Last month, we looked at three necessary cautions that must be addressed before you can begin to plan your budget. Developing an effective and sustainable integrated marketing budget likely depends more on the decisions that were made when shaping the plan than the actual activities in the plan. With that in mind, let's look at some issues that must be addressed and questions that must be answered as you begin the budgeting process.
Develop a common vision among key administrators and campus leaders for integrated marketing and its role at your institution. When the leadership is in synch on the vision, you are more likely to get buy-in on both goals and means to accomplish those goals. In addition, there is a greater likelihood for synergy among key players.
Remember to focus on integration. It is not new money that will fund your plan, at least not in the long term, but the reallocation, coordination, and integration of existing money. Think about this for a minute and you will see the logic. You are already spending significant dollars on marketing. Rather than spending more, coordinate what you are already spending. Again, when the vision is shared, resources are more likely to be shared as well.
Actively involve your CFO in the planning and budgeting. I am a big believer in having the CFO on the planning team, and this inclusion is not accidental. Rather, it is a measure of the institution's commitment to fund the plan. We have discovered that when the chief financial officer is involved at the beginning of the planning process, he or she will be more likely to help you find new and reallocated dollars to support the plan. Most CFOs are very attracted to the idea of stewardship and return on investment (ROI).
Centralize your marketing expenditures, especially those expenditures that relate to brand marketing, under one administrator. Of course, she or he must work with other deans and VPs, but he or she must also represent the larger institution. Currently, far too many colleges and universities give far too many senior administrators far too much leeway when it comes to their own individual or departmental marketing activities. This approach often results in marketing cacophony rather than symphony and is more often driven by ego than strategy.
Don't create a budget you cannot sustain. There is nothing more wasteful than launching a marketing plan with a big public blitz only to see it quickly disintegrate into a very public fizzle. This is the big reason why it is dangerous to use one-time dollars to launch your plan. It may sound like a good idea--to get an initial bang--but it almost never works in the long run. Chances are the money will run out before long-term impact is created. If your goal is a five-year plan (and that's a minimum plan length), make sure you have the necessary dollars to support that plan for each of those five years.
For those of you who appreciate a good rule of thumb, here are two "30/70" rules to help guide your budgeting process. If you use new dollars to help fund your marketing efforts, limit those new dollars to no more than 30 percent of total marketing expenditures for each year. This forces you to use institutional dollars to sustain the remaining 70 percent of the plan. Not only is this sound fiscal policy, but it is also an indicator of overall commitment.
At the same time, use 30 percent of your marketing dollars to build the institutional brand and the remaining 70 percent of the dollars on your direct marketing efforts.
Show your president that you are also willing to use your own departmental money, before you ask for new money to fund your marketing initiatives. Presidents and CFOs are more likely to give you additional dollars if they see that you believe enough in your integrated marketing plan to use some of your precious existing dollars to help fund it.
Don't forget the law of replacement. If you are asking for money to do X, show them that you will no longer need to do Y. Too often, marketing suffers from layering. New strategies are added to old. Seldom is anything taken away or dropped. After a while, your budget looks a bit like an archeological dig that contains a shard of every marketing strategy you have ever undertaken. Before you launch that new campaign on drive-time radio, let people know that you will no longer need to run that series of billboards on I-70. Before you commit to broadcast e-mail, show how it will save you on postal mail.
Hire good people. To save money, colleges and universities often hire inexperienced people to create and execute their marketing strategies. This is false economy. Although you may save on salaries, the mistakes, missed deadlines, and lost opportunities will cost you dearly and publicly. I strongly recommend biting the budgetary bullet and hiring people with experience. The knowledge and understanding of seasoned professionals, not to mention the ability to stand eyeball to eyeball with tenured faculty and not flinch, will make these people a bargain. Of course, when you hire seasoned veterans, be sure to support them. Give them the dollars, staff, authority, and autonomy they need to do the job.
Clear goals that are measurable imply clarity of thought.This kind of focus is always at the heart of a successful marketing strategy. Furthermore, measurable goals are more easily managed. Indications of progress or lack of progress are obvious. A goal to improve an image is important, but vague. A goal of improving top-of-mind awareness among prospective students with an ACT of 25 to 28 within a 200-mile radius from 16 percent to 20 percent is much more measurable.
Repeat key research. To ascertain progress, you must be willing to repeat key research periodically. In the previous example, the goal was to increase top of mind awareness to 20 percent. Two years after the campaign launch, research must be repeated to show whether or not you have progressed in meeting your goal.
Prioritize. You may have 10 actions planned for this quarter, but you should know which six are most important. Don't hesitate to cut a lesser action, or even a goal, to make sure a more important one is successful. When faced with a budgetary shortfall, resist the temptation to cut all programs by a standard amount. This is lazy budgeting. It is better to eliminate one or two of your actions than to strangle all of them.
Once established, it takes less effort to maintain your position. Remember that as your marketing strategies begin to have an impact, you can begin to slowly scale back the commitment of resources. For example, you might place a positional ad as part of a larger campaign in each issue of a regional magazine for the first year, and then place only half that number of ads (every other issue) during the second year. Like a flywheel, it takes more energy to get it going than it does to keep it going. Again, use baseline data to judge the effectiveness of your campaign and guide the allocation of resources.
In the same manner, let's look at how a $500,000, five-year commitment to marketing might look. Rather than spending $100,000 for each year, a better rollout might look like the following:
This approach gives you more dollars up front, and once things are moving, you can taper off a bit.
From an integrated marketing perspective, the biggest potential waste of resources will likely be the dollars you spend on advertising. The fact is, few universities receive an appropriate and calculable return on their advertising dollars. It's not because they spend too many dollars, but because they spend too few.
Advertising is one of the few things that if you don't do enough of, you are better off not doing any. Funding half the plan won't get you half the results. Advertising doesn't work that way. You need to fund the whole plan to move the needle.
Here's my recommendation. Before you spend a dime on advertising, especially traditional media, hire a credible media planner to develop or review your advertising plan. Let them know the dollars you have available. Seek their advice as to whether or not this is a good use of these dollars.
To sum: Don't spend precious dollars on advertising until you have your other bases covered. And then, make those ad-buy decisions as carefully and as synergistically as possible. A smaller advertising campaign is more effective when supported by other media. For most colleges, and most college audiences, advertising makes little sense. For a few colleges and a few audiences, advertising can be a powerful marketing tool, but those colleges and audiences are few and far between.
Don't spend a single minute writing an integrated marketing plan before the dollar issue is addressed. Save yourself and your institution the heartache of yet another planning process that is long on good intentions and short on the means to accomplish them. And remember, commitment is spelled with a $.
Bob Sevier is a senior VP of Stamats Communications (www.stamats.com).