Published: 10 November 2011

Reshape your content on a tighter budget

As many organisations attempt to juggle diminishing communications budgets around increasingly ambitious goals, Susannah Randall and Catherine Raynor from Randall Fox share some simple tips for re-shaping content to create more impact.

1. Create a talking point

The more you can identify what your audiences are interested in, and how this relates to your work, the easier it will become to develop content that will engage them, make them think and provide them with something to talk about. No media strategy, however well executed, will succeed if your content has the ‘so what?’ factor. This applies as much to social media as it does to the Today programme. Once your content is online, use Google Analytics to track how your audiences are responding.

2. Never overlook the power of a good story

The power of a story to communicate a message is a timeless phenomenon. A good story is believable, simple, concrete and sometimes surprising – see www.heathbrothers.com/madetostick

Keep your stories personal. Rethink evaluated an information programme designed to raise awareness among junior doctors about the needs of mental health patients: after six months those doctors remembered the first-hand accounts of mental health patients over and above all other information from the programme. In his Bad Science column for the Guardian, Ben Goldacre has reported on fascinating research showing that the emotional effect of a story lessens as the number of people it involves increases.

3. Less is definitely more

Pressure on resources may force you to cut the amount of content you can develop, but therein lies an opportunity. Ditch lengthy newsletters and reports in favour of succinct content that drives home one simple message. Attention spans are shorter, and film enables you to tell stories much faster. Save the Children is increasingly producing films between only one and three minutes in length.

Of course, the more concise the content, the sharper your messaging must be. A visit to www.wateraid.org.uk will tell you at first glance: ‘Today, 4000 children will die because of dirty water and poor sanitation’.  What else in 12 words would you need to know?

4. Make your images work for you

A single image can be instrumental in creating a narrative.

Use images that communicate the essence of what you do, and which depict your people in hands-on situations, rather than head and shoulders shots. And exploit low-cost ways of capturing the images of your work, equipping staff and volunteers so that they can provide reportage that bring the people you feature to life. Your audience no longer automatically expects high production values.

That said, you should protect at all costs your budget for professional photographers who can capture those lead images that will run on your home page, front covers and events displays.

5. Invest in good internal processes to support content development

When developing content do not ignore the most powerful resource you have – the frontline staff and volunteers who deliver your programmes and services. Every day they are exposed to the highs, lows and spine tingling moments that are going to inspire your audiences, so help them to help you capture amazing stories. With guidance they will understand what information and stories your supporters and the media respond to, and become your eyes and ears. And once you have secured your pipeline of content there are plenty of cost effective ways to store the information, such as Microsoft SharePoint and story hub sites like Zahmoo.


Susannah Randall, director, Randall Fox

Susannah Randall has run communications teams for the Wellcome Trust and for the National Patient Safety Agency, where she led a campaign focused on junior doctors that received two Chartered of Institute of PR excellence awards. Susannah set up RandallFox with Selina Fox in 2008, where she provides independent communications advice and research on the needs of health care audiences.