Marketing in Government and Non-Profit Sectors … Not a Good News Story

Every day, professionals in the public sector and nonprofit organizations deliver thousands of programs and services in increasingly demanding environments. Governments as well as many 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 diminishing resources.

Recognizing the growing importance of marketing in the public and non-profit sectors, the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and Phase 5 conducted a landmark survey in May 2006 to assess the health of marketing in both these sectors. The study was conducted with close to 600 professionals in marketing-related positions in government and non-profit organizations across Canada. Respondents to the survey were primarily involved in marketing products/ programs/services/policies, overall corporate image/brand management, and social marketing.  For more information see THE CASE FOR MARKETING IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR

The study examined eight best practice areas of marketing: culture, organization, planning, management, knowledge & skills, marketing information & measurement, resources, and results/outputs.  The results showed that the government sector, in particular, fared poorly in terms of the level of adoption of best practices in each of these areas.  In five of the eight categories, survey respondents in government did not agree that their organization had adopted best marketing practices

The survey results showed that government had not adopted strategic marketing management in any significant way. Respondents indicated that their organization have adopted very few of the best practices of leading marketing organizations. Government organizations are less likely to recognize strategic marketing as a function that is distinct from communications. As one respondent stated, “Historically, marketing and communications were considered synonymous. Only recently have we started to recognize the difference.” Organizations interviewed lack the culture and organizational support to advance the practice of marketing. They lack a common understanding of strategic marketing principles, from the senior executive level down.

The survey also found that public sector and nonprofit organizations:

  • do not have a proactive, systematic approach to identifying high value, client-centred ideas and turning these ideas into new products, programs and services;
  • are more focused on tactics and implementation than on strategic marketing and planning;
  • tend not to measure to improve results and ensure accountability of marketing expenditures;
  • do not support the marketing function either in terms of funding or culture;
  • and have difficulty attracting, training and retaining staff with marketing skills given the culture and lack of organizational support.

In short, governments in general neglect incorporating a formal marketing process and establishing measurable marketing objectives. They are not effective in implementing a proactive process that considers client needs when identifying and developing new products, programs and services. Governments tend to be reactive, rather than developing proactive systems to address shifts in the marketplace.

Here we are nearly 4 years later. What is the state of marketing in 2010? Well, unfortunately not much has changed. Our Centre in our dealings with non-profits and the public sector has noted the following:

  • We still have many organizations developing one- off disjointed tactics without a strategy and based in many cases on “personal opinions” rather than solid marketing research.
  • People running marketing programs that have no training in marketing and think that communications and marketing is basically the same thing… It isn’t!
  • · Performance measurement and evaluation is virtually non-existent and when done is all about outputs with no regards to outcomes and impacts. In addition the focus of evaluations is on AWARENESS which is the beginning of the marketing process but for most it is the beginning and end of the communications/marketing process. (Spending on public opinion research, for example — which includes polling and surveys often used for evaluations — has tumbled since 2007 to $7 million a year from $31 million a year)  See my blog on research and evaluation
  • Now that on-line strategies and social media and digital strategies are in vogue we now see organizations developing online products and digital engagement tactics without an overall  strategy.  A recipe for disaster!

So where do we go from here.

1. There is a strong need to educate government executives about strategic marketing management principles. This requires recognition of the value of marketing, in terms of the potential impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of programs, services and outreach campaigns, as well as the benefit to citizens.

2. Public and nonprofit sectors are much more familiar with the promotion and communications aspects of the strategic marketing framework than with elements of segmentation and strategic market selection, branding and positioning, product/service management, channel management and pricing. There is a wide recognition of the role and value of the communications function and many organizations have developed communications plans outside of a marketing framework. There is an opportunity to broaden this function to include a strategic marketing mandate and re-positioning it as an expanded role. Marketing can be used to achieve the vision of better informing and engaging citizens by viewing communications within a broader strategic marketing framework. It can help drive results in program uptake, program impact and behavioural change. It can also save money by helping executives and program/service managers make informed investment and resource trade-off decisions.

3. There is no clear marketing function or job category in government and therefore few positions include “marketing” in their titles. In the private sector, marketing has a clear career path. Governments need to look at both classification and standards for hiring marketing people. One respondent to our survey stated that, “Marketing is not respected by colleagues. Economists have much more ‘cachet’.” Judith Madill, in an Optimum Online article, states that, “for marketing to be successful in government, it is necessary to assign responsibility for the marketing initiative to a senior manager with influence in the organization’s decision-making environment.”

