CAN’s Sales Director John-Paul Danon on planning a bit smarter to take the stress out of those low-budget campaigns that take up all your time. Originally posted 10 December 2018

You recognise the scenario: you’ve done the research, worked out your objectives, confirmed the timings, perfected your message across all available free channels, and lined up the best value paid-for you can muster on a tight budget. It’s taken an age to get approvals sorted out.

And then – a whopping 318 out of 323,000 residents did the thing you wanted them to do.

High-maintenance, low-budget campaigns are common these days for a cash-strapped public sector in which your time as a communications professional is in high demand, yet often considered ‘free’.

And when these campaigns you’ve toiled over for weeks fail to meet their targets, it seems more difficult than ever to convince those with the purse strings to invest in comms.

What we’ve found that works

At CAN we help councils reach the right audiences with their messages via digital and social media advertising. Here are some of the things we know can prevent those high-maintenance campaigns eating into your day.

  • Using audience data from previous campaigns to help target low-budget ones. For example, if you’ve run a massive recycling campaign, you could retarget those who responded with similar ‘green’ campaigns, such as for a consultation on clean air measures.
  • Build a budget to boost underfunded campaigns through income generation. There could be £10,000s – if not £100,000s – sitting in digital, print and outdoor media like CIPs, roundabouts and street furniture that’s owned by the council which could provide much-needed extra finance. Read more in our blog here.
  • Ask other councils to share their data. Local government authorities are all in this together, and your peers are often more than happy to send you cost and response data from their campaigns to help you plan your own. Look at this year’s Comms2Point0 UnAwards entries for best practice examples, and join the Facebook CommsHeadspace group – a closed group for public sector communicators – to ask questions of those who have been there.

What would the private sector do?

I also asked a few of my advertising agency planning contacts for advice on how they handle communications for clients with great expectations but very little budget.

Here are some of the things they suggested.

  1. Don’t start by accepting your campaign budget will be small. Model your campaign on the value of the outcome to your organisation. What do you really need in terms of communications and marketing activity to get the message out to your target audiences? Your recommendation to senior management should always be based on the budget you actually need to best achieve your objectives.
  2. Don’t assume the campaign has to be a ‘one-hit wonder’. Ask if the objectives need to be achieved by a certain date. It might be that timing isn’t critical, so you can achieve the objectives over a longer period using lower-cost channels.
  3. Present low-budget activity as an initial ‘market test’. If the budget you’re given is much lower than the one you recommended, use the campaign activity you can run as a sort-of pilot campaign to work out a cost per outcome (for example, how many consultation surveys were filled in per £1 you spent?). You can then go back to senior management with a more robust business case: we spent £XX and achieved Y, so if we spent £XXX we are more likely to achieve the outcome you actually wanted. 

CAN we help?

Email me at to arrange a chat about how we support your campaigns with digital and social advertising. Or fill in our contact form here.