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Managing Marketing – Public sector marketing and the impact of digital

Public Sector Marketing
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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Alun Probert, Group Head at GovCom Group talks with Darren about the role of marketing in Government and the changes being driven by technology to the Government communication process and the increased focus on customers from the Government perspective.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome. Today I am talking with Alun Probert, who is the Group Head of GovCom Group, and Alun is actually a person that has incredible experience in marketing, advertising and media, but most recently from a very specific public sector point of view.

Welcome Alun.

Alun:

Thanks Darren, welcome too. Good to be here.

Darren:

The interesting thing is this idea of public sector versus government, because I noticed your group is called GovCom. Government Communications, I imagine.

Alun:

That’s right.

Darren:

In actual fact, the implications for government actually spread further over the public sector. Don’t they?

People in government tend to see themselves as different

Alun:

I think they do. I spent the last 10 years, working in a communications job in government. For somebody that has spent the last 25 years working effectively as a media owner, it was a real poacher turned gamekeeper situation.

I was in control of an 18 million dollar advertising spend and working on 14, 15, 16 different subject areas, so a really interesting variety.

Now that now I’ve moved on, I think the biggest effect of that job was that there seems to be this frame around the way that the public sector did things. It was somehow different to how private sector did things.

During the 25 years I worked in the private sector, I never had a conversation about how the government did stuff. It’s a really interesting thing that people in government tend to see themselves as different.

Darren:

Yeah, it’s true. Isn’t it? There is a very different mentality or even set of requirements, to go between private sector and public sector. Isn’t there?

Differences are getting smaller by the day

Alun:

That’s right. My personal experience, and this is with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight now, is that sort of thought shadowed over a lot of decisions made, but in reality, the decisions were a lot more akin to private sector decisions than anybody perhaps realised.

I’m of the strong view now – and one of the reasons I set up the GovCom group, is because I think the differences are getting smaller by the day – that governments have got to be accountable.

Darren:

You worked in government, and in fact when we met you were a head of government communications in New South Wales. As a supplier, we’d had quite a lot of experience at TrinityP3, with federal and state government.

The interesting thing from my point of view is that, as a private sector organisation, working in government, you needed to be very aware of the different requirements and agendas.

Either from personal experience, from when you moved out of private into public, or observations you’ve made. What are some of the key things where people make mistakes, making that leap across or dealing with one to the other?

Alun:

I can now bring 3 perspectives to that, because I spent the last year advising some private sector companies on how to work with government. I am astonished how frightened people are of knocking on government’s door.

I think that’s partly because historically procurement arrangements tend to make some things drawn out. Perhaps it’s hard to know who is the right person to talk to.

I do sometimes wonder, particularly when I am working with agencies, in our sort of shared field, is it really harder to pitch to the public health than it is to pitch to Coca-Cola. I wouldn’t imagine Coca-Cola would take every call from every sales person that’s trying to sell to them.

One of the challenges is, I see so many opportunities for people who have a product that government might buy, simply being frightened to knock on the door. Part of that is because of a learned history that it’s going to be hard. I’m of the very strong view that’s going to change.

Darren:

Yeah. From my personal experience, very large clients and government have something in common, and it’s called bureaucracy. There is all this paperwork that you have to do.

You have to tick the right boxes in the right order, even though at the centre of both of them, will be some sort of relationship. Large organisations mimic government a lot in creating what feels like barriers, to actually building relationships

The public sector, like the private sector, is looking for solutions

Alun:

It would be naive and wrong to suggest that there isn’t difficulty or process problems in dealing with the way government procures stuff.

But as a corollary to that, if somebody takes in something that they’ve made for the UK market, let’s say it’s a piece of advertising about texting while driving, and what they have is empirical research on what people thought of the ad, how people responded to it, what the results of the ad were, there isn’t a roads minister in Australia that isn’t going to want to see that case study.

Whether they make the ad or not, whether they want to change it to make it more local, this power is in the intellectual property that we have, from the fact that all over the world, most governments are tackling the same problems.

Darren:

What you’re saying is public sector, like private sector, is looking for solutions to problems, yeah?