4. Most people performing marketing functions in government do not have formal training in marketing. This suggests a clear need, such as the training tools and resources offered by The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and the Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing given by Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business,  as well as keeping up to date on public sector marketing issues by attending marketing conferences such as MARCOM.
5. Governments don’t always consider client needs when developing service and product approaches. One manager captured this tendency in the following comment to our survey: “I would like to see a coordinated effort between what we call project leaders and marketing communications. Instead of marketing products or services based on internal political thrusts, look at what people actually need. Build it, market it, and continually serve these clients to meet their needs.” Governments need to examine the process by which they develop and manage products, programs and services. Marketing management systems and practices must be adopted from the planning level on down. Measurement systems must be put in place to track success against marketing objectives and make necessary adjustments to improve performance.

6. Many government managers identify marketing with cost recovery or revenue generation. While marketing can assist in these goals it may be more valuable for other objectives of government – improving relationships with groups and individuals, and serving clients better. Marketing can be beneficial to government because it ensures that clients and stakeholders play a major role in developing and implementing a program/product/service; initiatives tailored to specific segments of the market ensure efficient use of limited resources; and application of the four Ps (product, price, promotion, place) will help move the initiative beyond communications/promotion.

7. Finally since the publishing of our study the world of communications and marketing has changed significantly with the advent of marketing in a digital environment. We now live in an era where the communication and marketing landscape has been completely turned upside down in both the public and non-profit sectors. Social media has become the elephant in the communications and marketing room.  Before organizations consider getting into the social media game in any major way a certain mindset shift has to occur within the organization that caters to transparency, collaboration and participation. This crucial part of the process is all too often being ignored. Instead, organizations are jumping into tactics thinking that social media is merely just another communications channel. That’s a big mistake! Organizations need to start with a digital engagement and social media strategy before leaping into tactics.

As governments and nonprofit organizations continue to try to meet the challenges associated with demands for improved service delivery within budgetary constraints, they need to get their collective act together in the field of marketing and communications. This should result in these sectors delivering programs and services with more speed, quality, efficiency, and convenience.


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

Social Media the Elephant in the Marketing and Communications Room

We now live in an era where the communication and marketing landscape has been completely turned upside down in both the public and non-profit sectors. Social media has become the elephant in the communications and marketing room and many people who work in communications and marketing are overwhelmed with the changes that are taking place. Personally, I spend many hours keeping up with the innovations that are happening in our field. Sometimes I feel that the tsunami of information is overwhelming but as a consultant you absolutely need to be on top of your profession.  Let’s look at what’s happening out there

There are over 200,000 new blogs being created every day. Bloggers publish over 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second[1] . Facebook has surpassed 500 million users! Linked-In is now the world’s largest professional network, with over 75 million users. Twitter, a real-time, public, short messaging platform, is used by well over 150 million people worldwide. There are more pod casts in the world than there are radio stations. The variety of topics covers every niche imaginable. What’s more, the widespread adoption of geo-tagging and location-based mobile services is slowly making the concept of privacy extinct in exchange for just-in-time convenience.

So what do a marketer/ communicator do with all of this stuff going on? Before you consider getting into the social media game in any major way a certain mindset shift has to occur within your organization that caters to transparency, collaboration and participation. This crucial part of the process is all too often being ignored. Instead, organizations are jumping into tactics thinking that social media is merely just another communications channel. That’s a big mistake!

The amount and quality of tools and applications is growing at an incredible pace. This leads to many skeptics not wanting to invest time in any particular tool in case it’s obsolete by next year. However, if this is your thinking then you’re missing the point. By engaging in social media, you’re not investing in the tool, you’re investing in the people behind that tool (i.e. building genuine relationships).  People are real and they are here to stay, no matter which platform they’re using down the road

There are many major changes in the world of marketing and communications, however before public sector and non-profit organizations start developing social media tactics it is important for them to ask some fundamental questions such as: What are the key issues that we are trying to address by engaging in social media? Which channels make the most sense based on our target audience? What is the relevant existing conversations already taking place? How are we going to measure performance? What is our existing digital footprint?” and “How can we get engaged in this new digital space of social media before we become obsolete?”  Too often we see public sector and non-profit organizations launch into social media without first having a strategy developed. Now, you would think by now   marketers and communicators would know that it is important to develop a comprehensive communications or marketing strategy before engaging in tactics. But many organizations are becoming so enamored with social media channels like Facebook, Youtube etc. that they forget that strategy comes before tactics. In addition many organizations are not integrating social media with their traditional marketing communications activities.

To learn more about social media marketing check out Public Sector Marketing 2.0 – Fresh insights on government, association, and non-profit marketing in a Web 2.0 world

Also considering taking  a social media marketing course. Go to the following links

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Also we have included social media marketing into our Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing.


