Project Communication on a Budget

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How do you manage to communicate about your project with virtually no marketing budget? This was a question someone asked me after my presentation on how to market your project at a PMI PMXPO event.

We don’t all have big budgets to produce banners, T-shirts and mugs with logos on to share the messages about our projects. You do? Oh, good for you. Go and read this about the collaboration software you can use on your projects.

If you are still here, then you don’t have a big budget for project communications. You are in the majority. So let’s look at what options you have for cheap or free project marketing.

Cheap project communications ideas

There are lots of things you can do for free or for very little money (if you don’t count the time spent):

  • Email newsletters
  • Intranet sites
  • Leaflets
  • Meeting people and buying them coffee
  • Town Hall style meetings
  • Quizzes – these are surprisingly popular and only need a small token prize
  • Using your team as ‘marketing outreach’ people to spread the message.

Get a free project communications template in the members-only template library.

Get crafty

Use the skills you have. I once roped in my entire family to make 160 ‘thank you’ labels to go on bottles of wine (which the project had paid for). We sat on the floor in the living room, cutting out labels, punching holes, decorating them, cutting and tying ribbon to hold them on.

Then one of my colleagues hand-wrote ‘thank you’ on all of them and put them on the bottles one evening. When we came to give them out, we invited each recipient to select either red or white from the wine in boxes. They all took off the label and left it in the box.

No acknowledgement of our hard work or the personal touch we had tried to hard to show.

Lesson learned: for that group of stakeholders, just give them the alcohol! (We did have some alternatives for non-alcohol drinkers, because we’re that kind of thoughtful project team.)

Cheap i.e. craftily making all the thank you labels ourselves didn’t have the impact I thought it would but on the other hand if I’d spent a lot of money getting labels printed it would have felt much more wasted.

I have also crocheted a desk ornament as a prize for a project competition. I’m not sure that the recipient was particularly grateful (he would have probably preferred a bottle of wine) but it showed personality and was fun for me to do.

Food as a communication tool

Another cheap thing to do is to get rice paper logos printed and then use them as cake toppers. I did this for the pilot launch of a new piece of software. I was able to offer cakes to the first users with pictures of the office building on the top, and some with the company logo. In hindsight, photos of people would have been more interesting.

Tip: Don’t put the rice paper toppers on the cakes the day before. The ink leached into the icing and the pictures weren’t that clear. For best results, stick them on just before you bring them out.

Cakes, crochet, wine… these ideas reflect my personality and the leadership style I bring to my projects. You might be different. Tap into your interests and those of the team.

Use video

Video production is a lot cheaper these days, and people are much more forgiving of dubious quality. You don’t have to have any special skills. Give it a go on your tablet or phone and record your project sponsor explaining the vision. It can be a really powerful (and cost-effective) way of sharing the key messages about your project without them being diluted by operational managers re-telling the story to their staff.

Some video tips:

  • Shoot in natural light. If you don’t have studio lights, natural is better. Think big windows or outside.
  • Don’t shoot into the light. Don’t position your interviewee directly in front of the window.
  • Audio quality matters. If they can’t hear what the person on screen is saying then this undermines your whole effort to communicate effectively. Minimise background noise.
  • Do a screen test. Take a short video, then play it back. Show the person what they look like on screen (many people are worried about this). Check the background and audio quality. Move any distracting background items and make sure that it doesn’t look like a pot plant is growing out of their head or anything.

Read next: My project case study on using video for comms.

I use this a video camera and an external microphone but I have also used my iPad and no microphone in a quite room. They both work fine for the type of quality I’m prepared to go for.

I mainly use Wondershare Filmora to edit my video and add text overlays to show who is speaking but I’ve done a few using the YouTube video editor and that is pretty good too.

Get a bigger budget

The best way to manage your project budget for communications is to get a bigger budget. You might not know what you want to do at the start of your project but you can guarantee you’ll be doing something.

Put some money aside when you create your project budget for communications. Even a small amount can be useful to handle the unexpected costs of having to hire a meeting room to give a presentation to key stakeholders or something like that.

Talk to your project sponsor when the project begins and explain why it’s so important to share positive messages about your project. A reminder: it’s because:

  • You need people to engage on the project – and engage properly, not just nodding.
  • To do that they have to understand what you are doing.
  • Then they need to want to be part of it.
  • Get some materials made, like a pull-up banner. Great if you are taking your comms ‘on the road’ or sending materials to different offices.
  • Because that reduces resistance to change and increases the chance of successful adoption and therefore getting the benefits in the business case.

Your project sponsor will want success – if they don’t, you shouldn’t be doing the project at all. Good communications is part of the drive for success, and if your sponsor doesn’t get that then they aren’t a very good sponsor.

If you can’t get any money put aside for project marketing activity then hopefully the ideas here will at least give you some free and low-cost suggestions for creating engaging communications on your projects.