Alun:

Absolutely, and I would say taking your analogy, with going into a big corporate, I’m not sure what ideas people can take into big corporates to show them how to do their job. With governments being so homogenous all over the world, if you take an issue like texting while driving, it’s an issue in every country in the world.

Darren:

That have cars and mobile phones.

Alun:

That have cars and mobile phones, which is…

Darren:

Pretty natural.

Alun:

And advertising agencies, which is pretty much all of them. All governments are keen to learn, because the worst thing you can do in any public sector environment, is start with a blank sheet of paper.

Darren:

In a big corporate, there’s a beautiful hierarchy structure. Like there’s the CEO, and then there’s the C Suite and then there is heads of different functions. There’s a different structure.

Often you can find that incredibly difficult to navigate, to know whether you are talking to a decision-maker, in government or in the public sector. Is the public sector structured similar to big corporations?

Alun:

It’s a really difficult question to answer, and I think one of the fundamental things that private sector organisations get wrong in dealing with government, is in the notion of dealing with government. If you just take the state we are in, the state I know best, but it’s actually true for all governments, New South Wales have 140 separate departments.

They have something like 3000 entities. If you take for example the rent tribunal organisation, part of fair trading is an entity. Everybody thinks that they can sell to all those people in one go with a sales pitch, but the corollary is, if you go onto any minister’s website, they would have listed what their ambitions and priorities are for the next 12 months.

Darren:

In some ways the minister is like the CEO.

Alun:

Yeah.

Darren:

And the board.

Alun:

And in modern politics. There’s a fine line, but in modern politics, we’re increasingly coming to a more business-like organisation where politicians, in particular, the premier and his key ministers, have to outline what they’re going to achieve in the next 4 to 5 years.

Obama famously launched the 100 day plan. This is what we’re going to do in the first 100 days, because that’s how people change their minds about politicians. It’s about, “What have you done for me?”

How are digital and technology changes impacting governments?

Darren:

Yeah, know what you say, what you’re going to do, and then deliver on it. That’s a really good view of public/private sector.

Is the same disruption that’s happening in the private sector with digital and technology, impacting government the same way or to the same extent?

Alun:

From an advertising point of view, in exactly the same way.

Just coincidentally the big things that government tends to advertise, getting people to be sensible out in the sun, getting people to drive safely, those things are largely tied to audiences of people aged under 25, and of course, not taking up smoking.

If you try to reach audiences under 25 and you haven’t adapted your media planning for want of anything else, then quite clearly I remember Baxter saying to me that the most he could do was get to 40% of males in New South Wales.

Darren:

With traditional media?

Alun:

With traditional media, which was largely advertised on Rugby League on a Friday night, to be frank.

Darren:

Good old sports strategy.

Alun:

One of the few bits of TV people still watch live, I’m sure. Matt’s view was, there was no point spending any further money after that, because the next 60% would be so incrementally hard to get.

When we launched the drink driving campaign plan B in New South Wales 2 years ago, that was the first time we’d ever spent more money on digital advertising. That’s in the public domain, but it’s indicative of the fact that spending that money on mainstream TV would have been a mistake. Ten years ago, it wasn’t. It was the right thing to do.

Darren:

Yeah, that’s right. There is a huge amount of accountability for government to actually make the right decisions. That’s one of the things that has always been explained to me about the procurement process, is that you’re managing the public purse, so you are even more accountable in some ways than if you’re managing the corporate purse.

Alun:

If you think back 10 years ago, and I was looking at this the other day for a piece of work I am doing, our media planning 10 years ago for a Sunday announcement, would have been to put TV ads in the news on Sunday, and then here we go, the big movie on a Sunday night.

We put some ads in that, and when we launched one of the first campaigns we worked on, we had ads in Die Hard With A Vengeance, when it was shown on TV for the first time. Then during the week we then have ads in Lost and Survivor, and Desperate Housewives, which would all get 2 1/2, 3 million viewers.

I have a long format in the Telegraph, a long format in the Herald, Monday, Friday, Saturday probably and some regional radio. That’s a really good media schedule. That covers everybody really well, and everybody gets to see it.

Darren:

Except now, people are watching Netflix and Stan, and they are doing Video on Demand, and all these other things. Obviously, government is facing the same issues of finding the right channel and the right way of engaging with their audience.

