Brand integrity on a shoestring budget

By Christa Nelson / Guest Column

With a tightening in the economy, marketing departments are being asked to find ways to cut expenses. While most marketing professionals would advise against drastically cutting PR and marketing expenditures during a downturn, re­ality often dictates some budget cuts.

What can you do if your marketing budget has been cut? Are there ways to do things less expensively and still maintain a high level of marketing and business development activity? Absolutely.

First, don’t panic – go back to your strategic plan and evaluate where you can make adjust­ments or cuts and still meet your goals. Second, look at what areas will give you the biggest bang for your buck and focus on those first. Third, put on your critical thinking cap and find innovative ways to get your branded message out there.

Here are some cost-saving tips to consider if your marketing budget is facing cuts:

Use email to stay in contact with clients. Email is a fixed cost in your business. Use it to your advantage by having regularly scheduled “blasts” of information to your clients. Not only is this inexpensive, but you can target specific groups with specific information.

Make your newsletter electronic. Putting your newsletter on your website, blog or social media platform and/or emailing it to readers is much less expensive than traditional printing and mailing. If changes to your newsletter fre­quency are on the table, consider switching to an e-newsletter and maintaining your frequency.

Use free services for business development leads. There are several free websites that will send you leads, RFPs and other information. Join LinkedIn groups, connect with others in your in­dustry and stay in front of any new trends. Check out sites like Alignable that allow you to set up a profile and connect with other businesses and provide referrals to your connections.

Print color copies in-house. Investigate the cost of color prints versus the volume of color copying and/or printing you outsource. With today’s technologies, especially for short runs, many laser/inkjet printers can do an excellent job at a fraction of the cost. With the right layout and paper selection no one will know it wasn’t printed professionally.

If your business is in need of a printer, check out to see if your firm or nonprofit qualifies for a free color la­ser printer. This program has helped numerous small and medium-sized businesses and non­profits upgrade the quality of their documents and save money.

Conduct client surveys for free. You can now conduct basic email surveys for free, or in-depth surveys for a modest fee, thanks to new plat­forms online. Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey are two of the leading platforms used by small businesses to conduct quick, inexpensive cus­tomer research. Check them out at or

Attend free networking events. Look for networking events, such as after-work socials, to mingle with clients and business associates. Word-of-mouth is still the best way to get busi­ness, regardless of the economy. Don’t neglect your networking efforts.

Consider outsourcing services. Even if your staff has been cut or your expansion plans put on hold, that doesn’t reduce your workload. One way to accomplish as much with fewer people is to outsource work. Consultants and contractors are not a fixed cost to the company (i.e. you don’t pay their benefits) and you can get someone with the specialized expertise that you need.

The flip-side of hiring a consultant is to hire a college intern. This is an inexpensive way to get tasks done and gives the student real work expe­rience. This works really well if your firm is try­ing to create/upgrade a database, launch a large mailing campaign or has other routine tasks that need to be done. Be sure that you’ve defined your expectations for your intern, and that you or someone on your staff has the time and desire to supervise and train them.

One final note if you’re considering cuts: Don’t cut back on PR. It’s easy to slash your PR budget, as there are often few measurable results from those efforts, but it is the last place you should cut. Instead, look for more effective ways to get in front of your clients and/or prospects at the same time. For example, instead of expen­sive direct mail pieces, consider writing articles for journals or blogs, speaking at professional organizations or even hosting client seminars or workshops.

While these activities can still cost money, they have a large payoff potential and al­low you to reach multiple prospects at the same time.

Christa Nelson is a brand strategies and social media guru at Marketing & Communication Strategies Inc. in Cedar Rapids. She also teaches marketing and global communications in the University of Dubuque’s MBA program.