What the COI reforms mean for government marketing

COI: being scrapped in favour of a Government Communications Centre
COI: being scrapped in favour of a Government Communications Centre

Former Royal Mail head of brand communications and director of specialist government communications agency Verdant Consulting, Laura Bayford, considers what the COI reforms mean for government marketing.

Back in August 2010 I suggested that COI could be disbanded and resource centralised directly into the Cabinet Office driving cost efficiency and allowing experts in Government departments to do their jobs unencumbered. They have now decided to do just that.

It’s a very good thing that there will be more focus on customer insight and on understanding the impact of marketing communications activity. My experience is that it is very hard to get public sector marketers to invest budget in pre and post evaluation as they tend to be short term in their approach and not clear on what the benefits of evaluation will be. 

Insight research should be done at the beginning of programmes and policy development, not at the end when they start thinking about communicating. This way departments can avoid disappointment in finding out at a late stage that their implementation ideas or core messages do no resonate with the target audience.

Many of the government’s core programmes are around influencing attitudes and behaviour and in most cases this will mean long term campaigns across a wide range of media, often to mass audiences. This is both time consuming and complex, they do need high levels of creativity and a range of delivery partners to work with them.

There should be less reliance on traditional media, but we should not forget that large scale campaigns need a range of channels and you can’t just rely on the web!

Public sector marketers are often demand more time than their private sector counterparts, and many advertising agencies for example already have a charitable account and deliver campaigns for worthy causes for free. 

Does government see itself as a ‘worthy’ cause? And is government also expecting other suppliers to provide free IT for example, for ‘worthy projects’. Getting voluntary and charitable organisations to do it for free doesn’t sound realistic – it’s not as if they seek to make profits from their work with government as it is and they need to cover their costs.

For the marketing and advertising industry, we need to think really hard about whether we want to engage our services for free, because every marketer knows that when you offer a product or service for nothing, it is not perceived to have any value.

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