Beyond that, is technology also impacting the approach government has to the way they interact and engage with consumers?

I remember lining up … New South Wales is a great example of the change that I’ve seen. I remember lining up at the RTA, and then having to line up at another department, and then another department. Now suddenly we’ve got these … What do they call it, service … ?

Alun:

Services New South Wales, Yeah.

Darren:

Suddenly I can go to one place and I can do my change of address, and I can do half a dozen other things all at one place. Is that being driven by technology, or is technology driving a change in attitude?

Alun:

It’s the same as the rest of the world. It’s a bit of both. It’s interesting, starting with the advertising thing that we just discussed because that’s such a small element now of the conversation. Every government department has got a website.

Every government department always had a phone number, but we did have a situation in New South Wales, where in small towns, or in towns like Orange or Bathurst, there would be an office of fair trading, and a births, marriages and deaths, and an RTN, and perhaps another office as well, and they wouldn’t talk to one another, and they would be separate buildings.

Service New South Wales, was pretty much driven by O’Farrell when he came into power, was just a notion to say, “Why is it like that?” Technology was the enabler that allowed the government to bring all that together, because one website, one phone number, all of those things were technology driven, but the prime thinking of O’Farrell was and has become common in every government in Australia. Why is it so hard?

The new customer centric public sector

Darren:

That’s what I saw. When I saw Services New South Wales, it was clear to me that this was a government that was saying that, “The people we serve are our customers, and we should be looking at ways of engaging them, in the way that they want to be engaged.”

Doesn’t Services New South Wales even have things like popup stores? I think there was one in Greenwood Plaza.

Alun:

There is a digital only store in Greenwood Plaza, where you can do stuff at.

Darren:

My point is, that shows a lot of big private sector corporations, are trying to find ways to become customer centric, and yet here we’ve got a public sector government entity, that seems to have started to address that already.

Alun:

And address it from a point of view that says, the most important thing is how easy it is for people to access our services, not for people to understand our structures. A guy called Paul Shetler, you may have heard of him, he’s just coming to run the DTO and now Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra.

He put it beautifully the other day. He said, “At the moment, people have to walk around with a map of government in their heads, to know where to apply for something.” What has happened with Service New South Wales, and what is now happening in Canberra and what happened in Victoria. The government is saying, “We’ll work out the backend for you. You just come in through a different portal.”

Technology has kind of enabled that. Technology has made it easier, but actually the starting philosophy is, why is stuff organised by government instead of being organised by services.

That’s another example, as I said earlier, how the organisation is becoming more and more like private sector, because it’s starting to. Mike Pratt who is the head of Services New South Wales, is starting to put the customer at the heart of everything. It wasn’t the case in the past.

Darren:

That’s what I am saying. It in some way leads the private sector.

I don’t necessarily see the same level of adapting that philosophy happening in the large private sector. There is one part of digital technology and the digital revolution, that I think some politicians have embraced, and Malcolm Turnbull is the one who immediately comes to mind, but I think political parties have embraced social media.

From a political point of view, social media has been embraced, but I still see government generally struggling with the role of social media. Is that a fair call?

Social media in the public sector

Alun:

It’s very fair. It’s the perfect case in point of how the word government gets in the way. I’m of the view that some of the work being down by the emergency services, particularly the police, rural fire service, is at the cutting edge of social media.

The guy who runs the rural service, tweets news of fires, to a community of people that follow him, that include every single journalist in New South Wales.

Darren:

Actually you’re right. I remember seeing some really funny tweets from Queensland police.

Alun:

Queensland police. I mean during the State of Origin.

Darren:

It’s some great stuff. Yeah.

Alun:

They’re helping themselves. There was a guy whose full-time job is to run the feedback page for New South Wales police. Darren, you and I are both forward thinking people, and I was once in charge of policy on social media. I never for a minute thought that we should start with a policy for the police on social media. Yet, the New South Wales police on Facebook is one of the…

Darren:

They are leading the charge, leading the evolution.

Alun:

Most visited, most liked, and even better in terms of the world we have been inhabiting for the last 20 or 30 years. They no longer have to advertise their open days in the local paper because they just recruit straight from their Facebook page.

Darren:

Amazing.

