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 erosion of charitable giving and some potential solutions to stop the bleeding

According to Statistics Canada Canada’s long tradition of supporting charities is showing signs of erosion.

The number of Canadians making charitable donations is falling sharply and the total amount donated has dropped by nearly $1-billion over the last two years. Meanwhile, the average age of donors has risen to 53, leaving many charities wondering where future funding will come from.

Figures released by Statistics Canada last week highlight a disconcerting trend for charities. The report showed that 5.6 million people donated money last year. That was down from 5.8 million in 2008 and was the lowest number of donors since 2002, when 5.5 million people gave money. In dollar terms, total donations dropped to $7.75-billion in 2009 from $8.19-billion in 2008 and $8.65-billion in 2007.

The participation rate – a measure of the percentage of tax filers reporting a donation – is even more troubling. Last year, 23.1 per cent of taxpayers claimed a deduction for making a charitable donation. That was down from 24.1 per cent in 2008 and marks a 30-year low. Not that long ago, nearly one-third of taxpayers reported a donation; now the percentage is less than one-quarter.

The trend indicates a growing gap between wealthy Canadians, who have largely continued to make donations, and the middle class, which has found giving difficult during tough times. Statistics Canada figures show that over the last decade the number of donors has fallen, but the median gift has increased from $190 to $250. That means fewer people are giving more money.

The average age of donors has also slowly moved upward, rising from 51 earlier this decade to 53 last year.  But a bigger concern is that young people don’t seem to be getting into the habit of donating. This obviously has implications for the future and the survival of charities and non-profits

So what is causing this decline? Nobody knows for sure but here is my take:

  • the  most recent  recession and the slump in the economy  makes it harder to give, especially tightened middle-class family budgets.
  • Religious participation, traditionally the route through which many Canadians give, has been falling.
  • The increase in non-profits and charities
  • Some believe that many Canadians  have simply become turned off from the act of giving, alienated by:

o   One too many fund-raising phone calls,

o   Direct mail and e-mails that have increased significantly by charities

o   Telethons , seems there is one every week

o   Charitable Lotteries ( does anyone remember that we once only had the Irish Sweepstakes)

o   Charitable organization solicitation at supermarket, shopping malls and other centres in the community

o   Numerous charitable auctions

o   Hospitals which are supposed to be funded by the taxpayer are now one of the largest fundraisers in the community

o   Alumni fund-raising (university graduates) which seems to be never-ending

o   Public schools use their students as their fund-raising arm selling cookies chocolates etc. Parents are not pleased

o   Religious institutions and related charities are heavy-duty into fund-raising and they have become much more aggressive but seem to be offering less and less to its members

o   Calls for financial support for disasters in Haiti, tsunamis in Asia floods in Pakistan earthquakes in Chile, China etc.

o   And there are the biggies like United Way and dozens of health and social charities which seem to need more and more money every year

o   And then there are charities like breast cancer which take all the oxygen out of the fund-raising room and have caused some to really question fund-raising in the health area. Pink M and M’s anyone?” How about pink football cleats and on and on it goes. See article

Some may argue that one of the reasons for decrease giving may be related to the headlines touting the six-figure salaries of some charity executives,(  a parliamentary committee is looking into a bill that wants to cap the salaries of CEO’s of charities at $250,000 and require the top 5 salaries of every charity to be publicly disclosed by name)   or the wasteful or unscrupulous ways of a few charities. Not to mention fraudulent charities ( think of the Ashley Kirlow cancer claim case )

If too many Canadians opt out of charitable giving, the character and face of Canadian philanthropy could change. Large signature projects such as hospital wings and university buildings which attract a few wealthy donors will keep getting built, but other sectors, and broad-based campaigns that depend on many small donors, such as the United Way, could start coming up short.Imagine Canada, an umbrella group for Canadian charities that there is real concern that “the donor base is shrinking and that’s very worrisome.”

For more info check out these links :

Link 1

Link 2

So what is the solution, well I suspect there will be cries for more tax concessions and of course handouts from government. But is there a better way ?

