The call came with a note of desperation: “We’re launching this program in two weeks and we need a website for it. I don’t really have a budget. I know something quick and cheap isn’t going to be the best, but we can fix it later. Can you help?”
The answer was no. Not because we didn’t want to help, but because we just can’t summon the creative energy for lost causes. There’s nothing more depressing (for all concerned) than a project that starts out rushed, underfunded, and ill-conceived, with the dream of better times ahead. Those times almost never arrive. The hard truth is, you can’t build a mansion on the foundation for a shack.
Prevention Beats Treatment
Our best advice is, avoid this no-win situation. Communications planning should start at the beginning of a program, product, or service launch. You may not know exactly what you’ll be offering, but you know you’ll have to communicate about it, and you know which audiences you’ll need to reach. Carve out the time and budget to think through your strategy, messages, and tactics so that you can produce materials that spur success and make you look good.
What’s Plan B?
OK, so you’re already at the dope-slap stage (“Doh! I forgot about communications!”) or you’ve inherited a mess. What can you do?
Make time. See if you can squeeze the administrative end for more creative time. If other people got you into this situation, let them know they have to help you get out of it, with immediate vendor approvals, tight review times, whatever it takes. If you did this to yourself, beg for mercy.
Find some money. Look under the couch cushions if you have to, but don’t waste more time on the delusion that you’ll get something for nothing. Remember the rule: fast, cheap, and good are all attainable qualities, but you usually can’t get more than two of them at once.
Think small and short term. Recognize that with a tight budget, short time frame, and no planning, you are not going to create a website or anything else for the ages. Keep design and technical aspects simple and copy short but smart. Don’t spend an extra dime on features to build on—you don’t want to build on this; you just want to meet the immediate need.
We all have to go the down-and-dirty route at some time or another. The real mistake is trying to make the result serve your ongoing communications needs. All the swine-related clichés apply: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig, etc. You’ll get far better results if you put the pig out in the pen and build your new communication tools the right way. Originally published in Words That Work, July 2007.