[1] Technorati, 2009

Unintended consequences in the world of gun registries and teacher evaluations

The law of unintended consequences is an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Akin to Murphy’s Law, it is commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them. Many scientific and sociological fields of study embrace this concept,

Unintended consequences can be roughly grouped into three types:

  • a positive, unexpected benefit (usually referred to as serendipity or a windfall)
  • a negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis)
  • a perverse effect that is contrary to what was originally intended (e.g., when an intended solution of a problem actually makes the problem worse). This situation can arise when a policy has a perverse incentive that causes actions contrary to those which were desired. Source

One example of unintended consequence  is the debate regarding the gun registry in Canada. Whether the registry lives or dies will have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of Canadians, and scarcely more on the minority that pay it close attention. Take the cost, first. It is certainly true that the costs of setting up the registry were substantial, and outrageous. If the issue were whether it was worth spending $2 billion just to draw up a list, not of handguns or newly purchased rifles, but of the rifles people already owned, I doubt there’d be many takers.

But the registry has been set up. The $2 billion is a sunk cost: it’s gone, and nothing we can do will get it back. The relevant factor in any decision we make now is not what we paid in the past but what we’ll have to pay from here on, that is, the annual cost of maintaining the registry, which the RCMP informs us is less than $4 million a year. Not terribly costly and not terribly intrusive either: as its defenders point out, we are obliged to register many other of our possessions, most of them far less capable of havoc than a gun. Source

And guess what ! Acquiring a firearm would still mean sending a photograph verified by a friend, along with two character references from someone who’s known you for three years or more. Background checks? Still required. Phone numbers so your spouses can be notified that you’re getting a gun license?  All of that detailed personal information would live on in the existing electronic database, along with registration data for restricted weapons like handguns, where it will be at the fingertips of police attending complaints or investigating crimes. That may come as a surprise to the farmer who thought the government was about to leave him alone with his rusty 22.  The gun registry is about to become a registry of gun owners.

All of which invites a question: if getting rid of the registry would leave the most invasive components of the gun-control system in place—and if it leaves most safeguards for public security in place too—exactly what is this fight about? Beats me. Source

Getting back to unintended consequences, the debate over long gun registration has brought out an interesting new political dynamic in Canada, one that should concern firearms owners. An Angus Reid poll has revealed a large increase in the percentage of Canadians who think that owning firearms of any kind should be illegal. Not just handguns, mind you, a ban on all firearms.According to the poll, 49 per cent of Canadians now support a complete ban on handguns, up from 46 per cent last November.

What is more surprising is that, in a different question on the poll, the number who would make all firearms illegal is now up to 45 per cent, versus only 40 per cent who would keep ownership legal and 15 per cent unsure. Making it illegal to own long guns, an extreme position, appears to be the more popular view. Despite efforts in the political debate to make a distinction between long guns and other types of guns, this distinction is no longer present in the mind of Canadians who participated in their surveys. The old opinion that handguns should be prohibited but long guns are OK no longer exists.

From a political point of view, it means that a complete ban on firearms could have majority support. No political party is taking that position yet, but the polarization of the debate makes it a politically tempting target.

So you may ask why has the middle ground vanished, the people who don’t own a firearm but don’t mind that others do?  It could be that the registry, whatever its true effectiveness,  to gives them confidence that guns were “under control”, but when they are told that it is ineffective they conclude that stronger measures are needed. Telling urban Canadians that gun owners won’t register their weapons, that police are no safer and can’t trace guns, and that keeping track of guns is a lost cause might just convince them that allowing ownership with some restrictions is not working out.

It could be that the success of the registry was the only thing that kept support for a complete ban at bay. Source

So the irony is getting rid of the registry may end up with strong public opinion supporting the ban in guns. Clearly an unintended consequence.

Another unintended consequence is professor evaluations at universities. In the United States, a newsmagazine reports that college students are attending so few classes that one institution is now tracking their attendance electronically.  An accompanying image shows students floating in a campus pool watching television.

It gets worse. A new comprehensive study by two professors in California found that students at four-year colleges in 1961 studied 24 hours a week. Today they study just 14 hours.

The reasons are part-time jobs (often to pay for those fancy “minimum-wage coffees”) and the Internet (though most of the erosion came in the 1980s). The rule of thumb had been that for every hour in class, two should be spent studying. That is no longer so. One reason is said to be the growing power of students — through teacher evaluations and their importance in winning tenure — and the reluctance of professors to challenge them.

This doesn’t make students less smart today. But they are less ready for the world than their parents. Employers are learning this painfully. The head of a large mutual fund allowed the other day that he had recently let go an eager, promising graduate with a good résumé. After a few days on the job, it became clear that the young man couldn’t write an English sentence. Source

So what do we have? Clearly when universities introduced professor evaluations I doubt that they anticipated that this would lead to students using these evaluations as a lever to intimidate professors. But this seems to be another unintended consequence.

Let me know if you are aware of other  unintended consequence scenarios.