Every so often I am asked in a survey or at an event what I think the biggest threat to good charity comms is, and I always give the same answer – bad planning! I am loath to criticise charity comms teams too much for poor planning. I worked in house at different charities before setting up Mile 91 and I know comms teams are often working responsively to other teams, who in turn are working with limited resources and to tight deadlines.
But we also see some really basic mistakes being made year in year out, and it feels like ‘last minute panic culture’ is getting worse. So, as many of you are contemplating refreshed budget lines and a new set of objectives, we thought we’d give you some reasons why poor planning is impacting your comms effectiveness.
1. You’re not making the most of your budgets
I have written for CharityComms about the value of a long view content planning calendar. You’ll find a really useful Comms Planner template on the Charity Comms website. If you’ve got your calendar in place, use it to negotiate agency rates. Most agencies can and will act fast and work to tight deadlines, but you won’t have much bargaining power if you’ve given them two weeks’ notice, and they need to work a weekend. But come to us with six months’ worth of story gathering needs, and you could get yourself a real bargain!
Last year Action for Children commissioned us to capture nine content packages between February and May. We were working to a plan that took in the London Marathon, Father’s Day, mental health awareness days and much more. Booking that much time with us upfront got them a far more competitive rate than if they’d booked the same work on an ad hoc basis.
2. You’re not getting any budget at all
Good comms costs money and needs to be planned in when you’re forecasting. Even with well-trained internal resource there is a chance you will need additional expertise. Often we find that clients haven’t accurately factored external comms support into budgets, and are trying to do things on a shoestring. Sometimes even when it’s a major event or campaign with large fundraising or engagement targets.
Having a conversation with your creative agencies far earlier in the process means you can realistically project costs for what you have in mind, (rather than telling them what you have and it being a fraction of what is needed to achieve your vision). With advance costings you may even be able to get funding for your creative. We are currently making a set of nine fundraising and awareness raising films for a small charity that specifically applied for funds for storytelling.
3. You complicate the approval process
We have probably all been in situations – from the supplier or client side – where a film goes back and forth at the feedback and approval stage sometimes to a degree where everyone involved slightly loses the will to live! In our experience nine times out of ten this happens when time hasn’t been factored in at the planning stage to fully engage all stakeholders. Concerns are far better addressed through a solid stakeholder engagement process before shooting and editing happens. You wouldn’t believe how often we are asked to add ‘xx saying yy’ Films are not like written stories – you can’t put in a call to ask some follow up questions. By the edit stage we can only work with what we captured on shoot day so, if nobody sought the CEO or Head of Programme’s opinion on what it was essential to hear, then things can unravel.
4. You’re missing opportunities
Recently we had to say no to a client who wanted to book a photo shoot to capture images for an awareness day because we were fully booked. The awareness day was within the month. If you have your content planning calendar in place you shouldn’t miss opportunities like this.
The other missed opportunity we frequently see is weather! If you know you want a runner recruitment film for the New Year recruitment period then commission it, (or film it yourself) in the summer or the autumn when the days are bright and the colours are lovely. The reality of training for a challenge event is that some runs will be done on grey rainy days but you don’t necessarily want to show that. Factoring in more time to get your footage means you can grab footage on inspiring sunny days – like we did for Centrepoint a couple of years ago.