Marketing & PR , Government

Is Now the Time for Government to Advertise?

Edith Bullard

Many government agencies have suspended their outreach efforts during this time of pandemic. The National Safety Council postponed the observance of Distracted Driver Awareness Month; the SEC postponed its  National Compliance Outreach Seminar for Investment Companies and Investment Advisors; the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation jointly decided to cancel the 2020 National Inter-agency Community Reinvestment Conference (NICRC); and even the U.S. Census has had to push back by several weeks its on-the-ground outreach and canvassing work.

But as states and businesses re-open, government marketers must consider whether now is a good time to kick-start their outreach efforts.  This decision can be informed by research that has recently been done about consumer attitudes toward brand advertising. 

A recent study of 35,000 consumers conducted globally by Kantar, a data insights consultancy, found that only 8% thought brands should stop advertising during COVID-19 and its financial aftermath. However, that same poll revealed that consumers expect advertisers to play a part in the pandemic response, with 78% of consumers believing brands should help them in their daily lives, 75% saying brands should inform people of what they’re doing, and 74% thinking companies should not exploit the situation.  

This is all good news for government outreach, which has been built upon providing information and helping stakeholders be safer and operate more efficiently, and benefiting the greater good.  But before they rush to resume outreach, government advertisers should be aware of sensitivities that should be kept in mind in the COVID-19 and post COVID-19 world.  

Here are five tips from commercial brand advertising that government marketers might consider as they plan upcoming outreach efforts:

  • Tip One:  Be authentic. It’s more important than ever to engender trust and affinity through sincerity and authenticity—and empathy.  Speak to how your outreach will make your stakeholders’ lives better and/or solve a problem.
  • Tip Two:  Consider context in each phase of your outreach/marketing, including imagery and messaging for new materials.  This may not be the time to show imagery of large crowds or use language like “get in touch” or “check the pulse."
  • Tip Three: Deliver content with value—emphasize information and assistance over hard persuasion or dire warnings. Safety campaigns using grim stories or harsh reality checks may backfire with consumers who are overwhelmed by constant tragedy.
  • Tip Four: Becoming proficient in new tools and digital platforms to reach your audiences—virtual events/interviews/training, effective digital and social communication, as well as self-service tools and virtual assistants to improve messaging and service delivery, may be the most effective way to reach your stakeholders both now and in the future.
  • Tip Five: Be sensitive to how your messaging tracks to current consumer sentiment. The most recent Harris Poll that tracked consumer sentiment from mid-April to early May found that of those polled, 80% feared leaving their homes for essential errands, and 73% feared returning to public activity. Now may not be the time for outreach efforts that encourage stakeholders to move around or attend functions.

Keeping our five tips in mind, it may be the very best time for your outreach efforts especially given that media costs are lower than ever. If your message is relevant, and you’re communicating through mediums that reach your target audience, your stakeholders may have more time for your messaging to capture their attention.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

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Edith Bullard
Edith Bullard