Creating top campaigns on zero budget, part one - putting product centre

I have a confession to make. As much as I love a brief with chunky budget attached, I also adore, perhaps even more, the challenge of trying to conjure PR magic out of nothing.

They say restrictions breed creativity, and there aren’t many bigger than not having any money.

Now yes, you could argue that us PRs shouldn’t have to, and that we should be afforded the same consistently healthy budget as our advertising brethren. But often needs must – PR requires a constant stream of new ideas, and sometimes there isn’t enough cash to cover them all.

But zero budget doesn’t have to mean zero impact. From driving a drumbeat of content to creating award-winning campaigns, you’d be amazed and what can be achieved with some creative spark, a little effort, and no money.

In this article, the first of a three part series, we’re going to explore how to make the most of your best asset: the product.

Some products create news. The iPhone 11. The PlayStation 5. The vegan sausage roll. But you don’t need a new product, or even a sexy one, to drive conversations.

Earlier this year, IKEA used its range of home furnishings to recreate famous living rooms from Friends, The Simpsons and Stranger Things, and then made them available to purchase. Here, IKEA turned showrooms into news, with nothing more than a few pictures.

And this month, Poundland announced it was selling free Harry Potter-esque invisibility cloaks. Like the cloaks, the idea didn’t cost a penny, while also reflecting the brand’s ‘Amazing Value’ proposition and promoting their Halloween range.

This approach can win awards too. We were briefed to promote Ancestry’s DNA test - which tells you where in the world you have heritage from - with a major challenge being that people either think they are ‘just British’ or already know they aren’t. We found the most quintessentially ‘British’ place we could – a village in the Costwolds – and gave the residents a free DNA kit. We got the results, and released a story about how we’d DNA tested an entire village and found that the average Brit is only 42 per cent British. It generated tonnes of coverage, sales and awards, for little more than the kits and a few train tickets.

What’s the common thread? Focus on what you do have (thousands of products, a ready-made-science experiment, a brand focused on "amazing value"), then contrast with the media opportunities and brand challenges, and let the ideas flow.

Yes, it’s true: while these campaigns are free, they still take effort.

The ‘villages’ campaign was 12 months in the making, IKEA said it took months to find the right products, and Poundland commented that they intended to trail an invisibility cloak a year ago "but couldn’t find it in the distribution centre".

But if you can pull it off, not only do you have something that’s budget-friendly, but puts the product front and centre and has serious impact.

Henry Warrington is creative director and partner at Third City

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