Strategy is doing the right things. Tactics is doing things right.

In our experience at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM)  one of the biggest and costliest mistakes many public sector organizations make is to start rolling out individual marketing tactics without a strong strategic marketing strategy in place. Social media, blogging, website design, email marketing, advertising, proactive public relations, face-to-face marketing … if you don’t combine these individual tactics into a cohesive marketing strategy, you won’t get the results that you hope to obtain.marketingstrategyThe first step in realigning your marketing approach and establishing a strategic marketing plan for your public sector organization is taking the time to understand your audience.

Once you have identified the audience you’re ready to start uncovering the key issues you face – the pains and problems your audience has when purchasing your products, programs or services. If you understand what “pains” people have and offer a “remarkable solution”, it becomes a lot easier to “make the sale”. They feel connected to you and trust that you understand their specific challenges.

Most organizations think marketing and immediately think tactics. Hate to say it but most marketers think that way too!

I’ve been working for and with public sector organizations for over thirty years and I can tell you that none of the tactics matter until you are crystal clear about which direction you are going. Strategy before tactics is the simple road to success.

This does not mean that I am opposed to systematically and consistently rolling out tactics, because there is an expectation that when you work in marketing that you need to “do stuff” but you need to select only those tactics that support a marketing strategy that you can commit to.

Strategy and tactics are so intertwined; perhaps it is no wonder that people so often confuse them. Still, it is a big mistake when strategies and tactics are interchangeably used.

 “Great tactics will win you a battle, but great strategy is what wins you the war.”

Goals and objectives are the basis of any marketing initiative. But most practitioners do not know the difference between a goal and an objective. Marketing goals communicate a broad direction for your organization. Marketing objectives identify specific actions that include a measurement capability to succeed at meeting objectives.

The more specific you define the objectives, the better off you will be. This level of detail sets expectations and creates a commonality that everyone works towards. Establishing measurable objectives sets expectations, and it enables you to begin to work on a marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy offers a high-level plan to achieve your overall goals and measurable objectives.  It is a methodology and a train of thought that guides all future actions. The strategy is a platform upon which the tactics will rest or, to throw the analogy, the umbrella under which the tactics will lie.

Part of setting measurable objectives is developing key performance indicators. These indicators are yardsticks to measure progress.  Next, the marketing communications component of the strategy outlines what type of tactics to utilize and to what degree. It defines how much to invest in each tactic. The strategy further defines the markets. The strategy supports the goals and objectives, organizes the approach, and advances a plan to achieve those measures.

Strategy is as much about deciding what to do as what NOT to do.

In essence, the marketing strategy establishes the topological map. Once the topography has been defined, the tactics will create a more particular road map.  The strategy sets the campaign direction and the tactics translate those ideas into reality. For this reason, strategy does not change very often, but tactics can (and do!). The strategy represents principles that will guide the tactical execution.

In a nutshell, strategy is about picking the right goals and objectives and tactics is about how you go about achieving those goals or objectives. The role of a tactician is much simpler once you have a strategy, because the objective and the direction are already defined.

The biggest way this applies to marketing is “segmentation” and “positioning”. While marketing tactics are focused on how to interact with your potential audience, marketing strategy is more about picking the right audiences to go after. There may be many organizations out there doing what you do, and picking the right “niche” to call your own is the most important thing you can do to ensure success or guarantee failure.

Without a strategy, it’s easy for organizations to get caught up in chasing the latest marketing trends or switching tactics every week or month. Not only is that an exhausting way to do things, it also means you could be wasting time and money on tactics that will produce few results.ecommerce-marketing-strategies

What happens when you develop and implement marketing tactics without a strategy?

  • Lack of clear and consistent messaging. For marketing to be effective, you must create a consistent brand message that communicates what makes you different and why someone should buy your products, programs and services. Without a strategy in place, it makes it much harder to determine compelling messages that will speak to your audience.
  • Difficulty achieving goals and objectives. In our experience at CEPSM we find that many public sector organizations don’t have well-defined goals and objectives. But, even if you do have specific goals and objectives, it will be difficult to accomplish them without a marketing strategy. What we find in our work is that organizations often see where they want to go, but have trouble connecting the dots on how to get there. It takes research, creativity and strategic thinking to build an effective strategy. But once you do your likelihood of success is that much greater.
  • Wasted budget. If you don’t take time to build a strategy, you could be wasting time and money on the wrong tactics because you’re just guessing about what will work. Taking the time to build a marketing strategy and tactical implementation plan on the front end will ensure your budget is being spent most effectively.
  • Unfocused efforts. All your marketing tactics should flow out of a marketing strategy. It helps guide your decisions and makes it easier to determine where to spend your time and money. Without it, your efforts will be weak and unfocused. And, it’s a whole lot easier to get caught up in the marketing “tactic du jour”.

 Organizations don’t plan to fail … they fail to plan

So, how do you formulate a marketing strategy? Answer these three questions and get everyone on your team aligned around the answers. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to start implementing tactics. Doing so can cause all sorts of problems:

1) Why do we do what we do?

This is the age-old mission question. Until you can get very clear about the one overarching purpose for your organization, things will always seem a bit muddy. When you can grab onto your “why” you have the basis for every decision you make and a thread that can define your branding and positioning, which leads to marketing success.

2) Who do we do it for?

The tricky part about this one is that the answer should be as narrow as possible. If you nailed the first question, your job as a marketer is to go even narrower and start really understanding who you want to reach and who gets the most value from your unique approach.

Look to your best clients. Find the commonality in this group and you should be able to develop a very narrow, ideal client profile that entails both a physical description and an ideal behaviour.

3) What do we do that’s both unique and remarkable?

The last piece of the puzzle is about what you do. But, it’s not simply about defining what products, programs and services you offer. That’s important to understand, but more important is to find and communicate how what you do is unique in a way that your ideal client finds remarkable. In a way, that allows you to stand apart from everyone else that say they do the same things as you do. i.e your unique selling proposition (USP).

This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Most organizations don’t fully understand what their audience truly values. It’s not necessarily a better product or program or good service. Those fall under the category of expectation and everyone can and usually claims them. The difference is in the details, the little things you do, the way you do it, how you treat your clients, how you make them feel. It’s in the surprises, the things that exceed their expectations.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu

One of the things we note in our work at CEPSM is many government programs hire communications/advertising companies to help them implement their campaigns. That makes sense if you have a marketing strategy in place. But if you don’t then you are leaving yourself wide open for wasting money and not achieving your goals and objectives.

Here’s why. Most (but not all) communications/advertising firms are tactics-focused. They are in the business of trying to convince you that their tactical approach will be successful in attracting clients or “‘increasing awareness.” That’s fine, but only if you already feel like your marketing strategy is in the right place, and just needs more fuel. However, if you experience that “sinking feeling,” that maybe you are not on the right track, then you need something more than a tactical approach. What you need is a marketing strategy which becomes your road-map for your advertising or communications supplier.

What do you do if you and your colleagues have no experience developing a marketing strategy?

The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) offers public sector organizations an easy and affordable way to acquire expertise from marketing strategists to help develop a successful marketing strategy. The entire process can be completed in a very short time.

Business team discussing project with man pointing at the laptop




Two workbooks ideal for marketers and communicators working for government departments/agencies, non-profit/volunteer organizations, associations and social enterprises who are responsible for:

  • Marketing programs, products, programs and/or services
  • Social marketing, community outreach and public education programs

1. Social Marketing Planning to Change Attitudes and Behaviours Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for a successful social marketing program to change attitudes and behaviours. The content is the result of more than 30 years of direct experience in the social marketing arena.  It will assist public sector, non-profit organizations and associations involved in marketing, communications, public awareness/education and outreach.

To purchase workbook, go to

Order Now and You’ll receive a PDF download immediately!

Alternatively, you can register on our MARCOM Conference site to attend an upcoming Introduction to Social Marketing Planning for Behaviour Change Workshop where we offer the workbook as part of 1-day interactive workshop

2.  Marketing 101 for Marketers and Non-Marketers Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for developing a successful public sector or non-profit marketing program.

It also will provide you with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing and highlight the importance of market research to support a decision-making framework.

To purchase workbook, go to

Order Now and you will receive a PDF download immediately!




