The Government Marketing Shutdown

Photo of Allan Rubinby Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

As the government shutdown continues into its second week, the effects for government marketers are coming into sharper focus. Over the past week and a half we’ve seen real-world examples of how this is impacting marketing plans across the industry. These include:

  • Trade Shows – As expected, these are either being postponed (like GEOINT 2013 Symposium and NextGov Prime) or cancelled altogether. GEOINT organizers noted that the recently-passed “Pay Our Military Act” allowed most Defense Department personnel to return to their jobs alongside the excepted personnel who were still working. However, it also included language making it impossible for personnel to travel (except in direct support of operational forces) or attend events.
  • Other Events – We’re seeing the cancellations and postponements extended beyond trade shows to include tabletop events, single-vendor events, user groups and others.
  • Date Conflicts – As event dates shift to the right, many are encroaching on other events planned for the same time periods, which will cannibalize attendance and increase competition for eyeballs (even within the same organization in some cases).
  • Promotion of Future Activities – Even if your webinar or event is supposed to take place in November or later, you still need several weeks of runway to promote it. Many Feds can’t check email or answer their phones, and those that aren’t furloughed likely have other priorities on which to focus. Don’t forget to review your promotional plans and adjust accordingly, especially as we creep closer to the holidays.
  • Government Speakers – Getting travel approval was difficult enough already. In addition to that headache, many Public Affairs offices aren’t open to approve speaker participation for upcoming or future events. Even if your likely speakers are still on the job and have approval, they’re likely unable to speak anyway as that won’t be considered an “essential” function.
  • Messaging – Try getting a word in edgewise with PR, social media, and content marketing…all anyone wants to talk about is the shutdown, which crowds out every other message we’re putting out there. Once your prospects return to the office, they’ll be focused on catching up on several weeks of work that were missed. Getting their attention will be more challenging than ever, and it’s likely to take more time and effort.
  • Paid Media – Many print, radio, and online ad campaigns are already running and can’t be undone.
  • Sales Follow-up – One silver lining with the shutdown’s timing is that not many marketing campaigns take place in September. However, for those with longer sales follow-up cycles, it will be harder to reach recent attendees to try to pour names into your pipeline and document ROI.

We don’t yet know how long this will continue, so what’s a marketer to do? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Focus on DoD First – Not everyone is there, and those that are may not be interested in talking right now, but civilian agencies will be hit harder and take longer to dig out when they return.
  2. Contact Event Organizers and Speakers – Make sure you understand how the shutdown is impacting those events for which you’ve made a commitment, how promotional plans will be adjusted, whether speakers are still planning to participate, and what recourse you have if things don’t progress as planned.
  3. Adjust Your Plans – Analyze your annual campaign calendar, upcoming email blasts, and budget, all with an eye towards minimizing lost value or creating campaign overlap/conflict in the coming months.
  4. Clean House – It’s always difficult to take the time to close out old campaigns, perform list maintenance, and summarize the results of what you completed last month. Catch up on best practice articles, see what the competition has been up to, and join those social media groups you haven’t had time to think about. Now might be your chance.
  5. Engage with Channel Partners and Systems Integrators – Many of them have extra time on their hands right now, so it’s a great time to reach out and build relationships. Update them on your new products, value proposition changes, competitive differentiators, changes to marketing plans, etc.
  6. Do Your Homework – Any down time you may experience today can be used to make tomorrow’s activities more effective. If you subscribe to GovWin IQ or a similar service, do some research now to ensure your upcoming plans are as targeted and relevant as possible. If you’re an immixGroup client, make sure you tune in to watch our upcoming FY14 Market Intelligence Budget Briefings, and use the information to build and review territory plans with your sales team.

During times like these, communities like ours need to pull together. Please post your own ideas or thoughts on how we as government marketers can all get through this man-made crisis and emerge stronger when our customers re-open their doors.

New Data on How to Reach Government Customers

bphoto_Allan-Rubin_65x85y Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

As today’s government shutdown clearly illustrates, it’s hard to get anything done when two parties are so far apart in their beliefs. Could the same communication breakdown be occurring between government marketers and our prospective customers?

At some point (hopefully soon), they’ll be back at their desks browsing the Web, opening our email on mobile devices, and maybe venturing out of the office once or twice a year to meet with industry face-to-face (assuming they’ve been given the proper hall pass). If we want to capture their attention, we have to follow their lead.

I was recently invited to review and comment on the results of an original research study by Market Connections and Boscobel Marketing Communications:

Connecting with Government Customers in an Era of Event and Travel Restrictions

The study identifies how government employees plan to obtain the information and training they used to receive from live events. Its aim is to give contractors current insights into their target customer base that will help them refocus their efforts to reach government prospects.

I’ve written extensively about the challenges we’ve encountered with live events over the past 18 months, and the study provides data that supports our concerns. It also gives recommendations on what to do about it.

An interesting part of the study highlights a potential gulf between the way we want to market to the government and how our customers want to find information. It’s summarized in the graphic below.

Different Opinions

This data held a few surprises for me:

  • It’s easy to see that contractors have shied away from print advertising in trade publications just from picking one up, but interesting that customers still rate them so highly;
  • Only 21 percent of contractors surveyed think government will get information and training online. Really? There’s this cool new thing called the Internet…
  • Apparently, we in the contracting community think prospects are much more interested in talking to us directly than they appear to be.

There are plenty of other nuggets in here that make it a worthwhile read. I hope you’ll check out the study!

New Study on How to Reach Government Buyers

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

Our friends at Market Connections just released a new study on media consumption habits of government decision-makers. One thing that jumped out at us from the summary report, which they presented at an event on April 12, was the continued importance of event marketing in the B2G marketing mix.

With increased oversight of government-hosted events over the past few months and more expected in the future, we’ve projected that attendance and marketing ROI from trade shows and hosted events may begin to suffer. It looks like we’ve got some timely benchmark data that will allow us to see how things progress over the next year.

According to the Market Connections 4th Annual Federal Media & Marketing Study, 49 percent of federal decision makers said they prefer to attend live events, citing the networking aspect as an important factor. More than half of this group attends between one to three events per year. We’ll monitor this closely to see if it changes in the wake of MuffinGate, ClownGate/VegasGate, budget cuts, etc.

Other key findings include:

  • Close to 60 percent are using Smartphones with Blackberries leading the pack for business use and Androids and iPhone for personal use
  • Blogs are taking off, with 37 percent reading them; NextGov, GovExec, and Federal Times are leading the way
  • Social Media continues to be a resource with 58 percent using Facebook to conduct business; LinkedIn usage nearly doubled from last year (from 18 to 35 percent)
  • While print took a slight dip, it’s not completely dead; 63 percent of the respondents prefer to read publications as a combination of print and online

Of course, the devil is always in the details, so if you plan on dedicating a significant part of your budget to government marketing, you may want to check out the study. For more information contact Market Connections or click here to download the report.

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