The Washington, D.C., airwaves are flooded during federal buying season with ads from government contractors encouraging federal agencies to buy, buy, buy before the federal fiscal year ends on September 30. Right now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Wow, I wish I lived in a place with such cool ad content.” Putting Washington’s “hipness” aside for a moment, does any of this advertising really work?
While advertising and marketing dollars in federal may be hard to closely tie to specific sales, the general answer is “yes.” Your average federal customer is conservative and cautious. They like to do business with those they know. Advertising helps promote familiarity and helps create a comfort level that can help you close business. Similarly, if your competitors have established presence and a brand name while you haven’t, that can definitely be an obstacle to increasing federal sales.
Companies don’t have to become big federal marketing spenders, though. There is also a belief among industry experts that advertising in Q3 could be better than Q4, when everyone is crowded for space. The key is to pick the outlets that work best for you. Not surprisingly, there are more and more creative outlets through which your message can reach intended federal buyers.
Traditional advertising: Whether it’s a web-ad, radio ad, or even a print ad, traditional advertising remains a popular promotional method for federal contractors. The central message bombarding Washington airwaves in the government IT sector right now is “safe, secure, solutions.” This isn’t surprising given that cyber is, by far, the most important federal IT issue. Instead of following the pack, though, consider how your company can promote its solutions so that you don’t sound like a parrot in the chorus.
Sponsored webinars: These events are becoming popular, even with smaller, niche companies. Companies using this model work with a media outlet, usually radio, to create a panel on a topic that is both current and highlights the strengths of the sponsor. The sponsor helps select federal panelists and provides a panelist of their own. The webinar is then broadcast live via the media outlet and archived, usually with a special web page for customers to use later, or have your sales team use as a tool to point a prospect to during the sales cycle. This format can highlight your firm’s expertise and thought leadership, as well as facilitate introductions with the federal panelists.
White papers: These educational pieces are another way to show thought leadership. The real key to a traditional white paper is brevity. Very, very few feds will take the time to read a white paper that is more than 2-3 pages in length. No matter how brilliant your solution is, people pressed for time may not even pick up something they feel is a heavy piece that will require a substantial time investment. Keep the paper short, graphic, and focused on the bottom line. Want to add more content? You can always provide a link on the paper where the reader can go for more information. Lately, too, some companies have turned to video white papers, a sort of webinar without the federal guests.
Event sponsorship: Nothing establishes your company as a consistent, trusted presence in the federal market like sponsoring events. There are hundreds to choose from, so make sure you vet each opportunity carefully so you get a positive return. From experience, we know that feds do pay attention to those who sponsor events. Again, this is a small market. You’re known, or not, by being seen in the right places, especially if that place is a charity event that brings the federal market together.
Few companies can commit the funds or time to all of these ideas. However, if your firm is seeking to expand its federal presence, marketing and advertising must be part of the mix. Going forward without a marketing presence is like sending your best running back into the game with his shoelaces tied together.