The Ad Budget Dilemma: To Tell Or Not To Tell?

By Paul Leese | September 24, 2020 | Category: Marketing Strategy

When we meet with clients to discuss advertising planning, the conversation usually goes like this. We get the background, the challenges they are facing, the opportunities they see, who they want to advertise to and the goals they want to achieve.  Everyone is getting excited and ideas start flying. Then the dreaded question arises.

So, what’s your budget?

Nothing silences the room and creates awkward stares faster than the budget question. We can see the thoughts racing through their minds.

“If I tell them how much I have to spend, all they’ll do is put a plan together to match that amount.”

“They should tell me how much I should spend!”

“I have no idea how much I should budget for this.”

“Don’t make eye contact and maybe, just maybe, we can pretend they didn’t ask.”

We get it.  It’s a tricky answer to give, for a number of reasons. So, why do we ask it? Think of it this way. Creating an advertising plan is kind of like shopping for a house. When you start looking, you have a list of everything you want – style, size, number of bedrooms, neighborhood, swimming pool, upgraded bathrooms, vaulted ceilings, etc., etc. Then your realtor starts showing you the homes that check off every box. Followed by the often lump-in-your-throat-causing asking price. All of the sudden, you realize you may have to realign your expectations to your budget and prioritize what really matters most to you.

The same goes with your advertising plans. If your goals don’t match your budget, expectations are out of whack. Or the agency starts putting hours and hours into a plan that’s financially way more than you are expecting and, you end up back at the drawing board having lost a week or two in the process.

So, what’s the solution to navigating the budget conversation and arriving at a successful advertising plan that fits what you want to spend? Here are some tips.

  • Find an agency you can trust. Get referrals and find out what their experiences have been like. Start with something small and see how they perform. It’s not as easy to do these days, but I am a big fan of looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand.  You can learn a lot from that.
  • Look for an agency that is willing to say no. You want an agency that is a true partner. One that will tell you to hold onto your money if it is not enough to make the impact you want/need.  Or they’ll come up with alternatives that may get you close to the end goal without blowing the budget.
  • Demand transparency. Get regular reporting and track performance.
  • Build in flexibility as much as possible. Especially in the current market, you need to be judicious with your spend. Work with an agency that has strong media partnerships and can negotiate beneficial buys that can be moved around to where it is working best.

The budget question doesn’t have to be scary. If you find the right partner to help you answer it.

Paul Leese, MBA is the Executive Vice President of Keenan-Nagle Advertising, Inc. located in Allentown, PA.  He specializes in marketing strategy development and execution and has over twenty years of successful experience in marketing, management, team building, media services and strategy development for non-profits, large corporations and small businesses.

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