Chickens and Eggs, Budgets and Tactics

Here’s a puzzler: in creating a communications strategy, which comes first – the tactics or the budget? I’m often asked the above question in Results Map workshops. And the answer, as with so many of life’s great chicken-and-egg questions, is “it depends”.

But let’s backtrack a moment to some general points about communications budgets. You don’t need me to tell you what a budget is and why you’ll need one. At minimum, it outlines the costs of implementing your communications strategy. Ideally, it will also show the impact that the strategy’s implementation will have on staff resources (in order to let you assess opportunity cost.)

Budgeting isn’t easy. Communications work often has hidden costs, so in making a budget you’ll need to consult with colleagues in communications, marketing and finance to get an accurate picture of what your tactics will cost to implement. (Remember to factor in translation, shipping, media monitoring and outsourcing.)

In constructing your budget, it can be useful to provide a sense of timing for expenses. This will help manage the costs of implementation throughout your fiscal year. If appropriate, you may want to consider creative funding sources such as partnerships, sponsorships or grant/award funding.

Now, back to our puzzler question of whether you’re supposed to fit your tactics to your budget or vice versa. The ideal situation is one in which your tactical planning is done based on an established budget of financial and staff resources. This protects you from the very real risk of over-building a plan full of elaborate communication activities that will never be implemented because you just don’t have the money or the staff.

In practice, though, communications strategies often serve a dual purpose of recommending communications approaches while also making a business case for resourcing. Don’t be surprised if your internal executives or clients don’t have a sense of what budget they need to communicate effectively.

In this case, the trick is to start your planning with what is known, and be very clear about the context within which you’re operating. Assembling a rock-solid evidence base of strategic considerations in your planning phase will back up your case for the financial resources needed to meet your communications challenges.