Day 12: Stocking fillers for shoestring communicators

“We don’t have the budget. We don’t have the tools. That software’s blocked by IT. But I can’t do graphic design.”

andrewplenderDoes this sound familiar? Today I’m delighted to introduce you to professional communicator Andrew Plender @Aplender_comms.

He’s worked in organisations where all of these have been “Bah Humbug!” barriers to creativity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

A self-confessed ‘channelmal and content enthusiast’, Andrew works with strategy and content and needs a broad range of tools to help do his job.

He’s written this guest post as part of my All Things IC Countdown to Christmas series.

With comms budgets increasingly being challenged,  Andrew is here to share five tools he uses every week that have cost him less than 20 takeaway coffees.

I’ll hand you over to him…

Stocking fillers for shoestring communicators

I’m increasingly using apps on my iPhone that are free or cost pennies, are straightforward to learn and provide a toolkit for comms planning and content creation.

They’ve helped me get quicker at things I’m good at and better at skills I wanted to improve.

In this season of goodwill I’d like to share five little helpers:

  1. You need to… plan, prioritise and collaborate.

Trello is a productivity app that sounds like it’s only for Project Managers but it’s the digital answer to post-it note planning. Before I was a serial list maker and would often rewrite my ‘to do’ every day.

Not only do I now waste less paper Trello has helped reprioritise and reassign tasks and relay what’s getting done with others.

Crucially, it works like a dream on mobile.

Its simple system of lists and cards which you drag and drop at will is just the start. You can add checklists, reminders, voting, and comments and plug it into Dropbox, SurveyMonkey, MailChimp and others.

(I was introduced to Trello by Dana Leeson @danaleeson and it’s how Dana, Jenni Field and I have planned all The IC Crowd’s The Big Yak unconferences we’ve organised – Rachel). 


I’ve used it for comms plans, content workflow, brainstorming and giving the boss visibility of what’s getting done.

Costs nothing for what you’re likely to need.

2. You need to… pimp up your PNGs

Often we’re expected to make the mundane look marvellous. Prisma, which Apple has said is one of the apps of 2016, is like picture editing on cheat mode.

You pick a photo from your phone, apply one of the filters and your stale snap could be transformed into a Manga inspired artwork.

You can tweak how extreme you go.

Pro tip: check how flexible your brand is where you work before setting your attention phasers to stun.

I also use Layout from Instagram. This is a timesaver when one photo won’t do and you need to put an impactful image collage together.

With Layout you choose up to nine pics and present them as one after some simple editing. Publish wherever you like – it’s not just for Instagram.


I’ve used these for giving a one-minute makeover to photos and presenting before/after visuals.

Costs nowt.

3. You need to… do some rapid-fire repurposing for different platforms.

Whatever the job (flyer, poster, presentation, blog or social media) Canva is a designer’s dream. You pick the output and it sorts the dimensions.

Choose from its many template images, fonts, filters and design elements and you can create really original looking artwork.

Design has never been my strongest suit but Canva keeps things very simple and is great for re-presenting imagery across your channels. I’m now more confident taking on design challenges instead of begging favours from a friend.

I’ve used this for campaigns across social, digital and physical channels.

Costs the livelihood of some designers I fear.

4. You need to… interview someone on the phone and want to concentrate on listening

Confession: I don’t do shorthand. But I have to do a lot of interviews and sometimes these have to be on the phone.

Without it being face-to-face it’s crucial to listen carefully, which makes note taking a distraction. TapeACall (Pro) lets you record the conversation on your phone through some trickery which I can only describe as a bit like phone tapping your own call.

Pro tip: declare that you’ll be recording the conversation to your interviewee. Delete the recordings later.


I’ve used this for interviews with people who it’s not practical to see in person.

Costs £7.99 for the Pro version. Cheap compared to a phone mic and recorder.

5. You need to… illustrate numbers isn’t an app but an online infographic designer for desktops or laptops. There’s a massive library of templates (I like timelines) and some great guides on best practice.

If the elements in the library are a bit clipart-y import your company’s own collateral.

You can’t get it to do whizzy things with spreadsheets but for less than £30 what would you expect? Because it’s web-based you don’t download anything which is a plus if your company has tight software restrictions.


I’ve used this for translating tabulated dashboards (sigh) into one-pagers with personality

Costs Free, or £29 P/A for pro.

Thank you Andrew. What do you think of these stocking fillers? Are they useful? Are you using them already?

As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.


Post author: Andrew Plender.

First published on the All Things IC blog 12 December 2016.



  1. Andrew says:

    It was fun writing this for Rachel. There’s half a dozen other Apps I use too. Happy to share if people want to get in touch.

  2. Christie Gilmore says:

    ANdrew, I would love to hear about the other apps you find useful. Please share with me!

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