Guide to COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS for Government Communicators


“Common Sense ain’ t common”

Will Rogers


OK! OK! I give up. For many years I have counselled colleagues and clients in the Public Sector to adopt a marketing approach to their communications. The response I usually receive is, we are not doing marketing but communications. Or government is not in the marketing business, that’s the domain of the private sector , we are in the communications business.

Sometimes the result is a poor ineffective communications initiative that has little impact but seems to satisfy the senior folks and especially those on the political side. ( It always amazes me that the politicians who when trying to get elected use every innovative marketing technique to get elected, but once in office consider marketing as a “demon from outer space” . How many times have I heard political staff shocked that government would consider using marketing techniques when they are the biggest users of marketing . Strange!

I guess marketing is only valid when you want to persuade voters to elect you but once elected it does not make sense to use marketing techniques to persuade people to change their behaviour (social marketing ) use marketing to sell their policies ( policy marketing) or using marketing to sell government products and services.

Many bureaucrats, especially at the senior levels, when hearing the words marketing, equate it as some form of “hucksterism”. One senior bureaucrat wondered why a marketing guy like me was  working  in government.

I can go on but you get the point.

So here is the question … what does a marketing consultant who works with the public sector do when he can’t sell the concept of marketing in the public sector (which in my view is one of the biggest marketing failure of all times ).

Well, here is an idea that might sell. From now on when I meet with public sector clients, (especially those who work in the government communications area) I will not use the word  marketing. What I will call what I do now is  COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS, it may not be sexy but perhaps it will open the door to better communications in government. So you may ask  what would be the major components of COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS?

Well this is not an exhaustive list but here are a few things to “chew on”.

“If you build it or publish it , they won’t come.” If you produce a publication and do not have a distribution plan to reach your target audience, they won’t get your publication. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well do a tour of Ottawa or Washington or any state/provincial capital and check out the warehouses  full of “dated”government publications. Eventually many of these print products end up in the land fill or recycle boxes. Well at least it keeps the printing trade in business.

The other part of “build it and they will come” is the web. You would be amazed at the number of “bright lights” who think that if they “build a web site” the intended target group will “beat down their doors” to get to your web site. The presumption is, if you build it and you do not tell anybody that you build it they will discover it by “Googleling” your site or come across it by surfing the net. So COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS would suggest that if you build a site make sure that it is “user friendly”, interactive and easy to find and  oh yes… let your target group  know about it. Don’t keep it a secret. Pretty simple wouldn’t you say? I can go on about using web 2.0 etc. But for today let’s just deal with some of the basics as we do not want to complicate things here. 

Another part of COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS is segmentation , Oh there’s that marketing term… can’t use that so how about something simple, if you are communicating a message, it is probably useful to break up your audience into relatively homogeneous, but distinct segments (there is no such thing as the general public or as some communicators like to call it “gen pop”) .

Also if you have a specific message that you need to get to a certain target audience or segment why would you target everyone. Does this make sense? And guess what …you may find that different segments of the general public may need to get different messages as “one size fits all” may not be effective. For example if you were running a campaign aimed at parents and youth do you think it makes sense to deliver the same message, employing  the same media tactic(s). Obviously not!

Another good reason to segment the “gen pop” is you may be wasting your money . For example if you are involved in a campaign to change behaviour, which the government from time to time attempts to do, but does not want to call it social marketing ( there goes that marketing word again) it makes sense to find out who in the “gen pop” is not “complying” or doing the appropriate behaviour. No this is not “Orwellian”, the “Nanny State” or “Social Engineering”. Sometimes the government needs to remind citizens  to wear a seat belt, do not drink and drive, recycle, prepare for an emergency, etc. If you are going to send some messages out there it might be a good idea or common sense  to find out who is not wearing a seat belt or not recycling and channel your message to this group.

Another feature of COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS is to dispel the myth that providing information to people leads  them to taking action. Some communicators believe that if they can just get information out to their target audience they have done their job. Now think about all the information you personally receive every day through the media, direct marketing, Internet etc. . Do you act on all the information you receive? Obviously not! That’s why COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS understands that you may need to use some persuasive strategies and techniques to get people to take action. The field of marketing of course is full of these techniques and strategies but we have to be careful here as we don’t want to do anything that has any link to marketing.

So here are some ideas from COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS. Before you communicate to your segments of the general public ,it may be a good idea to do some research to find out what these folks are thinking before you communicate to them and guess what… you may be able to develop messages and tactics that resonate with the segment(s) your  targeting. Let’s not call this marketing research but “analysis of your target audience”. You may want to discover current behaviour, knowledge, attitudes and values of target audiences, knowledge gaps or barriers that discourage segments of the “gen pop” from doing what you want them to do. e.g barriers. You may be able to obtain this information  from  research that has been done by others (secondary research) or research that you do yourself ( oh one more thing if you do some research it is usually a good idea to ensure that the research results are well analyzed from a communications perspective and yes one more thing… that you actually read the research report.)

