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It’s all very well having great plans, but what if you can’t get the budget? Jenni Wheller, head of internal communications for SSP UK and Ireland, talks to us on getting the budget you need for ‘the big things’.

Are the issues in IC the same as for all functions?

They’re quite similar. In my organisation every department has to be able to demonstrate a return and clear business rationale. If you’re not very commercially minded, this can be hard to do. I’d say IC is a little behind the curve compared to some other functions in terms of applying this kind of commerciality.

It also depends on where you are on your journey in the organisation. For example, I have experienced starting work at an organisation where I didn’t have a budget because there hadn’t been an IC function there previously and that brought its own challenges.

How did you go about getting your budget in those circumstances?

I did an audit and reviewed the business, which was clearly necessary at that time; it took three months to put a plan together and present it. I went in with a proposal for a magazine and intranet; this was a significant cost, but because we had all the research in place to back it up, it was quite an easy sell.

The audit was able to show that introducing these channels would actually free up people’s time. Rather than three people combining information for three different parts of the business we were able to shift this to the content owner and move the content online – saving a lot of time for those creating a 36 page PDF every month! Employee feedback provided by the process was very important – they didn’t like the amount of email and wanted more relevant information in a more timely way.

Subsequently, the budget doubled year on year because we were able to demonstrate success against business needs.

How do you deal with objections on cost?

For significant expenditure,I like to give people around three options, all of which I would be comfortable taking forward. I don’t think you can go in with ‘this is how it’s going to be – take it or leave it.’ That approach doesn’t give senior leaders enough of an understanding.

And I think it’s also about being the ‘expert’. You need to have confidence in what you’re doing, always reinforce you are the expert through your words and actions and be able to back that up – not just with research from inside your business but also with industry research.

How did you keep moving things forward after that first budget success?

We developed the magazine from being quarterly to coming out every other month. I knew from the original research that this was needed because of the speed and pace of the organisation, but there wasn’t the budget to do this right from the start. When we launched the magazine, we also sold advertising to suppliers to offset some of the cost – so it was a relatively cost neutral exercise in that first year. Over time, we then increased the frequency and length of the publication.

So you have to accept you can’t have it all at once?

It has to be about the long win and timing. You have to find the right time to ask the questions, give decision-makers the information they need and push a little when appropriate.

You have focused on getting the budget for the big things – why is that?
If you secure the money for the big things (that is, the most critical to the organisation in terms of current needs), over time – when the positive impact of this expenditure becomes apparent – there is a progression to acceptance that a particular budget is needed on an annual basis in order to achieve the objectives. This is not just about specific agreed projects, and means that the internal communicator has more freedom to allocate expenditure to a range of activities that will benefit the organisation over the course of the year. It’s quite nice having a small pot to support projects in the business as they come up – it makes you feel like you’re truly supporting the business needs.

What do you think is the key to getting benefits over to the senior team effectively?

You have to be able to influence at a senior level, have those conversations and know who to get on side.

One of the things I’ll always do if I’ve got a big paper going to the Board is chat to them individually first and brief them on what I’m thinking, because I won’t be present at the meeting. I don’t want the first time they see that information to be when I’m not there to justify it. This also helps to avoid misunderstandings or them not being able to absorb all the key issues.

Jenni has been managing IC at SSP since 2010, becoming head of internal communications in January 2013. She blogs at Confessions of an internal communicator and in September 2012 she co-founded The IC Crowd on Twitter (@theiccrowd) to help connect internal communicators across the globe.

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