Alun:

Now, in the meantime, there are some departments that are still – all over the country and in Canberra – that are still debating social media strategy and social media policy. For me, that’s one of those things where it’s a must. The people that have seen an opportunity to do things better, are doing great jobs with it.

Social media for prisons, I’m still not quite sure how that’s going to work. There are 143 departments, you’ve got some that it won’t be appropriate for. From the political side, some individual ministers, Baird in particular, is doing brilliant stuff one-on-one to Canberra, with his own YouTube channel. Suits him, wouldn’t suit others, it’s a real horses for courses.

The worst thing that people can do, is come up with a social media policy for government, because what works for some, wouldn’t work for others.

Darren:

Alun, what you’ve described there, and just recently it was reinforced to me, the definition of strategy is not what you do, but what you don’t do. I think that’s really important because people are inclined to, in this day and age, where opportunities are expanding, they want to do everything.

In fact, the smart strategy, is working out what not to do, and just focus on doing what you need to do better. I think that’s a great example around social media. There are some people and some departments, and some causes or messaging, that social media is terrific for, and others that it isn’t.

It sounds like generally, government is definitely moving towards a more – not commercial necessarily in the dollar sense but for accountability – market focused or customer focused approach.

Alun:

Customer focused, definitely. Customer focused because I guess, the adverse effect of social media is that one can’t ignore the conversation that’s going on. Whether about policy or whether it’s change.org or getting a petition about Bronwyn Bishop within 5 minutes of the story starting.

There’s 2 sides to it. There’s a listening side, but then there’s also this interesting thing about governments having websites that broadcast channels. In the 10 years I worked in government, I don’t know how many hundreds of press releases I saw go across my desk.

I would suggest that in the world of click bait or whatever you call it nowadays, the likelihood of a press release appearing on the front page of the Herald, that isn’t a bad news story, is less than it ever was.

One of the challenges they have, these organisations, is actually getting their media out. What’s happening in the States and increasingly in the UK, is the government are starting to use their websites as broadcast channels. People are subscribing to those channels, and people are getting their information on however local a level.

Whenever governments do engagement work, so when they do anything where they say, invite somebody to have a say, there’s a broad rule, the more local the issue, the higher the response will be.

Darren:

That’s interesting because one of the things that I’ve always been struck by, when I am talking to people in government, involved in communicating with the customer, with the public, they always say, “Oh no, I’m communications, I’m not marketing. Marketing is not us.” Do you think that’s also changing as well?

Blurred lines – the changing of roles

Alun:

I think it’s the undiscussed subject of the moment, to be honest, because what’s changing in government, and I would imagine private sector as well, is that the role of the commerce person, the role of the IT person, the role of the archivist, or librarian.

The role of the editorial content creator, the public first person, they’ve all been thrown up in the air. Where it goes horribly wrong, is you’ve got people who are employed to look after service, deciding what content goes on a website, and where it goes equally wrong, is that you’ve got people who are employed as journalists and writers, managing the security and making sure the sites don’t get hacked into.

These are all new world problems. The old structure of marketing and IT, is under some kind of question. Now in government, I think 20 years ago, governments were told they weren’t in the marketing business. They were in the communications or the public affairs business.

Actually, it’s one of those issues that’s kind of been bumbling along for a while, a bit like what we call the customer, are they residents, are they stakeholders, are they citizens?

Darren:

Voters.

Alun:

No, no, they’re definitely not voters. No, no, heaven forbid. That’s crossing the line.

Darren:

The target audiences and all Australian citizens over 18?

Alun:

No, no.

Darren:

All right.

Alun:

The challenge isn’t it, for government organisations, for public sector organisations generally, all those roles have changed.

Quite clearly if you look at the IT side, there is a job for guys to put computers on the desk, and there’s a job for guys to develop apps. Probably not the same fellow. It’s the same in communications. Public affairs people, dealing with whatever is thrown up…

Darren:

The issues of the day.

Alun: 

Then content creators. Producing content for publishing on their new broadcast channels. They used to produce the odd annual report, brochure maybe. Entirely big change. Long way to answer your question, but I think all the roles have changed. Probably marketing is becoming one of those roles because it’s advocating a position to a customer.