Another part of COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS is to set objectives so that you are able to measure the effectiveness of your communications. I am not talking about how many publications you have distributed or how many visits or hits to your web site . This is not about outputs but outcomes . It may be useful to look at the overall impact of your communications initiative.

For example surveys of the target audience are effective for measuring outcomes. Surveys can be completed by telephone, on-line, mail, or in person. Of course there are many techniques to measure effectiveness of communication and we will not deal with that today, just want to instill the common sense approach that it is a good idea to develop measurable objectives and monitor and evaluate your communications.

Oh and one last thing from COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS, if you prepare a plan you need to implement it. Yes I know this sounds ridiculous but there are thousands of communications plans that are sitting in the filing cabinets in capital cities across North America that have never seen the “light of day”

Well this is my first blog on COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS ( maybe I should get the term  trade marked ) and I hope in the coming weeks and months to publish a number of blogs on COMMON SENSE COMMUNICATIONS in Government with the fervent hope that government communicators will take up this concept for all their communications.  If you have any ideas or suggestions that we can include in future blogs please e-mail me at


Marketing courses for government and non profit organizations

The public sector and non-profit sectors are a significant component of the overall output of society. Marketing is an effective management tool for both public sector and non-profit organizations. It is a discipline aimed at influencing the behaviour of others through the use of a strategic mind set and set of organizational processes, tools and technologies. Although originally derived from business, public sector and non-profit managers also need to use it in order to be successful in their fast growing and increasing competitive sector.

In the past 20 years, four important developments have occurred in this field: first there was the dramatic growth in the use of social marketing, especially in the public health field; second, increasing attention to the international dimensions of non-profit marketing; third, greater involvement of the private sector in the non-profit sector through areas like cause-related marketing, company volunteer programs, and socially responsible employment and investment practices; and finally the emergence of public sector marketing  . e.g. Marketing in the Public Sector: A Roadmap for Improved Performance by Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee

The world of public sector and non-profit managers is rapidly changing. Increasing demands are being placed on managers in these sectors to adapt to their new environment. Public sector and non-profit organizations are adopting marketing approaches to help meet the challenges of complex and difficult mandates and satisfying client needs in the face of significantly diminishing resources.

Competition particularly, for sources of revenues, has created a pattern of growing commercialization of non-profit organizations, whereby funds are not only generated from government /foundation grants. In the public sector, managers are frustrated trying to apply marketing ideas developed in business directly to government when they are fully cognizant of the fact that government is not business.

Marketing is proving to be an effective management tool for guiding the evolutionary business processes for both public and non-profit organizations. Over the past few decades the public health sector in particular has been using marketing extensively , especially social marketing .


In the past few years the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing have developed a number of  courses to provide very motivated communicators and marketers in the public and non-profit sectors with the concepts, techniques, case examples and illustrations needed to support and assist them in becoming first-rate public sector/non-profit marketers.

These courses engage participants in a rich learning experience that reinforces theory through practical real life examples. Participants  have the opportunity to work with other marketers from government and the non-profit sector as well as developing a network with other course participants long after the course is completed. Participants work individually and in teams and gain insights from case studies and interactive learning techniques.

The major topics covered include: an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing, strategic elements of an action-oriented marketing plan, exploring effective methods of acquiring and using marketing intelligence, performing thorough environmental analysis an evaluation plan to measure outcomes, developing effective integrated marketing communication strategies, particularly new technologies media, developing a strategic social marketing plan, key components of revenue generation and attraction of volunteers and best practices in developing strategic alliances and partnerships with other sectors.

If you are interested in these courses here is the relevant information:


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Executive Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing Leadership

The Executive Certificate in Public Sector Marketing Leadership is offered as a residential program in picturesque surroundings. This intensive residency program spans six days. It has been specifically designed for public sector and non-profit managers and officers who do not reside in the National Capitol and who are looking for a professional development experience in the field of strategic marketing. Register today!

Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing

This university certificate program covers the fundamentals of public sector and non-profit marketing in a format that appreciates the severe time limitations of today’s professional. The program has been designed to be intensive and rigorous, respecting that your time away from your desk needs to bring concrete results once in practice back at the office. Stimulating formats ensure that you come away with tested techniques and methods that positively enhance your performance on the job. This program provides intensive training for 1 or 2 days, each month, over the course of five months. The certificate will require a commitment of 10 days of classroom training plus additional time to complete the strategic marketing plan. Register today!



