The larger and more established a technology company becomes, the more likely that the management team will require department heads to create budgets in support of their plans for the upcoming fiscal year.
It’s a cherished time of the year (cue the groans) that puts marketing executives to the test by requiring their teams to document their plans and related costs for a 12 month period — usually on top of their regular daily duties.
So what is a marketing director or communications manager to do when it comes to creating a PR budget, especially if it’s not something she has overseen or handled before?
Fear not, as daunting as it may seem, the process is fairly straightforward and can be aided by others, including by an outside PR firm — assuming your company uses one, that is.
Here are some practical tips on how to create a PR budget for your B2B tech company in the upcoming fiscal year:
1. Review the Past Year
Seems like a no-brainer, but there is no sense in reinventing the wheel if there was already a budget in place for the past year. Short of that, if there were PR activities in action at your tech company then take a look at what was done, and the associated costs, to see how they can be rolled into your new budget.
2. Review Product Roadmap
Take a good look at your product roadmap for the upcoming year. Include your marketing, advertising, and sales teams in these discussions. Find out how many launches are mission critical or how many new products versus relatively minor software releases or upgrades are expected. In all likelihood, those major launches will need a robust media outreach campaign to maximize reach. Whether you have an internal resource or external firm reviewing the product roadmap will help determine the cost of supporting major launches. Internal staff equate to fixed costs, whereas an external resource like a PR firm may be a mix of variable and fixed costs, depending upon your services agreement.
3. Interview Key Stakeholders
Ask key stakeholder individuals and groups about what initiatives may require PR help during the upcoming year. Stakeholders you should put on your interview list include:
- Product marketing: may or may not be a single person, but keep in touch with product marketing to learn about the upcoming product roadmap (as noted above), which will include major product releases you will have to support with PR; you can also learn about any radical new innovations and discover tech thought leadership ideas given their proximity to R&D and product development.
- CMO: for a high-level marketing overview, budget guidance, and even thought leadership, the CMO is the one to talk to.
- CEO: the CEO should weigh in on big picture initiatives like requiring major investments (i.e., new factory, geographic expansion, etc.) and thought leadership ideas.
- Events manager: if your company attends one, or many, trade shows every year, a PR initiative will likely support the overall marketing strategy.
- VP of HR: your head of HR, combined with insight from your executive team, can give you the insight needed to figure out if any new C-suite hires are in the offing, or if there are major plans for a headcount expansion; hiring impacts PR as it is seen by the media as a barometer of a company’s health.
After the interviews, you will have a fairly robust list of initiatives that you will need to prioritize. With insight from your CMO or VP of marketing, you can then to turn it into a calendarized PR plan.
4. Engage Your PR Firm
As mentioned above, if you used a PR firm for the prior year, ask your liaison at the firm to list out the primary campaigns they supported and related outside costs (pass-throughs). For instance, did they travel in support your company at an important trade show in Las Vegas? Were there incidental costs like thumb drives purchased to provide to attending media? Did they use 3rd party resources like wire distribution or media tracking services they billed back to you? Ask for an accurate and detailed accounting so that you can plan accordingly in the upcoming year.
5. Discuss Your Plans with Accounting
If you are able to, it is a good idea to query your CFO or Controller to see what expenses were coded to the PR function previously at your company. If there were none reported, yet you know you had them, then it’s time your accounting team started tracking expenses to make the budgeting process easier going forward and to improve calculating a rough ROI for PR initiatives. Initiating that conversation today could save you valuable time in the next budgeting cycle.
6. Create a Calendar
As mentioned above, try to show the planned PR activities by month for the upcoming year to make it easier for the executive team to review and approve your budget. Additionally, put those activities into a spreadsheet to allow for a quick and accurate calculation of projected PR expenses by month, by category, by product, and for the total year. It will make it easier to revise and edit if your CMO comes back with guidance from the executive team and Board, which almost always happens. No department ever gets 100% of what they want!
Final thoughts: Creating a budget takes time and involves a careful review of past PR work and substantive events planned by your company in the upcoming year. By taking your time, asking the right stakeholders for feedback, and creating realistic estimates, you will furnish your CMO with the numbers needed to present at your company’s annual budget meeting.
More importantly, with the proper budget planning and realistic ask, you will get the funding you need to do the all-important job of managing your company’s reputation, building brand awareness, and even driving new business leads.