Different metrics, same mechanisms: Public vs. private sector marketing

Written by Proxima on 29 July 2019 in Sponsored Article
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Proxima examines the different approaches to advertising in the private and public sectors, and offers insight into the public sector campaigns process

Marketing in the private sector – when executed correctly – can achieve large multiples of ROI, driving footfall, altering buying behaviours, and ultimately delivering positive incremental profit. However, once you strip away the fanfare, the overarching impression is that the private sector should always do well because the organisations within this sector are playing a very simple game. The objectives of private sector marketing are concretely defined, and clear cut: sell more; sell the same product for more; or increase the brand equity so the underlying company can be sold for more. The public sector, in contrast, has a multitude of differing objectives that are pre-occupied with buying and selling.

Public sector campaigns are far more diverse and can range from a recruitment initiative representative of the local population, to raising awareness of cybercrime scams, to driving footfall to local NHS screening drives – the list can go on and on. Furthermore, if we look more closely at public sector objectives, they are often far more difficult to achieve than anything the private sector needs to deal with. This sector can require a caliber of thought far above, and often beyond, private sector marketing initiatives.


Different metrics, same mechanisms

Those leading campaigns for the public sector have to carefully define their measurement of success. This requires thought-through metrics typically based around increased awareness, education, or behavioural change. Often, they are bespoke to the issue being addressed. This presents a challenge that can’t be solved simply by lifting the same tools and techniques as used in private sector campaigns. The mechanisms may well be the same, but metrics in the private sector revolve around selling more and are often the same year on year.

In practice, the quality of marketing metrics used across public bodies has been mixed. From our experience, poor results typically occur when departments are not clear on what success looks like or defer to agencies to provide these metrics. Agencies are naturally going to measure whatever’s easiest, but these measurements are rarely fair reflections of the underlying public sector objectives. A marketing agency might be overachieving on their ‘traditional’ targets, but this may have little positive influence on the objectives of a department or programme.

In one instance, we found that a department was paying six figure sums to an agency to achieve a public awareness target of 53% on a campaign. Unfortunately, the underlying public awareness of the issue prior to the campaign was already at 55%. Whilst this type of example is the exception rather than the rule, it highlights that careful consideration around metrics is critical.


“Success” in the public sector reaches for a higher standard

When metrics and mechanisms work together in the public sector the results can be astounding. The “This Girl Can” initiative by Sport England managed to get 2.8m women doing more exercise within a year of the campaign launch. Private sector campaigns would shout from the rooftops about success like this. It is not so simple in the public sector, as the benefits of any initiative need to be evenly felt across the population regardless of the initial ‘target’. There is now a concerted effort to refine the campaign to appeal to those who were not positively affected by the original approach (typically those less financially well off).

This highlights a distinct difference between private and public sector initiatives. In the private sector the goal is to harvest as much as you can as cheaply as possible, so campaigns naturally pander to the easiest audience to convert. By nature, public sector campaigns are often targeted at communicating with the most difficult to reach parts of the population. Thus, constant metric reassessment and adjustment is needed to fully drive home a successful initiative. Why is this important? Because in order to carry out the job, the public sector needs flexible contracts which allow improved performance metrics to meet public needs.


Maximise campaign value

Providing the correct incentive structure is key to getting the most out of marketing agencies and, consequently, campaigns. Procurement can help support marketing teams conduct this and, crucially, ensure that the marketing third parties are contracted to carry them out. Public sector bodies have the financial clout to encourage agencies to sign up to these bespoke, incentive based commercial structures. Indeed, the government is still a top ten UK advertising spender, behind Sky, Proctor & Gamble, and BT.

Understanding the restrictions and award conditions for any piece of work is therefore crucial. For new initiatives, are you confined to particularly rigid award conditions from the pitch? Are you able to specify new scopes through mini-competitions or direct awards? Are rates fixed? If objectives are achieved earlier than anticipated can they be improved upon mid-contract? It’s easy to fall foul of procurement rules if you’re not commercially savvy in the public sector sense.

Any contract award is based upon assumptions. Given the complexity of public sector objectives, the landscape which the marketing teams operate within is likely to change over the course of the contract. It is therefore important to avoid over-specifying the scope at contract award stage while ensuring that there is enough detail for the requirements to be meaningful. What does this mean in practice? Very carefully worded tender documents. For instance, outlining the current landscape in terms of budget, anticipated approach, objectives, and possible metrics can help facilitate the best possible response from a third party. However, it needs to be accompanied by clear guidance stating that these requirements may be subject to change throughout the contract due to needs, performance, and effectiveness.

The skill of a marketing procurement professional is being able to write a structure at tender stage which is flexible and fit for purpose. Writing a balanced pitch document requires a significant amount of thought, expertise, and collaboration with internal marketing teams. Equally, creating quantifiable criteria for something as ethereal as agency cultural fit is difficult. Like internal marketing teams, procurement professionals need a depth of consideration which is not required in the private sector to drive real value to the frontline.


Click here to read Proxima's report - Why 'Savings' is a dirty word in government.

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