The Social Marketing in Public Health Field School is a carefully crafted selection of courses offered in an intensive five-day format. It is organized specifically for motivated students and busy professionals to acquire skills in an intense, exciting and highly interactive format with some of social marketing’s leading professionals and instructors.

Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing: January 10-14 2009.

This course introduces students to concepts, techniques, case examples and illustrations needed to support and assist them in becoming first-rate non-profit and public sector marketers. Class time will be a mixture of lectures, discussions, in-class exercises and presentations, as well as exposure to the real world of non-profit and public sector marketing.

For more info contact:

James. H. Lindenberger, Director

USF Center for Social Marketing at the College of Public Health

13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. MDC 56
Tampa, Florida 33612-3805

(813) 974-3603

For more information on any of the above mentioned courses please contact me at

7 actions to improve the marketing of your association


I am often asked by associations what can they do “quickly”  to improve their marketing significantly. Below I have 7 actions that if done will significantly improve the marketing of any association.

None of these actions are very expensive . You will normally find that the most effective things you can do in marketing are usually not expensive but most associations look for grandiose things which fill the pockets of contractors but does very little for the organization.


Here are my 7 actions :

1.Do a survey of your membership. Consider using Survey Monkey which enables you to create professional online surveys quickly and easily yourself:

2.Identify Your Brand by defining who you are and what you do. Use findings to create a “positioning” statement” that can be stated succinctly and understandable to everyone, followed by a series of supporting statements.

3.Take a marketing course designed for non-profits and associations such as the Sprott Certificate in Public Sector Marketing

4.Actively search for strategic alliances and partnerships with other organizations, government, media, and business. To learn more go to or better still attend a workshop with Bernie given across Canada.

5.Research and maintain your prospect and client databases. Use them for:

–special mailings;

–follow-up telephone calls;

–event invitations;

–alliance development;

–research profiling; and

–market segmentation.

6.Leverage “Web 2.0“. Use the power of the Internet to hook people together to create content, share expertise, and provide checks and balances through social interaction. Social networks built around a common aim can be very powerful. To learn more about Web 2.0 and social media marketing go to the best blog on social media marketing for public and non profit sectors.

7.Develop an overall integrated strategic plan for all activities involved with “revenue generation” including:


–alternative revenue strategies through sponsorships

–affinity programs, and;

–commercial partnerships.

If you need to learn more about Revenue generation try attending  a workshop with Bernie Colterman  given across Canada.

For further information see|K=227038

If you have any tips for association marketing let me know and I will include them in future blogs.



BuzzNet Tags:

marketing, associations, non profit,

Take the Marketing Test! You Know You Are A Marketing Driven Organization When…

Have you mastered the latest marketing tools and techniques to meet the challenges you face?

Have you developed a marketing plan for your organization, your products, your programs, your services?

Are you staying ahead by anticipating the changing landscape and developing the newest marketing strategies to move your organization to the next level?

–Take the Marketing “Vital Signs” test and check your organizations vital signs

Marketing “Vital Signs” Test

You Know You Are A Marketing Driven Organization When…

□ You do not use terms like “general public” when referring to your target audience

□ “Plan” is more than a four letter word

□ All marketing activities are coordinated and integrated into an overall plan

□ You focus on results and NOT process and politics

□ Your organization takes “risks”, although ensuring they are “reasoned risks“

□ You do not keep doing the same things every year i.e. programs, services, products

□ Marketing campaigns consistently meet their goals and objectives.

□ You take action when results are not achieved.

□ You have a clear understanding of the needs of your target group(s)

□ You have a dedicated marketing budget

□ Your organization’s brand has value

□ Reinventing the wheel is not standard operating procedure

□ Your organization is focused on “outcomes” not “outputs”

□ Evidence-based decision making is in your organization’s vocabulary.

□ Strategic Alliances/partnerships are a key component of your marketing activities

□ Your marketing objectives are SMART (Specific Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Limited)

□ Your organization does not use the web as a warehouse to store information

□ You value training in areas like marketing and communications

□ Performance measurement is something that your organization does regularly

□ You are up to date with the latest trends, technologies in the area of marketing and communications

□ Branding is more than a visual identifier

□ You are open to change

□ You see the need to understand your “competition”

□ You use all the elements of the marketing mix (4 p’s) and not just use promotion

□ Your organization believes that the ultimate objective for marketing is not education and creating awareness but behaviour change

If You Scored:

20 – 25 You have the tools, processes and culture in place to be successful and sustainable

15 – 19 You are on the right path, but need to examine those areas where you are weak

10 – 14 You are most likely struggling and need to take a hard look at priorities and processes

6 – 9 You are on the borderline of existence as an organization

This test is the property of the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing. For those who require a copy in French please contact: