With the Chancellor days away from holding the Budget box aloft, Richard Sergeant tracks how Budget communication has evolved over the years. As the marketing landscape shifts, Sergeant investigates what role the Budget plays in modern -day client communication.
Disclosure time: I’m one of the handfuls of people out there that still get a buzz out of the Budget each year.
Admittedly, it wasn’t until I started working at PracticeWEB many years ago that it took on a greater significance than watching the BBC to see by how much “booze, fags and fuel” would be going up.
What struck me then was how important the Budget was for marketing. Back in 2000 websites were not the norm for firms and social media hadn’t been invented in the way we know it now. The opportunities and means for communicating out to clients and prospects fell to networking, advertising, events, and a lot of paper.
The Budget was one time of the year when every firm in the country had something to tell their clients, often by the means of the printed Budget reports and tax cards put out by PracticeTrack, Mercia, and Taxbriefs. A herculean effort from all involved to digest read through the detailed press releases (picked up by hand), compile, check, review, print, collate, and deliver for the next day. And lest we forget this still goes on today.
But things move on, and it’s a different marketing landscape. So what role does the Budget play today? Canvassing opinion recently proved that things had indeed moved on.
“In my opinion, it can often become the most boring marketing an accountancy firm can do,” said Karen Reyburn of The Profitable Firm. “Business owners do not care about the Budget.”
Or, as Carl Reader of Dennis & Turnbull put it more subtly: “Relying on it as marketing is ridiculous. You might as well send a book of accounting standards too. If my garage sent me a set of oil viscosity tables as a way of getting me to have my car serviced there, I'd run a mile.”
But when there is upwards of 350,000 digital and physical copies of Budget reports in circulation either produced by publishers or firms themselves, there is still value being felt.
Find the impact
There wasn’t much support expressed for a generic report per se, but all understood that the announcements contained important information that needed to be relayed, and should be made relevant to individuals or groups of impacted clients.
“Business owners are not that interested in Budget or what it means to other business owners but what it means to them”, said Tom Parry from Planned Market Research.
Heather Townsend echoed these sentiments: “Clients mostly want bite-sized, relevant and timely information about the proposed changes in the Budget and how it impacts them.”
While Sarah Solo of PaperRocket Accounting added “As a contractor accountant this year’s Budget is very much eagerly awaited and of interest to my clients. It could potentially change their whole way of earning a living and is something they want to hear about and receive reassurance on.”
And there lies the rub - until the chancellor sits back down it’s almost impossible to say with a high degree of certainty exactly which clients are going to be impacted and how (notwithstanding the lack of room for manoeuvre since the financial crisis and the habit of ‘leaking’ many of the announcements in the days running up to the speech).
The effort required to pull out the relevant parts only on a client per client basis just isn’t practical for most firms. As Steve Knowles from Knowles Warwick rightly points out: “The problem is that the Budget speech is a political event. The detail is in the press releases which take days to wade through”.
Make it matter more, for longer
Alice Neal, editor of PracticeWEB and mastermind behind all the content including the Budget report, strikes a pragmatic note. “The trick that often gets missed is that there are a whole hosts of announcements but few of them come into force straight away. So there is opportunities to stage content, communication and services right through the year. It’s the start, not the end of something.
“With social media and digitalising of content, it’s also much easier to key into and distribute content that suits very specific clients”.
Kylie Fieldhouse from KFH Accounting picked up on that theme: “We keep it short and sweet - blog post and an email out, raising the key points that will impact our clients directly and what solutions we can provide them to anything raised. A good example being last November’s changes to the flat rate scheme. All of our clients on the flat rate scheme were notified on that day so we could work with them about what options they had available well in advance of the 1 April switch over.”
And these days, there are more chances to be more creative: “Last year I saw a series of infographics done by audience (ie startups, retirees, company directors etc),” said Karen Reyburn. “Now that was cool. And I bet it took a ton of work to create, design, and share by segment.”
The Budget is in the eye of the beholder
But let’s not confuse marketing around the Budget with a printed Budget report. For many the idea of ordering boxes of printed material to send out once a year makes no sense whatsoever. However, the power of the Budget to impact materially on businesses and individuals makes this still an area where quality communication is welcome.
Now, more importantly, what’s the betting on spreadsheet Phil having a tipple at the dispatch box?
About Richard Sergeant
Specialist insight and business development support for accountants and their vendors. Cloud advocate with a pragmatist eye.