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Making the case for communications

17 September 2014

Why can it be so difficult to make the case for consistent, realistic investment in communications in some organisations while others just seem to ‘get it’ and put it at the heart of everything they do? How can we make sure communications is at the heart of strategic, business and financial planning ­- not in the box marked ‘luxury’?

First, communications is definitely not a luxury. How many times have you heard the promise that we will invest in communications in better financial times? That’s looking down the wrong end of the lens. Effective communications will help get us to those better financial times. In fact we probably won’t ever get there without it. Internal, external, traditional or digital, organisations cannot exist without properly resourced, integrated marketing and communications. They will miss opportunities to grow, to benefit beneficiaries and will put their reputations at risk.

Second, investing in communications is not only something large charities should be worrying about. A budget of £500, well-spent, can mean a lot to the impact of a small charity and deserves as much attention, relatively speaking, as a £5 million budget in a £150 million operation.

Of course one of the biggest challenges for communicators in any organisation is convincing the CEO or financial director that the investment is worthwhile. What’s the return on investment? It’s no use resorting to the tried (tired?) and tested, “well it’s really hard to put a value on reputation,” or “it’s too difficult to be precise about mass communications.” That doesn’t wash. Good evaluation knowledge and skills should be part of the toolbox of every communicator, and demonstrating value in a way the purse string holders can buy into is crucial.

Having said that, the difference between those organisations with CEOs that really understand the benefits of investing in communication and those that don’t is palpable. Not just in visibility, but also style, confidence and innovativeness. Take a look at the profile of organisations like British Heart Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Support or Scope and you see organisations that really value effective communications.

Making the case for communications must also focus on integration. This means working with services, fundraising, policy and public affairs colleagues, for example, to show how mutually supportive programmes of activity will have better results for everyone.  The business case also has to show how comms will help to deliver the strategy and objectives of the organisation, how it will build and protect your brand and reputation and how it will reinforce the organisation’s narrative and tell the engaging stories that encourage support.

It’s right to be asked to make a case for investment in communications, just as it is for any other part of the organisation, even if it’s frustrating that we still need to go back to basics too often. But the case is strong, the rewards are powerful and the effort is worth it.

John Grounds

Communications, marketing and campaigns expert, Communications consultant

John is the former chair of CharityComms' trustee board. He is a strategic consultant in corporate, brand, communications and marketing strategy, primarily in the not for profit sector. He is the former deputy CEO of RSPCA. His career has included both commercial and charity roles. Prior to the RSPCA he was at the NSPCC, as director of communications and latterly director of child protection consultancy. Previously, he was director of campaigns and communications at medical charity Action Medical Research. Past roles include responsibility for comms at Barnardo's, five years at The Body Shop as international PR manager and a PR and campaigning role alongside Bruce Kent at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Outside work, music is a consuming passion, as well as a love of film, art and literature and a 40-year plus devotion to Arsenal FC.