3 Ways the Government’s Event Rules May Be Changing

Allan Rubin 65x85GovEvents_052516By Allan Rubin, Vice President of Marketing

Federal IT professionals in the DC area have no excuse for going hungry. Are breakfast muffins, rubber chicken lunches, and mini crab cakes served on toothpicks all staples in your diet? You can find them at a sponsored federal IT event, trade show, or conference pretty much any day of the week. Maybe even a glass of cheap Pinot if you’re lucky.

Like most IT companies that do business with the government, immixGroup has a busy calendar of marketing events. That’s why we’re closely watching a proposed rule that could change our (and your) event marketing plans.

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Are You Following the Government’s Gift Rules?

Photo of Allan RubinMaybe it’s the summer or the result of a stronger economy, but lately it seems I’m constantly reminded of a major difference between business-to-government (B2G) and business-to-business (B2B) marketing: the gift rules and restrictions. It struck me yesterday when I received a Starbucks gift card in the mail from a B2B vendor with whom I’d never spoken or met. (Side note: I was amazed that this vendor neglected to include a business card or simple contact information so I could easily thank him/her, but that’s another story.)

My job title and (incorrect) assumption that I control a massive marketing budget have earned me unsolicited Amazon gift cards, invitations to fancy meals and sporting events, gadgets, and other blatant attempts to buy a meeting with me, all in the interest of pitching a new marketing software package or service offering.

Hey, I’m not knocking it. When I worked exclusively in B2B marketing, I did it too, and it often worked. But in B2G marketing, it’s not that simple.

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Five Creative Ways to Reach the Federal Government

Brian Chidester_65x85by Brian Chidester, Manager, Strategic Accounts & Content Marketing

One common trend we have expounded upon in length recently is the shrinking number of touchpoints with both C-level and end-user government personnel, due in large part to the reduction in travel to conferences and events. Understanding where these “govies” go for information is one great way to ensure that you are reaching them and that your message is being seen or heard.

BlogPost_MainPageImageFollowing a review of the 2014 Federal Media & Marketing Study, which highlighted key trends for where and how
Federal government employees consume content and information, some interesting information came out of it. For one, statistics from the report noted that print is not dead in the Federal market. While circulations have decreased in the past decade, publications including Government Executive and Federal Times are still being heavily read. In fact, nearly half of all surveyed read both of these publications. Additionally, with 80% of “govies” utilizing their mobile device for information, this can be a unique way to reach them like never before.

Here are five other creative ways to reach the Federal government audience in places they are engaging within.

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A New Event for Government Sales and Marketing Professionals

Photo of Allan RubinWe’ve been hearing it quite a bit from our manufacturer clients and channel partners recently: it’s tough out there. Companies that sell technology to the government have faced one challenge after another. Most of us survived Sequestration, continuing resolutions, and the shutdown — often with some scars to show for it — and we hope those are in the rear-view mirror for good.

Uncle Sam is still spending a lot of money on technology products and services, but that growth curve has flattened, and budget pressures have increased competition for every order. Add to that the significant shifts we’ve seen in technology requirements, acquisition methods, the movement towards lowest-price technically acceptable (LPTA) procurements, difficulty in meeting face-to-face with customers…and the increased pressure you’ve probably seen from your corporate office to exceed revenue goals while cutting back on personnel, marketing, and other resources. There’s a long list of reasons for those in our industry to lose sleep.Print

Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Pockets of technology, like cyber security, remain strong with growing demand. The state and local market is heating up. While some agencies and programs face budget cuts, others are expected to invest more heavily in IT products and services. There are reasons to be optimistic, but you have to know where to look … and what to look for.

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Marketing Tips for Recruiting Public Sector Channel Partners

Brian Chidester_65x85by Brian Chidester, Manager, Strategic Accounts & Content Marketing

Channel partners can grow a manufacturer’s sales and spread its message about products or services. But to have an effective channel partner program, manufacturers must recruit the right channel partners to achieve their goals.

Brian Public Sector Blog

As a technology manufacturer, you may know what you require in a channel partner. But how do you find the right partners for your program?

Like most marketing activities, you need a list of potential prospects. There are two primary ways to get there: generate your own list from research and recruitment activities, or obtain an existing list from someone else.

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Five Tips for Effective Content Marketing Campaigns

Brian Chidester_65x85by Brian Chidester, Manager, Strategic Accounts & Content Marketing

5-Simple-Tips-to-Help-Your-Content-Marketing-Strategy

No matter who you are targeting within the Government, there is a diminishing availability of reaching your audience, which makes every touchpoint you have with them important. Figuring out the type of information these prospects are looking for can be tricky, but if executed effectively can go a long way to optimizing your marketing efforts.

Here are five content marketing tips to consider when trying to enhance your marketing efforts:

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Are Your Customers Cut Off from the Outside World?

Photo of Allan Rubinby Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

 What a winter. DC is shutting down more frequently. Regular routes are impassable. The people you need to reach are unable to travel, meet face-to-face, or interact without the use of electronic or telephonic means. And those lines of communication are getting more and more overwhelmed.

