Three big reasons to stop bragging about small-budget success

My firm does a lot of work with nonprofit clients. We work with small businesses quite a bit, too. I’ve found I get the most enjoyment from projects I can sink my heart into, and apparently my heart is a sucker for good causes and local development. I love this work and the kinds of people I come into contact with while conducting it. With that said, there’s a common phrase I’ve become used to hearing that I could learn to live without: “We don’t have a budget.”

Don’t get me wrong—small budgets aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, they often serve to improve the work. Small budgets force us to be more creative and to think outside the box. They encourage new partnerships that leverage smart resource sharing opportunities. They demand efficiencies that may not have otherwise been considered.

Good work can and does happen on a small budget. We hear about these successes frequently and have likely boasted about them a number of times ourselves: “We achieved XYZ with no addition to the existing budget,” or “We exceeded all objectives with a budget of only $3,000” (or $1,000…or $500…or sometimes $0). On one hand this makes sense. It’s an underdog story of sort—and everyone loves an underdog.

But, no one really wants to be the underdog.

Success is impressive, and there’s no shame in talking about it. However, for the health of the companies we serve, PR professionals should think twice before bragging about how we don’t need money to achieve it. Here are a few key reasons why.

  1. It sets unrealistic expectations for future work. In some cases, short-term success can be achieved at a low cost. But, this isn’t always true—and it isn’t always possible. When we let the expectation of small-budget success become “the rule,” we set our companies up for failure later.
  2. It undermines our value. It creates a misperception that public relations doesn’t need line items. It’s important to remember, however, short-term success is almost never the main goal. Investing resources in a long-term, high-functioning communications program is critical in reaching the level of success most companies aspire to.
  3. It removes us from the planning cycle. Business priorities are set—or at least significantly influenced by—a company’s funding allocations. When a company doesn’t invest in public relations, communications quickly becomes a “side project”—an afterthought—and that’s a dangerous position for companies and their projects. Effective businesses must have effective communications, and that doesn’t happen when its professional communicators are sitting on the sidelines.

Now would be a good time to add that small budgets are not specific to the nonprofit and entrepreneurial worlds. I’ve had “no money” conversations with plenty of large corporate clients, as well. But I’m learning now that PR pros own part of this frustration.

The PR industry has fought for far too long to gain a seat at the proverbial table. Don’t advocate for a step backward by giving in to the notion that success never needs dollars. Embrace funding challenges when you need to, but don’t make lack of budget your primary measure. After all, we should be using our most creative, collaborative and efficient brains regardless of the dollars we’re provided.

Helvey Communications is owned and operated by Kristin Helvey, MBA, APR, who has worked for over a decade helping organizations drive communication improvement. Her teams have earned numerous awards for special events, communication materials and campaign design, while building extensive and unique experience in multicultural communications and community partnership development. Kristin is published nationally for her client’s work in engaging underserved populations. Inspired by the potential strategic communication has to effect positive change, Kristin consults with and assists organizations across community sectors to improve both internal communications and community standing, and utilizes a network of skilled professionals to deliver products and services that meet the entire spectrum of public relations and communications needs. Kristin’s Alaska Native heritage lured her home to Alaska after finishing her bachelor’s degree in public relations at Oklahoma State University. To ensure a keen understanding of how communication affects business priorities, she completed a master’s in business administration at Alaska Pacific University, where she later returned as a professor of marketing. Kristin serves as a board member for Public Relations Society of America Alaska Chapter and Beyond Borders. She is accredited in public relations from the Public Relations Society of America.


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