Darren:

I may have interpreted incorrectly because when I heard government communications or public sector communications, people saying, “We’re not marketing,” I felt they were reacting to the sense that marketing came laden with the idea of selling something.

Alun:

Yes, dirty commercial.

Darren:

There was commercial and making money, and so you got profits. In government, we don’t sell things, we communicate, we inform, we try and change public behaviour to meet government needs and requirements.

Yet, interestingly in the private sector, the big conversation is, well marketing is really not that sales focused.

You’ve got the public sector where they’re saying, “Oh, we don’t want to be in marketing because that’s dirty and selling.” In the private sector, people are going, “Well, marketing could be more sales focused and more profit, and return on investment focussed, and marketing should be about hitting the numbers.”

Alun:

The really interesting thing about the digital age, is that if for example, you look at the transactions around the new driving licence. It’s not coincidental that the guys that led the transformational Service New South Wales, are often the banking industry.

But just like the banking industry, where it used to cost whether it was $2.00 a transaction over the counter and 22 cents for online transactions, well imagine the savings to government if all driving licenses were available online, rather than people having to go to a place and fill in a form.

There’s an interesting back-office marketing role around cost management, around better delivery of services. I think again, the challenge that we have is, we trip up on the government word again, because Sydney Opera House is a government organisation, and they sell lots of tickets, and the RTA sell lots of driving licenses, so there is actually a commercial element at play, in lots of parts of government.

Then at the same time, as we said earlier, there’s clearly education and health, and prison, and corrective services, where there is no commercial element to it. The challenge is again, applying a rule to all of government, and quite clearly, the people that are working at Sydney Olympic Park, are arguably in a marketing role.

The challenge is that sort of job is changing so much, that actually people haven’t got the time to sit down and work out which of these words applies.

Darren: 

How important is it to know whether you are a marketing or a comms person? Really your function is to fulfil whatever the needs are of that particular role.

Alun:

One of the bigger picture changes that I am seeing, and I think it’s particularly pressing right now, in Australia, is people who don’t follow politics might not be aware of that in the last 2 state government elections, barring the New South Wales election, both of the incumbent parties have lost the election against the bookmaker’s odds.

They were both expected to win and they both lost.

Obviously, prior to that, we’ve had the John Howard election where a record amount of money was spent on advertising and the election was still lost.

Darren:

In 2007 yeah?

The rise of the marketing savvy politician

Alun:

There’s a really interesting thing happening where I think in Victoria it is the first time for 50 years, that it had been a single term, a party only elected for a single term.

As a result, the people running the organisation, the politicians, are actually having to become much more focused towards delivery, towards marketing, if you like, because in 4 years’ time, what the public are showing is that if they haven’t got the notches in the public respect, then they’ll get voted out. That’s the new dynamic for politics.

I think if you trace all the way back to when Obama started, there is definitely a new dynamic to politics, where people are having to be more accountable at the top level. Additionally, a lot of the new politicians are younger. There’s a younger average age.

Darren:

And they’re more aware of the way people communicate.

Alun:

And perhaps digital natives in some cases. There’s a really interesting change…..Your original question was, has digital affected government?

All of those things are all coming on the back of, a group of politicians, they all have their own .com website, most of whom are on Twitter, it creates a different agenda for the public service, because the ministers in some cases are saying, “You guys need to keep up.”

There’s a different agenda, a different relationship, whether it’s commercial or not, if that’s what marketing is about, but it’s certainly customer focused, and that’s the really big difference. What also becomes the similarity with private sector, is that the customers are increasingly at the forefront of people’s minds.

Darren:

That’s one of the meanings of marketing that I really like. It just means face to market. Most of the population, if not all the population, at some point, will have either services or requirements fulfilled by the government, that’s a very big market. That’s the whole population.

Alun:

Absolutely so.

The transition of citizen to customer

Darren:

That is the focus of government. We’re seeing in many ways, this transition of citizen to customer.

Alun:

Yes, absolutely so, and service delivery becoming more important than process. We talked earlier in part about the way bureaucracy and procurement can sometimes slow things down, or appear to be an obstacle. The change that’s happening is that there is a greater focus on the outcome, and as a result, some of the processes are being looked at.

Virtually every state is doing the review of their procurement systems, so that the processes can work more smoothly to get the outcome they want, because people want the outcome that delivers the best service outcome, not necessarily the one that ticks every box.

