I am seeing increasing (albeit anecdotal) evidence that SMEs are missing opportunities to lever the power of PR/Marketing/Communications to their advantage because they go about resourcing it the wrong way. In my view they are making false economies.
Responsibility for SME marketing and communications is often assigned to someone senior who has too much on his/her plate to give it head space or doesn’t ‘get’ the value of effective communications. In these instances, briefs are often issued to agencies in an ad hoc, reactive way with little or no long term scoping of needs. Before they know it, costs have quietly grown, synergies with other work have not been fully exploited and the work stands alone but it’s hard to know how to take it forward. Companies often feel that agencies don’t deliver value for money. Sometimes they are right but often it is because they have not briefed them or used them appropriately.
The alternative to outsourcing is to recruit someone. But at what level? A director will be expensive but a manager may not have the strategic vision. I’ve come across a number of managers recently who have taken on exciting comms roles but found it hard to move forward, either because they have no one senior to support and direct them or they have no budget to implement their ideas. At best, this strikes me as short-sighted thinking on the part of their employers. I guess they feel the pressure to commit to communications but a) don’t understand what it takes to do it properly and b) can’t afford to.
So how should companies resource and deliver creative, responsive PR, marketing and communications? There are a number of ways to skin the cat, from recruiting at various levels to outsourcing (see tips and advice in ‘Are you getting best value out of your communications?) but it all comes back to budget and I believe there is a case for a half way house. At this point I have to declare an interest but it is for the common good – as I hope you’ll see…
In working with St John’s Innovation Centre, I found a hybrid approach, combining consultancy with mentoring, worked a treat. It offered just the kind of creative (and cost-effective) solution many SME’s need.
The team at St John’s needed to raise awareness of two business support programmes but they also wanted to develop in-house capacity and skills to make their budget work harder. So we did both. I provided strategic direction and my associates helped boost capacity for some of the ‘doing’. Throughout the process we trained and mentored the team and equipped their Marketing Co-ordinator to continue what we started – everything from customer/stakeholder relations to media relations, blogging and social networking. Our time reduced as their in-house knowledge and skills grew. Ultimately our goal was to do ourselves out of a job!
The Virtual Communications Director approach won’t be right for everyone but it could be just the answer for SME’s in growth mode who need a strategic, cost-effective approach to meeting their PR, marketing and communications needs.
I’m a great believer in the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but if you decide to re-group, think about what you need (resource, scope of work, goals etc) and how much you are willing/able to throw at getting it. That way you are more likely to settle on a solution that fits your budget and aspirations. This video might help too!