A new year is upon us and, where the vast majority of the human race is hopefully thinking of how to shed a few pounds, be a better person, or putting some vice to bed, it’s difficult for business owners like myself to think about goals that will improve our business. Win more clients; be a bit firmer with the team; get up and into the office a bit earlier may resonate with the business owners among you, when someone asks you “what was your new year’s resolution?”
If investing a bit of time and budget into promoting your business this year is high on your agenda, then you don’t need to approach it with complete trepidation. Even small to medium sized businesses can stand toe to toe with the bigger competition, if you use your marketing budget wisely.
As an integrated communications agency, we receive many enquiries from small to medium sized businesses looking to promote their businesses. Some are the lucky ones who have had too much work on for too long to have the headspace to begin marketing their business properly. Others have maybe struggled to make the in-roads they hoped for and have progressed slower than expected – they are often startups working against the clock to turn a profit before their capital runs out.
Both of these types of client have one thing in common – there is always a way to boost their business. Every single time there is a way to increase awareness, generate more leads or engage with customers using the best communications tools available for whatever budget can be afforded.
In the end it is all about being clever with your budget and most decent communications agencies will sit down with you, listen to what you want to achieve, consider your budget and then lay on the table what they can do to help you hit your goals. The really good agencies will temper your expectations to reality without dashing your dreams. The brilliant agencies will immediately have a few tricks in mind where they can do something new for your budget – something creative and memorable, which you yourself will have the incline: ‘that just might work’.
Okay so your competitors are always releasing ‘research’ and speaking about the industry on television. You are sick of the sound of your nemesis on Business Breakfast, spinning an annoyingly interesting news story or speaking at conferences, while you scour the room for potential leads. However, just because you don’t have enough for a fancy PR retainer, you may have a new product or service, or something interesting to say about the market at any one time. Ask the agency “can we do a one off release on this?” Most will enjoy the new challenge and, if you have something newsworthy to go to the market with, few PRs can resists a good story to get their teeth into. Also, unless you are speaking to one of the goliath multinational agencies, it pays for growing agencies to form trust with you and grow with your brand.
Nimble and cost-effective, you can usually get at least some level of ongoing social media management on a trim budget. There are few things more damaging to certain types of business than having stagnant social media accounts – it can look as if you are not even doing any business at all. Work with the agency to establish some consistent content, try and build in a little for advertising (which is becoming an essential thanks to stricter rules for who sees your material) and benefit from the brand awareness and, sometimes, lead generation that social media can quickly bring your business. The saddest thing we see is when brands come in and ask for a proposal on how to manage their social media, then go off and try and save a few thousand dirhams a month doing it themselves. It is almost always counterproductive with cringe-able examples of inconsistency; poor quality; brand building opportunities missed and, the worst of all, when it just plain gets forgotten about.
When managed properly, your foray into digital can be gradual and painless and soon turn into the most exciting thing in terms of leads that’s ever happened to your brand. You can invest in SEO, content marketing and other effective ways of generating leads and sales. However, if you just wish to dip your toe in, then pay-per-click advertising, when managed properly, can make a real impact upon your business pipeline in a matter of days.
Get your brain working – don’t be afraid to go old school creative and go guerilla with your tactics. The F1 in Abu Dhabi was the perfect example, where there were promotional staff; hostesses; pit girls and brand ambassadors dressed in all types of guises drawing attention to party yachts, bars, luxury brands and household brands. Branded, well briefed and fun, sometimes the product, service or situation lends itself perfectly to the personal touch and some experiential marketing.
As long as you use this sparingly and have a strong message or promotion that can make a difference to your bottom line, then ensure you are keeping your ads extremely well targeted. Always remember to ask the media in question whether there is an online and e-newsletter component, which can be thrown in for the price and, whenever possible, ensure you can get some fringe benefits, such as an interview or write-up as part of the deal.
Most of all – go in with a budget and share it. Do not waste everyone’s time by letting the agency ‘fly in the wind’, as they will almost always deliver something nearer the mark when they know the level of resources they have to work with. Do your research, check the agency’s credentials and those of your account manager to be, and keep the communication lines open. The client-agency relationship is a two way street and no one knows your business better then yourself, so ensure you impart your wisdom and ideas regularly, they will love you for it as they grow with you.
Ian Hainey is MD of IHC – an integrated communications agency, based in JLT, Dubai. www.ih-c.com