The Gatehouse Blog

Winning the budget battle: Don’t let internal communications be the ‘poor loser’

The IC function has always faced an uphill battle when it comes to securing budget, but in 2013 we seem to be facing even more challenges. IC budgets are coming under increased financial pressure as are IC teams to justify why they deserve a decent slice of the cake. Julie Warren describes some ways in which you can influence the financial budgetary decisions within your organisation.

Increasingly, I find myself dedicating the first part of meetings with newly acquainted Heads of IC, dominated by discussing the subject of cuts to budgets, general lack of funding into their area or headcount cuts – all of which leave them feeling that they are not able to deliver the outputs and value they aspire to.

I believe that by following some of the tips below, Heads of IC may be able to secure better funding for their departments moving forwards:

Take the time to sit down with the finance department to understand the company budgets for the current and future financial period.

How can you make decisions for your department if you don’t understand the overall company position and where you fit within this? You don’t need to become a forensic accountant, but make yourself familiar with the high- level financials and make a friend of the finance director.

Believe in yourself and your department.

Engaged employees deliver significantly more than ones that are not engaged. You have the power to significantly influence the wider organisation, so keep reminding senior leadership of this and even quote financials and return on investment (ROI). IC makes an impact on the bottom line, end of.

Make friends with the enemy.

By this, I mean work really closely with external marketing, comms, sales, IT and other key departments. Without the wonderful IC department how on Earth will they keep their teams inspired and up to date? Having other departments fully onboard could mean that they will battle on the IC budget for next year alongside you.

Be ambitious.

Ask for the right amount of money to do an outstanding job. I recently spoke to a Head of IC who had requested £10k for doing a major intranet overhaul. Unsurprisingly, they ran out of budget and ended up with something that was not fit for purpose, caused a huge amount of wasted time and frustration and added negatives to the perception of IC. If you need £100k to do a great job, then be clear on this. State what the ROI will be and the other longer-term benefits – “Mr CEO, once we have this new platform, we will be able to issue monthly video updates from you, add customer testimonials, and manage our staff satisfaction survey through the same platform.”

Be realistic.

If the business is suffering from reduced profits or even a loss, asking for a 100% increase on budget might not be appropriate. This goes right back to my very first point which is understanding the bigger picture. It might be that the business is suffering due to a high employee turnover – in which case you might have a very good business case for why the IC budget needs to be increased not decreased. Sometimes, we need to be blunt about the consequences of cost/budget cutting within IC, which is in many ways the heartbeat of the organisation.

Spend what you are given or have a very good reason why not.

It’s amazing how many IC teams who have faced budget cuts, still end the year with unspent money. This might be because they did not have the right staff or time to complete projects. Know your budgets inside outand if you have funds left at the end of the 15 year, negotiate with your key suppliers to have them issue pro-formas to carry funds over to the next year. Or go back and speak to your finance team about other options. Obviously, don’t spend for the sake of spending but if you had a really good reason for asking for this money, you need to have a very good reason why you have not spent it within the agreed timeframe.

Learn how to negotiate.

Negotiation is a skill which can be learnt and refined as we pass through our work and personal lives. In the late 1990’s, I attended a training course run by Derek Arden ( Derek taught me that often in negotiations, it’s our own lack of planning, skills, courage etc. that is holding us back. Attending a high class negotiations skills session will help you in budget negotiations but also with suppliers and within your wider business and personal lives.

Be able to negotiate at any time of the year.

Things change both externally and internally during the year. If you have a very strong business case for going back to request more budget mid-way through the year, don’t be afraid to go down this path – but again, speak to other departments first and make sure that you have key supporters on your side ready to stand alongside you.

Make sure that you have the ability to deliver against your plans.

Too often, I hear IC departments have been unable to deliver key work streams because they don’t have the right number or right quality of staff to do so. Ensure you have the right internal and external resources in place. If you need a first-rate intranet manager, have them in place to deliver the new intranet or negotiate early to get them in place.

All too often, the IC department becomes the wounded soldier in budget negotiations. This is not only sad, but often unnecessary. If you need help then ask for it and plan, be brave and focus on ROI. 

Biography Julie Warren

Julie Warren is an experienced marketeer who spent almost 30 years in senior sales and marketing roles within the financial services sector. The later part of her career was spent as a Head of marketing where she built an IC function from scratch and then grew it into a fully integrated team of five sitting within her wider marketing team. Since leaving banking two years ago, Julie has spent most of her time working as a consultant for FTSE250 organisations on a wide range of marketing topics but increasingly with a strong focus on helping Heads of IC design and implement truly engaging people strategies.