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Surviving and Thriving When Budgets are Tight

Across the public sector, communications teams are still feeling the pinch of austerity and reduced funding. The status quo continues to be about trying to do the same (or sometimes even more) with fewer resources than ever. This is a huge challenge and barrier to achieving the public sector’s ambitious campaign and citizen engagement goals.

But recently, there has been an emergence of a new school of comms entrepreneur — especially in the U.K. where Granicus has a significant presence — who are challenging the way we think about public services and the role of communications. This group is developing new, high-value, fee-based services for their communities and leveraging strategic digital communications to promote, inform and measure the impact of those services while staying budget-neutral or generating actual revenue.

The topic of reaching and exceeding income targets in the public sector was a primary focus of the recent 2017 Public Sector Communications Conference in London, where speakers highlighted in more detail their innovative paths forward.

Among them, Darren Caveney and Dan Slee, Co-creators of comms2point0, presented a session titled “How to Survive and Thrive When Your Comms Budget Falls: Tales of Hope from the Public Sector.” Darren and Dan spoke about the new whitepaper launched at the event  “Income Targets: Comms Entrepreneurs, Income Warriors, and Three Paths Forward,” which was produced in collaboration with Granicus and organizations across local and central government in the U.K.

This 52-page resource is packed full of new research and results, opinion pieces and a range of case studies that focus on the public sector’s trend of income generation and the role of digital communications to support the success of those revenue-generating programs.

As shared in the whitepaper, Darren and Dan pointed to the recent survey conducted by Granicus that revealed nearly 50 percent of the 400 communicators surveyed revealed that their budgets have decreased heading into 2018. Additionally, 30 percent said that their budgets have remained the same while expectations and team objectives continue to grow.

So with stagnant or decreasing budgets, how can organizations move forward and deliver communications campaigns and initiatives that meet tough objectives? How can communicators improve program outcomes with ever-tightening budgets? How can communications teams and their organizations survive?

Darren and Dan discussed three primary paths forward for communications teams:

Approach 1: Be Good at Bringing in Resources

For those organizations that have income targets and face this as a new challenge, it’s important to have senior buy-in and support for this endeavour, and add capacity and the skills required to deliver the new approach properly. Many teams are being tasked with generating income but do not necessarily have any sales experience or skills within their team.

With the right team and the right skills, you can generate good income from outside the organization, Darren explained – like Stoke-on-Trent Council and Essex County Council demonstrate in the whitepaper. You can place communications at the forefront of new ideas and you can make your team more financially secure.

However, it’s important to consider that this approach may be asking you to do tasks outside of your comfort zone – e.g. selling events, sponsorship, services, or advertising opportunities. You could be asked to sail on the ocean when you have only been across the lake in a rowing boat, so it might be unfamiliar territory for the majority of organizations.

Approach 2: Be Good at Evaluating Communications Using Financial Metrics

Correlating poor communications with higher service delivery costs is an important step in realizing the potential of good communications to make a positive difference to helping balance the books. Not all organizations are good at mapping the impact of good communications with better program outcomes – financial savings, self-serving citizens, service efficiencies, etc.

For example, poor communications can lead to fewer informed and equipped customers. This puts more pressure on an organization’s contact center or increases demand for more costly public sector services and in-person interventions. Instead, timely digital communications to inform, educate and convert people into action could help reduce this avoidable and costly contact.

On the flip side, there are many positive and measurable impacts of good communications that communicators should be encouraged to track and pursue.

By equating solid communications with financial metrics, organizations will have a much easier time connecting the value with digital services. With stronger and more efficient communications comes reduced hours of phone time answering questions from citizens, and there is real financial value in that approach.

Approach 3: Bring in Money AND Use Communications to Impact Financial Metrics

By combining the two approaches to improving the financial health, organizations will be able to both bring in additional revenue and continue delivering communications campaigns that, when evaluated properly, equate to bringing in more financial savings.

By adopting the traditional income generation model where you bring in external funds from a variety of quarters like selling your services. Next, you can test the route of evaluating communications using financial metrics (How many calls did your digital communications save? How many people have you channel shifted? Did your campaign reduce the need for a costly intervention?) This twin-track approach may also reassure nervous finance officers by hedging bets.

While there are barriers to accomplishing increased income generation (e.g. lack of staff time or capacity), shifting priorities and focusing on financial measurables could be more about realigning and reallocating resources and staff time, instead of needing to find budget to add to them.

With 12 case studies, 2 opinion pieces, and a recap of survey results from across the U.K. public sector, this whitepaper “Income Targets: Comms Entrepreneurs, Income Warriors, and Three Paths Forward is a must-read for anyone looking to use communications more strategically to affect their organization’s financial health.

You can also catch up on all of the #UKComm17 presentations from the day here.