How much? How to keep costs low and creative quality high

As a communications agency, we spend considerable time blue-sky thinking, brainstorming, sketching, concepting and imagining. But in every creative project there comes a point when lofty ideas must be tethered to what’s known the world over as The Budget.

The Budget must be estimated. The Budget must be approved. The Budget must be met.

Since budgeting is an integral part of every project, it’s a wonder more attention isn’t paid to how to get more from it. To help you get the most cost-effective, highest-quality communications work possible, I offer the following tips and considerations.

1. It’s true: Time is money

No one has invented a better way to do it, so most agencies essentially base budgets on time. Estimates are based on hourly rates multiplied by how much time a project is expected to take, based on our experience with similar projects for the same or similar client. Of course, there are additional variables. If the client is known for requesting many revisions, the estimate will reflect that practice. The reverse is also true. Some agencies use a single “blended” rate for all employees (basically, an average), while others apply different rates for different services.

2. Beware of comparing hourly rates

Comparing the hourly rates of various agencies can be misleading. Without a project estimate, there’s no way to know how long an agency will take to complete a project, so you can’t compare final costs. An agency that seems to have low hourly rates may take twice as long to complete work or use inexperienced personnel who need a lot of time-consuming guidance from you. Another agency may have a higher rate but provide a competitive project estimate because employees are highly experienced, and they have efficient processes and technology in place. When comparing agency costs, it’s best to ask for project estimates.

3. What is the true value?

Consider the underlying reason for the project and how that will impact your budget. An annual report may really be a tool for recognizing key stakeholders and require many more interviews and features than is typical. Planning for a big internal event may be used as a team-building exercise that stretches over many months. A website rewrite may actually be a branding workshop with the leadership team. In all these examples, the process of engaging teams and facilitating collaboration is as important as the final product. Process can be highly valuable, and the budget will need to reflect the time required.

4. Write a creative brief

A creative brief – a summary of your project’s key points – may not be a necessity, but it increases the likelihood that the creative team will hit the bullseye in a shorter amount of time. And less time means lower cost. At the very least, be sure everyone on your team agrees to the answers to these three questions: What’s the goal? Who’s the audience? What’s the key message? There will be more questions than those, but that’s a good start.

5. Use the right tool for the job

You may need a commercial-quality ad to run on national TV. Or you may need a bare-bones video of how to assemble a bedframe for your social media channels. It’s most likely you need something in between. Make sure the partner you’re using provides the appropriate cost-to-quality ratio. When it comes to quality, you generally get what you pay for.

6. Don’t let meetings sabotage your budget

Some meetings are needed to keep projects moving and on target, so a budget will generally include a reasonable number. However, when there are too many meetings, or meetings are used in place of planning, or meetings are routinely long and poorly managed, costs add up fast. Meetings may be the No. 1 enemy of your budget.

7. Collate feedback and revision requests

If several people on your team will have input into the project, gather the feedback from all team members and deliver it all at once. Otherwise, the time it takes to sift through oftentimes conflicting feedback from various sources will drive up costs.

8. Finalize copy before design or production

It’s quick, easy and inexpensive to change text in a Word document. But many clients want to “see” the copy in design (or worse, in video production) before reading and gauging its effectiveness. That’s a costly preference. Once text has been placed in design, changes to copy are time-consuming and open the potential for serious errors if the writer is no longer closely involved. It’s much wiser to do a careful review of the Word document and then make only minor changes if needed in design.

9. Share budget restraints

Good communications partners want to help you meet your goals. If you have a budget already set for a project, share it up front. They should help you plan how to get the most from the money you want to spend.

10. Invest time

The time you spend up front to bring your partners up to speed and familiarize them with your goals is time well spent. They can help in ways you might not have considered. And later, when you have an urgent need, they can jump right in.

11. Get budget planning help

When it’s time for annual pre-budget meetings in which communication goals and projects for the upcoming year are considered, be sure to circle in your communications partners. That’s the time to put creative minds to good use helping you create effective plans for the year ahead and gathering the budget numbers you need.

12. Ask for budget updates

At any point in a project, ask for an update of how work is coming along relative to the budget. At WordsFresh, our digital time-tracking system allows us to check on the status of a client’s budget in real time, so we can foresee budget issues and act before they become problems.

13. Bring them to the strategy table

If you trust your communications partners, be sure to bring them to the strategy table.
That’s where you can get tremendous value from their ability to strategize, plan, ideate and engage your stakeholders.

A great communications partner should share your goal of producing the most effective work possible for the investment the company wishes to make. If you’d like to explore partnering with WordsFresh, let’s talk. It won’t cost a thing.

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