How about non profits developing revenue generation strategies using strategic marketing techniques . Or looking at how to use social  and digital media to attract donors, particularly younger donors? Surely it is time for senior managers who work in the non-profit sector to look at some innovative approaches to raising money for example through corporate sponsorships. We at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing are always giving courses and workshops to non profits on how marketing can enhance their financial health. Check us out

Politics today… terribly unforgiving and openly hostile.

“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people”

Oscar Wilde


Gary Mason just published a piece in the Globe and Mail which we should be concerned about. Actually those who should be  most concerned are those of us who work in or with government.

Mason tells us that: Of the names being speculated as a possible successor to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, one of the more intriguing has been 2010 Olympic boss John Furlong. That his name has surfaced among the possible list of contenders isn’t a great surprise. Mr. Furlong would appear to have all the qualities and characteristics that we desire in a politician. He is smart, charismatic and a proud Canadian who served his country in the finest tradition by overseeing one of the toughest, most complicated projects in the nation’s history.



“I’m both moved and flattered by the number of people who are urging me to consider taking a run at the job, but honestly I just don’t think I’m cut out for the sacrifices of a politician’s life,” Mr. Furlong stated. “It seems like there is no bottom to how cruel we can be to each other. I believe very much in people and in service and the power of a compelling vision to bring people together, but I just cannot imagine being effective in an environment that has become so terribly unforgiving and openly hostile.”


Well at least Mr. Furlong is being honest but how many other smart and intelligent capable people in Canada and the USA are we losing because they do not find politics a field worth pursuing. There is no question that we have too many professional politicians. Some have clearly reached “their best before date”. We also have populated our political class with the most acrimonious group of people in memory (at least in the past 50 years). Don’t we want some new blood from other fields including people who have stellar reputations in the private, academic and  not-for profit sector in our parliaments, legislatures and congress?

There is no question that serving your country or region is important and we want the best and brightest to get involved in politics but why should they?  If you are very successful in your chosen field, the salaries of politicians are not that great and if you are so lucky to get elected you become a target for the media (especially 24 hour news channels) the tweetosphere and blogosphere and many social media channel.

If what they are saying about you is true are not is of no consequence. Anybody can say anything they want, about any politician, it is a total free for all. Rumours, fear mongering, all of it is part of the game. Taking pot shots at politicians’ families or his or her personal life is now part of the journalistic mix.

As Mason points out “You’d have to be nuts to want to run for politics today, let alone want to be a premier or prime minister. Forget the hours and a salary that is a fraction of what many politicians could be making in the private sector. It’s the mean-spiritedness that seems to define modern-day politics, the contempt with which elected officials are held regardless of party affiliation that makes such a career move so bewildering nowadays. The stuff sometimes said about politicians in the blogosphere is almost scary; it is saturated with so much hatred. And we’re all to blame for this – the public, the media and politicians themselves. “

Mason does not think that policies developed by politicians don’t deserve intense scrutiny and often criticism. Clearly this is an important part of democracy. But why has it become impossible for politicians and their respective parties to disagree respectfully anymore? Why is there no civility and respect for competing opinions and viewpoints?  As Mason states why do we all, media included, seem to begin from the premise that all politicians are cheats and liars whose only interests are self-interests?

It is terrible for democracy when the level of discourse is so low, so toxic, so appalling that leaders in other fields do not want any part of the poisoned atmosphere of politics. It’s very depressing that our best and brightest have no interest in public service.

Let’s hope we in Canada don’t continue to adopt the dirty politics that we are seeing in the USA which in many ways was created in modern times by political fixers like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. “Roveism” or Rovean tactics  as it is sometimes called has started to creep into Canadian politics over the past few years and we should be worried. Very worried!

People who can provide value added contributions to our country do not want to jump into the political arena because they are starting to perceive it as an unsavoury profession. Good people who are presently involved in the political system are not interested in continuing their career in public service and are leaving it. What is at stake here is our government and democracy. Canada could do better than our neighbours to the south who have  really polluted the political waters in recent years.  We would be wise to break out of this negativity  so that people like Furlong would be eager to participate in Canadian politics.

Let me know what you think.

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber”