Make crucial connections at this year’s Summit

Government IT Sales Summit

By Rita Walston, senior director, marketing programs

When business leaders talk about what contributes to their company’s success, they often point to the importance of strong relationships in their industry. In the government IT ecosystem, having strong connections with channel partners, tech suppliers and government end-users is crucial for growing revenue.

That’s why the theme for our 4th Annual Government IT Sales Summit is “Crucial Connections.” Taking place Nov. 16, 2017, in Reston, VA, this year’s Summit will help make those crucial connections between top solution providers, IT manufacturers, systems integrators and resellers.

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Are You Ready for This Year’s Government IT Sales Summit?

Rita Walston Headshot_63 x 85SummitVideo Promo

By Rita Walston, Senior Director, Public Sector Channel Marketing

Selling IT to the public sector has never been more challenging. So much is in flux—we’ve got new revenue streams created by XaaS; an incoming administration with a new agenda and staff; evolving procurement policies; and fast-moving, disruptive technology.

With so much at stake, we designed our 3rd annual signature event—the Government IT Sales Summit—to help lead attendees across these new Bridges of Growth. The Summit will give solution providers, IT manufacturers, systems integrators, and value-added resellers the tools and resources necessary for bridging the gaps to growth.

This year’s Summit will be held Thursday, November 17 in Reston, Virginia from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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A Cautionary Tale for Federal Marketers

Rita Walston_65x85Rita Walston, Senior Director, Client Marketing

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been apologizing a lot during the past few weeks, and the scandal that many say has seriously damaged, if not derailed, his political career should be a cautionary tale for those of us who market to the federal government.

The governor and his family accepted a number of high-value loans and gifts from those who do business or seek to do business in Virginia. In a statement and in a radio interview McDonnell said that he is “deeply sorry” and focused on “repairing any loss of trust that I have experienced with the citizens.” He also added that “I broke no laws…”

As far as anyone has been able to determine (so far), Bob McDonnell is correct that he hasn’t broken any laws. (Look for those laws to change in Virginia in the coming months.) But his actions and those of his family don’t pass the “smell test”—there is the appearance of impropriety. And that’s the cautionary tale that we who market to the feds need to take to heart.

The restrictions around marketing to the federal government are pretty clear, and anyone who works in this space for any length of time knows (or should know) the rules by heart. Most important of these is do not offer to a federal employee anything with a value of more than $20 at one time, or more than a cumulative $50 in any year. But we need to pay attention to the areas that some feel are “open to interpretation.” Here are a couple:

  • Raffles:  This is a complicated and confusing area with numerous opinions written on whether a government employee can claim a raffle prize. I consulted immixGroup legal counsel to ensure I was on point. The direction I received was:  “Raffles are, under the ethics regulations, excluded from the definition of a ‘gift.’ However, that does not necessarily mean federal employees can ultimately claim the prize. To do so, such raffles must be open to the public and the employee’s entrance to the contest cannot be required as part of his official duties. These requirements are questions of fact and the answers…are not always evident.” To my mind, there’s too much room here for a McDonnell scenario. My advice then and now is not to host a raffle as part of your federal marketing efforts.
  • Marketing to Federal Systems Integrators (FSIs):  Those working for systems integrators are not federal employees; technically the federal marketing restrictions don’t apply. However, a number of systems integrators require their employees who are working on a government contract to abide by the same rules. So while there is more latitude regarding FSIs, consider appearances as well as the letter of the law when planning your marketing efforts.

I wish Bob McDonnell all the best in repairing his reputation and regaining the public trust. As I reinforce when working on marketing plans with immixGroup clients and partners, attention to the spirit of the law rather than just the letter of the law goes a long way toward preventing bad headlines.

Marketers Should Expect Scrutiny from Ethics Officials

Rita Walston, Director, Marketing Programs

I attended the latest Government Marketing Forum session last week to hear from three experts about “Ethics 2.2: The Changing Rules of Engagement.”  It was an excellent session with Anne Armstrong, president of 1105 Government Information Group, moderating a panel made up of Alice Eldridge, vice president and chief counsel, land & armaments for BAE Systems; Jeffrey Green, senior attorney and deputy ethics official at Department of Defense; and Stephen Ryan, partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP.  The information the three of them provided was topical and relevant.

It also sent a chill through the room.

“The scrutiny of our community is coming,” we were told.

GSA and VA have become the poster children for inappropriate spending on events and marketing to employees.  As a result, careers were ruined.  Conferences such as AFITC were cancelled, hurting the ledgers of those companies that earn a living supporting such events.  Edicts emerged, such as the recent ban on Army attendance at non-DoD events.

The message from the panel was that there is, unfortunately, a fair amount of ambiguity among the rock-solid rules, but industry is advised to take the extra steps and err on the side of caution to ensure everything we do is above board.  Among the takeaways:

  • Food:
    • $20 or less, period.  While that can be difficult in pricey areas like DC, the rule doesn’t make exceptions for geography.
    • The “honor basket” is not sufficient.  You should prominently post cost and be able to provide a receipt on the spot to anyone paying for their meal.
    • If it needs a fork, don’t serve it.
  • Widely Attended Gathering (WAG) Exception:  the definition of what is or is not a WAG can be rather ambiguous.  Some ethics officers pin it at 25 or more attendees, some say at least 100 people, some look at how many different agencies and titles will be represented.  The panel’s advice is to include wording in your invitation that those interested in attending should check with their ethics officer.
  • Multi-Manufacturer versus Single Manufacturer Events:  Those “single-manufacturer symposia held at a nice place” were described by the panel as “troublesome”—which to me is a loaded word when spoken by a lawyer.
  • It was suggested companies might want to consider having a lawyer present during meetings with government.  This may seem extreme, but it does provide some insurance.

I believe government and industry need to communicate in order to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used to effectively accomplish agency missions.  The current environment is making that more difficult, and that’s where we, as marketers, as expected to get creative.  As we do so, however, we should keep in mind Ryan’s closing comments.

“There are implicit ‘wink-winks’ in this town,” he said, “and there will come a time that those become unwound, and you don’t want to be the poster child for that when it unwinds.”

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