Has federal government communications and marketing become too politicised?

It seems that every day in the past year we hear about government scandals in Canada. It is happening at all levels of government.  Many citizens are starting to wonder what is going on. We have had F35 Fighter Jet Scandal, CFIA Scandal (tainted meat), Canadian Senate expenses scandal and the list goes on. I don’t plan to focus on the scandals themselves but look at it from a communications marketing perspective.

How do communications and marketing functions operate when every day the government they serve is under intense scrutiny?

I had the opportunity to work in the federal government during the sponsorship scandal which was a scandal dealing with the misuse of marketing and communications in the federal government

Throughout 2005, the interest of Parliament, the media, and the nation was held by the Gomery Inquiry into what became known as the “sponsorship scandal.”

Under intensifying media coverage and in tandem with two critical reports from the Auditor General, the program slowly evolved into one of the most prominent and extensive political scandals Canada has known.

The program’s tentacles reached as high as the Prime Minister’s Office and included the Liberal Party, two former prime ministers, ministers of the Crown, Québec advertising agencies. While under investigation by the Gomery Commission, the program was the subject of an RCMP inquiry and criminal prosecutions for fraud.

As Kirstin Kozolanka points out in her article , The Sponsorship Scandal as Communications: The Rise of Politicized and Strategic Communications in the Federal Government, the public and media focus was concentrated on the partisan political side of the the scandal. However, it masked a more ominous dimension: the increasingly strategic role of communications in government.

The sponsorship program began as a communications activity, one of many promotional activities that developed in government throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The sponsorship program is emblematic of the kind of excessive self-promotional activities that have entered into the communications operations of government. The program was part of a development in government communications that had politicized public employees and public policy making as an extension of partisan interests – in this case, in the interest of a particular conception of national unity.

As Kirsten Kozolanka points out, the shifts in the policy making environment, media systems and practice, and political culture fostered the conditions under which the sponsorship program operated. These shifts emphasize and contributed to an intensification of a strategic role for government communications in structuring public understanding and approval for the government.

The application of strategic communications has shifted focus from substance to image, from information to promotion, and from policy to communications. While it is legitimate for governments to communicate with citizens and it is not unusual for them to want to persuade those citizens, the question becomes when and where to draw the line.

Now an independent public service can accommodate modern marketing techniques if it has the checks and balances. Health Canada, for instance, had a well-functioning social marketing program for public health promotion campaigns for many years. But after Gomery, a decision was made to centralize all of the advertising money in each department into the Privy Council Office which led to a politicization of advertising (see blogs written on the  economic action plan:  and )

Communications and marketing at all levels of government has become embedded in the structure of government; and the communications work environment has become more politicized by centralized operations and direction; Strategic communications and this would include marketing relies on embedding communications and marketing activities into the structures of the public service, thus institutionalizing it, and then consolidating it within centralized functions.

Therefore when scandal hits the government, communications and marketing people in today’s public service communicators tend to become involved in assisting in the defense of the government. They are left with little choice as the whole communications and marketing function have become, in the past decade, an integral part of the government and has become politicized.

For example, the government has come under fire for spending tens of millions of dollars on various marketing campaigns touting its economic policies as well as some that allege it is “protecting the environment” and promoting “responsible” development of natural resources. Public accounts documents recently tabled in Parliament reported at least $50 million in advertising by various departments over the past year, not including a new proposed $24-million campaign over two years for international marketing and public relations efforts to promote Canadian oil companies operating in the oil sands region of western Canada. Source:

Partisan political advertising masquerading as vital government information or public service was not invented by the Conservative government. The Liberals did the same thing in their time, but since 2006, the Conservative government has taken the practice to new heights.


On radio and television, in newspapers and online, the government is using advertising  to tell Canadians what a wonderful job their government is doing, blurring the line between partisan commercials and genuine public service advertising.

Where will it end, who knows?

Well here is another post that clearly indicates that the federal government advertising has become too politicized. Nov 18 2014.

Let know what you think.


Why the Canadian Government is Stuck in the Mud

In a recent post I pointed out that one of the big questions discussed in the public sector these days is should government be run like a business.  As James Ferabee points out in his article Can Government Services Be Run Like a Business?  There is a whopping difference between the overall mission and mandate of a government service provider and any private business. 

