will flock to.
Reducing your agency costs doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Working WITH your agency to find the sweet spot for your specific needs can be an excellent exercise in creativity. By shifting strategies, outcomes, and outputs, you can find the sweet spot that keeps your marketing and PR on track even during cost-cutting seasons.