The government as marketing machine

Carleton University’s Eric Sprott School of Business has developed a marketing program targeted to public sector and non-profit professionals.

The certificate program, which runs over nine days from January to June, covers

topics including the fundamentals of public sector and non-profit marketing, social marketing, generating strategic alliances and selling your marketing program internally.

It is designed for directors, managers and officers in government, Crown corporations , agencies, non-profits and associations who are designing or implementing programs targeted to the public, revenue-generating initiatives and programs that aim to change policies or behaviours.

Jim Mintz, director of marketing and corporate communications at Health Canada and one of the developers of the program, says while it used to be acceptable to apply private sector marketing approaches to the public sector, that’s no longer the case.

“Many times people who work in government and non-profits who want to learn how to improve their marketing skills end up taking courses that are focused on business marketing,” explains Mintz. “The problem with that is the government is not business and the approach one needs to take in public sector and non-profit marketing is different than the one taken in the private sector.”

Judith Madill, an associate professor at Sprott who will be teaching the course, agrees. While governments are constantly engaged in marketing efforts of one kind or another, such as trying to get its citizens to quit smoking or trying to demonstrate the benefits of certain social programs, the public sector hasn’t really had a marketing culture, she says.

“”The old way was to say, ‘Let’s take everything we learned in the private sector and apply it,'”” says Madill. “”In the private sector goals in some ways are simpler,they’re clearer; they typically focus around revenue generation and profitability and those kinds of objectives, whereas in the public sector those kinds of objectives can be very complicated, they can be verydispersed, they relate to a wide variety of mandates different departments have and to a lot of efforts and projects the government has underway at different times.””

As well, she adds, the government doesn’t typically hire people with strong marketing backgrounds but tends to look for employees with widely varied education and employment experiences.

“In the private sector that’s not the case,” she notes. “Often in the private sector you’re hiring people with degrees in specializations in marketing.”

Frequently people get hired into a public sector organization that wants to communicate its programs or messages, and employees just don’t have the background to effectively conduct such campaigns, she adds. “The ideas you may have may not be the way modern marketing thinks these days, so we thought it was important to help people develop their marketing abilities and philosophies and strategies.”

Although the course covers a number of modules, one of the most important is that of learning how to sell your marketing program internally, says Madill. “Many people we’ve talked to have said they need to do a better job of selling their program in the organization and making sure everyone knows what’s going on and why.”

Madill says the growth of e-government is contributing to the need for the public sector to improve its marketing skills, not only to increase citizens’ awareness of services that have been e-enabled, but to show the rest of the world what we’re doing as well.

“We’re at that stage where marketing and e-government need to work more hand in hand,” she says. “That’s a critical thing because the technology aspects of e-government have been worked out and are now somewhat under control so now it’s more of an issue of how do we make sure we’re targeting certain groups with particular approaches we use in e-government and that we have all the systems work to support that.”

Bernie Colterman, president of Ottawa-based CMG Canada and also part of the course development team, says improved marketing skills are key to helping governments demonstrate to their citizens the wisdom of their tax-spending ways.

“There is a lot more awareness of accountability so people want to demonstrate results and show the impact they’re making through these programs,” he says. For example, he says, a marketing group within an organization might want to be able to show how the department’s Web site fits in with a direct mail campaign, a ministerial event and an trade show or conference.

According to Colterman, the biggest mistake he sees the public and non-profit sectors make in the marketing arena is that the often take a one-size-fits-all approach — one that won’t work well in a country as diverse as Canada.

“There’s a tendency to paint the whole country with the same brush,” he says. “I think there has been a tendency to rely on communicating the same messages to everybody across the country, whereas the needs and what people may respond to might be different.”


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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