Ideally you want both clearly.

Darren:

Of course there was a time, a government, a new government, when a party came into power, the first thing they’d say is, “We’ll improve the service delivery, usually focusing on the public service.” Everyone interpreted that as cutting out resources.

In actual fact what people want, consumers, the citizens want, is a more effective and efficient way of getting their needs met. Isn’t it?

Alun:

You mentioned Services New South Wales earlier and I was fortunate to work on it in its early days. Mike Pratt, who is the head of Services New South Wales, who is ex Westpac, Mike has a really good one liner, where he said that we could reduce the waiting time of people waiting to get a driving license, from the average of 15 minutes, and they got it down to 8, 9, or 7 on average now. That’s great, we’ve saved people 7 minutes.

Mike said, “We’d really change their lives if they never had to come in here ever again, and that’s what’s happening in the banking industries. People can log onto their accounts at 10:00 at night and do all the transactions they can do. They still can’t buy a house online. They have to go in to the office to do that. That’s the great analogy for government.

Where we can make it easier, is their thinking, where it can be easier, where it can add value and it can be better. Then we see if we can do it digitally online. That’s the greatest impact of digital, it will be where it’s actually a better thing for the customer. Digital voting, digital referendum, who knows. But in service delivery and transactional delivery.

Darren:

That is generational change, because there is still a large group of Australians that still want personal service. Not everyone is ready for a digital only world to transact. It adds convenience, but it also lacks the personal touch that people often want when they have a problem.

I know there’s nothing more frustrating when there is a problem on a website, and all you get is more web pages, telling you that, “Here is how to solve the problem,” that you don’t have.

Alun:

Service New South Wales has been really transformational. I apologise, that would probably be the third time you mentioned it today.

Darren:

This is not an ad for Service New Wales.

Alun:

No, but its success is vindicated by the fact that Victoria are launching Service Victoria, not smart state Melbourne or something, but I actually said the model is so good they’d copy it and that’s a good thing by the way.

One of the other things they did was put a concierge in every store. The point of that is they understood from banking that the worst thing that can happen, is somebody standing for a while, standing in the wrong queue for a while, or having the wrong bits of paper in their hand. You’re right, customer service is the centre of this thing.

Where people have got it wrong before is thinking, well fair trading isn’t the same as the RTAs, we’ll put them in a separate building. It’s really not rocket science, but it’s been enabled by technology.

Darren:

They are all government services. Yeah.

Alun:

There’s the thing there.

Government advertising, political advertising – same thing?

Darren:

To loop back to an earlier conversation, which is around advertising, and a personal bug bear of mine is this idea of political advertising, because under the Australia Broadcasting Act, it was deemed that all government advertising is political advertising, which is why when you see television or listen to the radio, or see anything in print, it has the written and authorised statement, because under the broadcasting act, it has to be there.

Alun:

Anything that’s deemed to be political in nature.

Darren:

All government advertising, as a safety mechanism, it has now been decided that that is also political advertising. I actually think that there’s a difference between the two.

Alun:

There is. The Broadcasting Act requires that anything that is deemed to be political has a tag on the end, and frustratingly from my time when I was in government, the people that are the arbiters of that are the TV stations, so if they get an ad that they think is political, they were required to be tagged.

The research in government showed that if you tag ads for skin cancer and if you tag ads for drink driving, you tag ads for young people for driving stupidly, then the ads won’t work so well. They work better without the tag on the end.

In New South Wales we stopped running tags on ads that weren’t political in nature. On the basis that the act required them only to be tagged for what was deemed political. I believe as a result we made the money. For qualitative testing we showed that in research at least, that response would be higher.

That was purely following off that research, we believe that we would save public money. Make the ads more effective by doing it that way. You know that this subject is a bit like poking me with a sharp stick. The point is, then if the advertising can’t be proven to be a good expenditure for public money, or either it doesn’t give return on investment – well then it shouldn’t be spent.

I think in the 10 years I was in government, I think I rewrote the government advertising regulations 3 times as a result of continued changes and tightening, and more tightening of the rules. It’s in everybody’s interests that every single dollar spent on government advertising, government has an absolute duty to inform people of changes to policy.

