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It is not easy being a marketer in the public sector. The target audience is so diverse that it is almost impossible to communicate with everyone at once. Even if it were possible, they would be unlikely to listen, due to the high levels of apathy toward anything to do with the government or local authority.
The UK's changing demographics only serve to increase the challenge. There are about 3.2m people from ethnic minorities in the UK, while by 2020, half of the population will be over-50, and a third of those between 50 and retirement age will be classified as disabled.
Yet many marketers assume that all communities merit the same approach. They are consequently missing out on the opportunity to reach particular groups of people that are often ignored.
'We are an ageing population, so from a marketing perspective, it is crucial to be aware of this,' says Tom Berry, head of campaigns and marketing at the Disability Rights Commission and a speaker at Marketing's Public Sector Communications conference next month, which will address the issues facing those working with young, old and disabled people, as well as ethnically diverse groups.
'A lot of these older people don't consider themselves disabled, which is a further challenge for marketers,' he adds.
So how can marketers successfully target audiences across cultural, social and age barriers? Ross James, managing consultant and head of inclusivity at COI Communications, and also a speaker at the conference, believes that multiple messaging is vital to diversity.
'It is not right to think that one marketing message is relevant to everyone, particularly with issues such as cultural sensitivity,' he says. 'I constantly see ads with references that could alienate or be misunderstood by certain communities.'
Berry agrees that marketers should not treat disabled people, who have been estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions to have an annual spending power of about £80bn, as a homogeneous group. 'It is important to look at all people that fall under the Disability Discrimination Act, rather than just wheel-chair users, who make up 5% of the 10m disabled adults in the UK,' he says.
He stresses that it is important to highlight that disabled people are consumers too, by featuring them in advertising. Berry cites B&Q's TV ad for power tools, which featured a member of staff with one arm, and the Home Office's Frank campaign that showed someone hugging a wheelchair user, as good examples.
Anjna Raheja, managing director at ethnic marketing specialist and PR agency Media Moguls, believes that understanding the cultural sensitivities of particular groups is crucial to conveying a message.
'You don't want to go in all guns blazing without understanding a community's dynamics, such as religious and social issues, and economic status,' she says.
Using Media Moguls' 'Stop Forced Marriages' campaign as an example, Raheja believes it is possible to target communities with different messages.
'The biggest challenge was making sure people understand the difference between arranged and forced marriages, but we didn't want to alienate older communities or look like we were condemning arranged marriages,' she adds.
'So we targeted potential victims with messages about the support services available; conveyed to older audiences that the government understands the cultural issues surrounding arranged marriages, but asserted that forced marriages are an abuse of human rights; and educated people in the public sector who are working with community groups about what you need to do if you think someone is facing forced marriage.'
Berry says marketers should also think practically, as mainstream advertising is not often accessible to everyone. 'Older and visually impaired people may need printed materials in a large format, while those with cognitive disabilities may need information in a simplified form of English, such as Easyread,' he says.
Text messaging and podcasting, as well as radio and TV channels suitable for those with lower literacy levels, are a useful platform for reaching groups of disabled people. Digital television also enables those who cannot leave the house to access services and products.
But the internet is less penetrable to some socially excluded groups. 'We conducted a survey which found that four out of five websites are inaccessible to disabled people,' says Berry. 'The British Standards Institute now offers guidance on how to make sites more accessible.'
Some communities do not have access to any media channels. James believes outreach is the only viable way to reach these. 'Some messages can be communicated only through the communities themselves,' he says, citing the NHS's black organ donation campaign.
Paul Mylrea, director of group media relations at Transport for London (TfL), agrees that marketers should never take it for granted that their messages will reach every member of their perspective audience by classic media.
'You need the whole communications package, so direct communication with groups though outreach is vital,' he says. 'New technology may help us be more targeted, but marketers need to talk to groups directly to understand how they get their news and information.'
Reaching specific groups is critical for TfL, which is aiming to reach the 10m daily users of its buses and Tubes. It has also produced targeted information that will help people from ethnic minorities make greater use of the Docklands Light Railway. This involved talking to newspapers in East London which have a lot of readers in such groups.
Despite the enhancement in interest and awareness of public-sector communications, the niche value of the sector means it remains an afterthought for some marketers.
'Marketers need to remind themselves that they are not just selling a product or brand, but are also educating about a service, policy or key issue, and that these concerns and the target communities should be determined at the very start,' says Raheja.
DATA FILE - CONFERENCE
Public Sector Communications
Date: 14 September
Venue: Ibis Hotel, Earls Court, London
Speakers include: Charles Skinner, head of communication and consultation, Haringey Council; Danny Rogers, editor, PR Week; David Bowles, head of external affairs, RSPCA; David May, head of strategic communications, BBC; Jenny Hampton, communications and marketing manager, London Borough of Lambeth; Louise Ansari, head of communications, Lambeth Council; Lucian Hudson, director of communications, Department for Constitutional Affairs; Paul Mylrea, director of group media relations, Transport for London; Sarah McGregor, head of corporate communications, Surrey Police; Steve Jones, director of communications and marketing, Help the Aged; Tom Berry, head of campaigns and marketing, the Disability Rights Commission; Sam Conniff, director, Livity and Live Futures; and Ross James, managing consultant and head of inclusivity, COI Communications.
To book a delegate place
Tel 020 8267 4011