DCSnowOh, I’m not talking about the current snowstorm that’s pummeling the Washington metro region (again) or the institutional government shutdown we faced in October. The storm to which I refer is equally treacherous for government marketing and sales professionals. It’s the one that keeps our prospects and customers from attending conferences, speaking at your events, accepting meeting requests, or interacting with you in a consistent, predictable, and productive way.

Washington Technology recently published its Insider Report on 2014 Trends in Government Purchasing. The report is based on an extensive survey of government officials in which they were asked about purchasing plans in areas such as cyber security, infrastructure, and mobility, as well as anticipated challenges for the coming year.

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6 Marketing Secrets from C-level Government Leaders

photo_Allan-Rubin_65x85by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

Government marketers don’t often get the opportunity to hear directly from the people we’re trying to influence. Sure, we attend conferences and events and listen to the feds talking to one another in moderated discussions, keynotes, and chalk talks. But it’s rare to hear them giving advice to marketers on the best ways to get our messages through to them.

That’s what happened on October 18 at the GovMark Council’s “Selling to Uncle Sam” event. Steve O’Keeffe led the “Connecting with Government” panel which featured three speakers from the audience we try to reach every day:

  • Simon Szykman, CIO, Department of Commerce
  • Keith Trippie, Executive Director, Office of the CIO, Enterprise System Development Office, Department of Homeland Security
  • Dr. Michael Valivullah, CTO, USDA, NASS

After describing their technology and business priorities, the panelists gave us helpful hints on what they click, open, attend, interact with, listen to, forward, and ignore. I heard six key themes emerge for marketers:

1) Do Your Homework

The panel said this multiple times in different ways: “I don’t have time to educate you on my business issues. Do your research in advance, learn what my specific problems are, and be prepared to tell me how you’re going to solve them.” If you haven’t figured that out before you send an invitation, fill their in-box, or pick up the phone, you’re likely to be dismissed. (Shameless plug: immixGroup clients can use our Market Intelligence organization to make this easier).

2) Make your Communication Relevant

Many marketing and sales initiatives begin with broad assumptions and one-size-fits-all messaging about a generic solution. They’re ignored, and it doesn’t take long for you to end up in the spam folder. To paraphrase one panelist, “just because a technology solution is important doesn’t mean it’s a priority for me.” If you’ve done your homework (see #1 above), use that knowledge to ensure your message cuts through the clutter by targeting it to the specific agency or program with which your prospect is involved, using language that addresses their needs.

3) Less is More

All panelists lamented the volume of email, invitations, white papers, and other solicitations they receive. When they do engage, they want to know right up front how you’re going to help them, and they won’t give you much time to get to the point. Keith Trippie used the example of Twitter’s Vine, which allows people to send videos up to six seconds in length, and suggested marketers think about creative ways to hit the high points very quickly. He also added “send me less and I’ll open more of what you send.” Pushing out too many messages too frequently can be the kiss of death.

4) Don’t Focus on the C-Level

Many of our internal stakeholders judge the success of our marketing activities based on the number of C-level executives that participate. I asked the C-level panel point-blank if that was the wrong expectation, and the answer was just as clear: you’re targeting the wrong people. Simon Szykman stressed that CIOs focus on policy and strategy and leave the task of selecting specific technologies to others in their organizations. He thanked me for raising the question and suggested we tell our counterparts in sales that we heard directly from the CIOs that they are the wrong target audience. Instead, we should engage with the people below them that they trust to make technology recommendations.

5) Gain Their Trust

Dr. Michael Valivullah cited the importance of helping your customer solve their problems even if you don’t sell the solution. Leverage your contacts and industry knowledge to point your customer in the right direction, and you’ll earn their trust in the process. Doing so, he said, will make the customer more likely to turn to your business when the opportunity arises, which can yield sales over the long run.

6) Go Mobile

There’s nothing new about the need to transition some traditional media efforts to digital marketing initiatives, but we heard repeatedly about the government’s increasing reliance on mobile devices. Make sure your emails, Web site, videos, and other digital initiatives are mobile-friendly so you’re in step with your customers as they unchain themselves from their desktops and laptops.

Sometimes we have to stand back from our day-to-day activities and remember what our customers and prospects want. If you were there, and you’d like to add anything I missed, please share your thoughts!

Shutdown Shuts Down Defense Conferences

Photo of Allan Rubinby Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

I wish I’d seen this story before I submitted a blog post yesterday about the impact of the shutdown on government marketers. If the topic interests you, check out this article in Defense News:

US Government Shutdown Hampers Attendance at Defense Conferences

The article includes a discussion of the likely impact on the upcoming AUSA Conference:

“If the shutdown continues in the coming weeks, it could affect attendance at a number of major trade shows.

 The Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington — an event that typically attracts more than 25,000 people — is less than two weeks away. The conference is boasting more than 700 Army and industry exhibitors “using 500,000 square feet of exhibit space.”

The Army continues to plan for the annual meeting pending a final decision from service Secretary John McHugh on whether soldiers stationed outside the Washington-area will be allowed to attend.

Most temporary-duty travel has been canceled or suspended since the government shut down Oct. 1, and a number of soldiers, including some who are scheduled to speak, have expressed to Army Times uncertainty and confusion about whether they will be able to travel to the meeting.”

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.

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