On March 5th, Donald J. Savoie published an op-ed in the Citizen in which he points out that the goal of government in Anglo-American democracies in the past 30 years or so has been to make public administration look like private sector management.

However he points out that not only have private-sector inspired reforms failed, they have made matters worse. Public-sector morale has fallen, policy units are less certain about their role in a post-positivism world and relations between politicians and public servants have deteriorated.

The private sector as I mentioned in my previous post values initiative and enterprise, invests for productive purposes, is thrifty, optimistic, and open to inventiveness.

The public sector, as Savoie points out values obedience and discipline, adheres to tradition, respects hierarchy and is exclusive. Because these differences were ignored by public sector management in the past 30 years, the public service as an institution has been knocked off its moorings. Attempts to make the public sector manage like the private sector have played havoc with two distinct ethical standards and roles both have played with success down through the ages. Public servants have lost their way, uncertain how they should now assess management performance, how they should generate policy advice, how they should work with their political masters, and how and when they should speak truth to political power and to their own institution.

He also points out that our political institutions are less tolerant of administrative miscues than they were 40 years ago.

I have certainly noted in my public sector career which started in the mid-seventies that making a mistake in recent years ends up on the front pages of newspapers, TV political shows and now on social media channels. These changes can be clearly linked to the rise of the new media and gotcha journalism, and along with access to information legislation, has had a profound impact on public-sector management at about the same time politicians decided to look to the private sector for inspiration on how to fix bureaucracy.

As a result centrally-prescribed rules and processes were substantially reduced in a fruitless search for a bottom line in government operations. The verdict according to Savoie … We have witnessed in the last decade, in particular, a tremendous growth in the cost of government operations and falling public service prestige. In brief, public administration can no more be made to look like private sector management than the private sector can be made to look like government.

As one Deputy Minister mentioned to me many years ago, the Auditor General, which is looked as the saviour of the public service, actually does more harm than good.  Although they do catch mistakes etc. the results are new demands and more resources to evaluation units, to risk management efforts, to values and ethics initiatives, to internal audit and to financial management controls and information technology. In many departments there is more effort and resources put towards the watchdogs than the people who are actually running the programs. I spent an inordinate amount of time as a public sector executive responding to these watchdogs and their “make work“ initiatives. There were periods where it was “tools down“ in providing government services so we could satisfy the enormous appetite of the watchdogs who have nothing better to do than impose on front line managers and their staff to do their bidding

Savoie points out that these shops are filled with bureaucrats and hired consultants who “turn cranks attached to nothing,” and churn out reports for senior management and Parliament that are barely read. Savoie argues this oversight bureaucracy has come at the expense of front-line services. The essence of the public service is to provide front-line services to Canadians and somehow the public sector has lost sight of that.

The public service is tasked with managing the paper burden, “feeding the beast“ and managing processes and we can lay much of that at the doorstep of the auditor-general and other parliamentary officers.” No business would survive under such oversight but it would take political courage to tell the auditor-general it was wrong.”

Finally, he says the government should eliminate most, if not all associate positions, which have contributed to the doubling of executive ranks over the years. There are now 20 associate deputy ministers and associate positions have been created for every level of management from assistant deputy minister to director. The consequence, he says, is that they have “thickened” government, muddied accountability and added another layer in the chain of command to “distort information” and make it more difficult for front line managers to get their concerns up the hierarchy. Source

Talk to a public servant in Ottawa today and ask them what is involved in getting anything approved through their departmental hierarchical maze. Also throw in central agencies like Privy Council Office (PCO) and the Prime Minister`s Office (PMO) and it is a wonder anything gets accomplished in government

So what is the solution?

There is a need to give public servants an administrative space that they can occupy relatively free from political and bureaucratic interference, and a sense of ownership, however tenuous, in their work. If this is not possible, then citizens need to accept that their public service will never measure up to expectations. It will remain riddled with inefficiencies and will be far more costly to taxpayers than it need be. If anything, private sector inspired management reform measures have made public servants feel worse about this institution than they need to. It will also become increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best and the brightest to the public service. source

Let me know what you think.