Darren:

Or legislation.

Alun:

I left government a year ago, but I am still fervently of the view this is correct. And to inform people about the dangers of smoking and the dangers of skin cancer. We’re just about there and frighteningly, we’re just about the first generation of people that didn’t really recognise the slip-slop-slap advertising.

I did some research recently in the skin cancer area, with 16 to 17 year olds who said if they got a bit of skin cancer, they’d go down to the clinic at the end of the road and get it cut out. That’s actually a nice view of the world, but it’s actually wrong. A campaign called The Dark Side of Tanning, showed people that their DNA has changed forever, once they have had skin cancer. It’s really important government carries on spending the money doing that.

What’s happening in government advertising across Australia and across the world, is it is polarising down to road safety, to health and to tourism promotion. Tourism promotion is a commercial operation, so we put that to one side.

What tends to happen is in the run up to an election, over eager politician sometimes forget some of those rules. In certain states it’s no longer possible to forget. The really interesting thing is in those states recently, where people have forgotten the rules and maybe put some ads on TV that were a little bit political in nature, they didn’t win the election.

Darren:

I think today with social media, you get that backlash. The public is cynical enough to see pork barrelling. I am not against pork barrelling and I think you can actually encourage people to see your way if you put money in your pocket.

I think seeing it just spent on flashy television ads, that don’t have any direct benefit, to me as the viewer, would naturally get a cynical reaction. That’s my hypothesis.

Government brand isn’t a strong brand

Alun:

Oh no, no, and I complete agree. The challenge of being a government marketer, is that the government brand isn’t a strong brand. People go, “Oh, they’re ripping us off. They are doing this, they’re doing that.” The challenge is that you start from a position of negativity.

If you then feed that negativity through advertising, which is quite clearly political in nature, then my view is you get a triple backlash, because people are actually already offended by the notion that money is being spent on advertising. Then the fact that it’s insulting to them, or it’s communicating a message, that I don’t agree with.

I think there’s enough evidence from over the last 20 years worldwide, to show that sort of advertising actually takes people backwards, not forwards. That’s not a creative issue, it’s a believability issue of the modern world, where you can’t just walk in 4 minutes before an event and tell somebody how good your product is. You need to be doing that.

Darren:

You need to prove it over time.

Alun:

Over time, and people give you the feedback on whether they think you’re right or wrong, and you adjust and move. No different to Coca Cola or to Shell, or to any other company managing the brand. I am really proud of the fact that New South Wales, in the 10 years I was there, I don’t think we did any political advertising.

In smoking for example, we reduced the number of smokers in New South Wales, from over 20% of the population to around 16%. We believe that the advertising dollars we spent returned something like $5.00 to the dollar in terms of savings to healthcare.

I’ll defend government advertising, as long as you’ll let me, but you’re right, it starts from a point of view that years of people doing other things all over the world, means that their brand is a little bit tarnished. It’s a shame.

Darren:

Alun, I think that it’s really exciting, that vision that you’ve painted of the transformation the government’s going through. The old days of government communications being almost handed down from on the high, like the tablets from God to Moses, is now actually changing.

There appears to be, from the examples you’ve given, a fantastic trend towards a face to market and a face to the customer, a focus on services and fulfilling the needs of the people that the government are there to represent and to provide those services to. It will be fascinating in the next 3 to 5 years to see how far government is actually able to take this.

Government’s own media outlets

Alun:

Absolutely right. If you look at some of the businesses that government have built in the last 4 or 5 years online, the various sites that tell you how to get from A to B in each state, the transport sites, they’ve all got 1 1/2 to 2 million visitors a month.

There are some really big publishing properties being built by government departments, education sites, the school sites that carry all the curriculum and all of the exams results, they are getting a million, a million and a half, 2 million visits a month.

Suddenly government’s got these broadcast media that they didn’t have 10 years ago. There is a really interesting potential trend around government not needing to rely on traditional media to broadcast their messaging.

Darren:

That’s like becoming more and more media in their own right.

Alun:

Particularly if you look at what happens at council level.

Darren:

I’d like to say thank you Alun Probert, Group Head of GovCom Group. Thank you very much.

Alun:

My pleasure.

Darren:

How did you vote last time?

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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