How the NC State Budget Crisis Is Fueling Smarter Marketing

by Melissa Adams on March 4, 2011

in Media,Social Media

If you’re reading this blog post from somewhere in North Carolina you’ve probably heard about the cuts to the 2012 state budget.  I decided to address this via the Media Two blog for a couple of reasons – one being that we work with several universities and nonprofits who will be affected by proposed cuts, and two, because I know that our clients are smart and resourceful marketers who have tactics in place to manage through this tough time.

I also wanted to share some recent research about time spent online.  If there ever was a time to share tips and make a case for moving marketing budgets online, this is it.  And by the way, if you want to take a shot at deciding on the budget cuts, check out the Governor’s “Interactive Budget Challenge” to see how your decisions would impact NC agencies and nonprofits.

To get started thinking about online marketing and limited marketing budgets, let’s first consider where folks in the US spend their time.  Conventional advertising wisdom says to find your audience when they are their most receptive (i.e. during their leisure time).  Most companies think the best way to accomplish this is to advertise on TV and radio.

Guess what?  Since the economic downturn, leisure time is just another in a long list of cuts we’ve all experienced that has changed our habits.  Currently, most people say they have less “leisure” time and more “work” time and even if they aren’t working, they aren’t spending that extra time watching TV.  According to ComScore, the average American spent 32 hours per month online and people aged 45-54 set the high-bar (even above teens!) by averaging more than 39 hours a month online!

So, where does this time spent online come from? It comes from both work and leisure time.  So perhaps we need to rethink our concept of where our audience is. Instead of focusing on “work time versus leisure time” or “weekend versus weekday,” focus more on “online versus offline.”  We’re clearly spending a lot of time online!


Hours spent online in the US by age - via ComScore

Hours spent online in the US

If you want to find your audience in 2011, you’d better look online.   In times where budgets are strapped, and metrics and accountability are top priorities, advertising within online marketing channels such as social media and email allows marketers to better measure and report on success.  It also helps them make budget decisions to optimize campaigns quickly and efficiently.

A few additional recent stats found around the web to consider:

  • Netflix posted record earnings last quarter, while traditional movie rental company, Blockbuster, announced a bankruptcy filing.  (i.e. We even prefer to watch movies online now!)
  • J.C. Penney Co. plans to cut costs by closing down some stores and easing out of the large catalog business over the next two years. In turn, they plan to reinvest the estimated first-year savings of up to $30 million back into long-range growth initiatives, including online.
  • Multichannel customers viewing HSN TV and purchasing via the web generate the largest sales.
  • 64% of Americans shopped online over the holidays in 2010 (I believe that’s at least, if not more than reported shopped in stores!)

So we know that audiences are online, but how do we manage through this state budget crisis to make sure we can reach them?

Here are some tips based on what Media Two’s nonprofit clients are doing to ensure that they get the most for their marketing budgets this year.

Repurpose good work with a refresh

If you have good online marketing assets, rather than totally rebuild them, refresh the design and messaging.  Just because the budget situation has you in a bind doesn’t meet you can halt marketing efforts; you just have to adopt a more creative and flexible approach.  Look at what you have, and then work with your teams and vendors to make the most of them for your next campaign. It’s less expensive to refresh than to create new assets.

Move projects and campaigns online

For example, one of our university clients manages several publications for its school.  Rather than just print as usual, the client moved a seasonal edition online. They also migrated a weekly newsletter to the web.  Another client printed fewer copies of their brochure this year and now relies more on the PDF version online for distribution.  These folks have saved in both print and postage, and they’ve added valuable, engaged traffic to their sites!

Ramp up or start social media efforts and “tap” your constituencies

Yes, it’s time. You can’t wait any longer.  This is the time to make sure that you have social media outreach strategies in place for all your key campaigns and messages.  Social media offers a low cost, measurable way to spread your message to your audiences, build awareness and manage public engagement for your brand and efforts.  If you’re a nonprofit or university, tap your staff or board members to help post and respond, and your constituencies will follow.  Also, remember bullet point one?  Well, you can be sure to maximize impact for your campaigns and assets by connecting them with messaging to those audiences through social media.   Our client, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, uses social media to engage all their audiences and share stories from their Inspire. Change. site.

According to Marketing Director Debbie Schallock, in response to both less budget and a need to make the most of their assets, their staff have  “ramped up our social efforts on Facebook and Twitter to communicate with ALL of our communities – the campus, the Triad, NC, nationally. And those re-purposed stories? They are also shared on our social networks as well, so one story could appear in up to 3-5 places!”

As a final thought on social media, don’t forget that targeted ads placed through LinkedIn, Facebook and (you knew it was coming…) Twitter can help you extend that message even further. Neither LinkedIn nor Facebook CPC ads are based on minimum spends, and both offer opportunities for organizations to do more than advertise. They enable businesses to engage with clever campaigns (such as a “like” campaign on Facebook) and extend their messaging affordably.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Morgan Siem March 4, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Really important points here, Melissa. I think that budget limitations really bring forward the smart, creative thinkers. When there’s less money to throw around, you get down to business:
1) What message do I really want to send?
2) How will I stand out to the audience?
3) What tools can I use to my advantage to save money? Where can I reallocate budget?


Michael Hubbard Michael Hubbard March 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Very well done – and one more key resource for non-profits are Google Grants ( . If you have a 503(c) status, Google will give you free adwords advertising budgets… There’s some limitations to what you can and can’t do with it – but the application is a painless one-pager – so what do you have to lose? Just be forewarned – they get a lot of applications, so it could take 6+ months before you hear back.


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