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Keep a rainy-day fund to make a big PR splash

The intense competition for coverage in today's social media-driven news cycle has reinvigorated the need for a tried-and-true concept: the rainy-day fund.

From a $20 bill hidden in your wallet for an unexpected cab trip to an untouched savings account in case the roof needs replacement, a little money kept under the mattress is a great way to prepare for the unexpected.

It's also something more and more brands are beginning to take seriously.

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Just as it is for consumers, communications departments also find it difficult to put away money in wait for the perfect opportunity. In many cases, the way budgeting works in large organizations can work against this way of thinking.

For one thing, it can be very difficult, to allocate a budget to a project without clearly defined tactics associated with it. As well, it can often be tough to secure incremental budgets quick enough to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to harness the power of timeliness.

Two popular approaches to a rainy-day fund include the "swoop in and save" and the "right place, right time" methods. Both approaches have their advantages

Everybody loves a "swoop in and save" story that plays on the existing drama and emotion of an unexpected incident – a favourite attraction at risk of being closed down, or a local sports team short on money for travel. If a brand can act quickly and play the role of the white knight, it can be used to bolster its reputation.

A particularly memorable example highlights the benefits of this approach. In October, 2007, the City of Toronto announced that, due to budget constraints, the opening of the city's 49 outdoor rinks would be delayed by a month, meaning they would be closed for the December holiday season.

The first brand to jump on this great opportunity was MasterCard, which provided the $160,000 necessary to get the rinks open on their regular date. A relatively small expense created a positive brand sentiment and a ton of media coverage for MasterCard, while saving something Torontonians love dearly.

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More recently, Procter & Gamble Co. was the beneficiary of a "right place right time" moment when its Tide aundry detergent was used by clean-up crews at the Daytona 500. Tide products were prominently featured on national broadcasts and the brand made sure to get the most out of it.

Tide quickly shared links on Facebook that generated a lively discussion, as well as thousands of 'likes' and hundreds of comments.

It also produced a short ad using broadcast footage from the race that went out a few days later. By acting quickly, Tide was able to capitalize on and extend the benefits of being in the right place at the right time.

In large organizations, it can take some convincing to get the support of the people in charge of the purse strings. Once they see the benefits, they can be converted.

This strategy is also really cost-effective and can work well for smaller brands that tend to be more nimble.

When putting together a rainy-day fund, here are a few things to keep in mind:

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-- You must be adaptive, creative and maybe even let the brand go a little bit.

-- Let everyone involved know that you're open to trying this approach. The more people you have looking for the right opportunity, the better.

-- Start thinking in advance about a few if what/then what scenarios for scheduled events such as the Olympics or specific holidays.

- -Embrace the opportunity and then move as quickly as possible to sell the idea to decision-makers.

-- Choose issues or opportunities that align well with your brand. This makes the effort appear genuine and limits speculation about less admirable motives.

- -Try to work out an advance arrangement that a certain percentage of the yearly budget will be allocated to these opportunities, and will be reallocated if unused.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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