Marketing Public Sector Programs has become a Real Challenge

Is it becoming impossible to successfully run effective government marketing campaigns?.

We are now living in an over-saturated communications society with a tremendous amount of  marketing noise. Multichannel, 24/7 media, 400 TV channels, explosion of digital media how do you break through all the clutter? It is becoming a herculean task and demonstrating once more  the importance of marketing  concepts like branding, positioning and  segmentation.  At our Centre our mantra of “strategy before tactics” has never been more relevant. Every day we see lame attempts by non-profits and public sector organizations attempting to communicate to their audiences by using slip shod poorly crafted communication and marketing efforts without any strategy and seriously thinking that they can get their message heard or read. Even in cases when an organization has all the money and strategy  in the world and throws everything but the kitchen sink at a marketing program , there is no guarantee of success.

Take the Economic Action Plan here in Canada.  Last year, it was difficult to turn on the television or radio, glance at a newspaper, or drive anywhere in Canada without seeing marketing touting the federal government’s Economic Action Plan. It was the backdrop to almost every Minister’s appearance day in day out. Not to mention MP’s bearing giant cheques with the logo. The federal government ordered its bureaucrats across the country to track every single sign promoting the federal economic stimulus program.  This exercise began last summer, when the first signs were posted, and now spans eighteen departments and agencies.

Visitors watching Atlantic waves crash into the eastern tip of Newfoundland this summer couldn’t miss the iconic Cape Spear lighthouse, billboards advertised economic stimulus dollars at work, Similar signage blanketed the  the country featuring Economic Action Plan.  source

We’re not talking a few posters here, but 8,587, as of August 27 2010, and counting.   Multiply 8,527 by the price of a medium-sized sign, for argument’s sake, and the government would have shelled out $1,751,748. That figure, of course, would not include the cost of determining the signs’ location, or transporting, installing, and tracking them.

The advertising campaign for the government’s economic stimulus package—which uses a logo of rising green, blue and gray arrows—was launched in early 2009. The campaign includes a slick website, full-page ads in major newspapers and television spots. It cost $89-million last year. source

So what are the results of the most massive marketing communications campaign seen in recent history:

41 per cent of Canadians (57 per cent of Quebecers) had never heard of the Economic Action Plan.

More than half of those over 60 – the ones who normally pay more attention to news and vote more frequently than young people – hadn’t heard of the plan.

And among those who’d heard of the plan, most didn’t really know what it was about.

These results emerged from an Environics poll conducted last April for the Department of Finance.

Why did this program not achieve better  results? Hard to say. Was it because of the quality of the creative? Bad media placement? Bad strategy? Or was it because  as Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail points out this campaign did not have major impact because a whole lot of people aren’t interested in anything governmental, and/or they’re just misinformed about a lot of things.

So what’s the lesson here? Well one thing for sure the “tonnage” of marketing and communications resources may not matter if the message does not resonate with the intended target audience. Or maybe our expectations are too high and some will interpret these results as being great considering the topic area and the cynicism of  all things government .

May be if they had Stratford Ontario rocker Justin Bieber (and you thought the only thing that came out of Stratford was the festival)  delivering the message we may have had more resonance with young people  ( and their parents?) or Canadian icon  Don Cherry could have delivered the sports bar  crowd. The fact is that delivering messages is certainly getting difficult these days.

Let me know what you think.

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The Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing is uniquely designed to equip participants with the information, tools and solutions necessary to skillfully and mindfully navigate their way through the fascinating and complex world of marketing. This program engages participants in a rich learning environment that reinforces theory with practical, real-life examples based upon the extensive experience of the instructors.

7 Course Modules – 8 days over 4 months

The Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing 2011

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