Public Sector Marketing – Take Your Message to The Masses

By Salt

Marketing is not just about commercial products and services. Government departments and organisations are now using digital communications and marketing channels to direct the public to the services they need, increase their reach in a more efficient way, get more engagement and community feedback, and improve the trust between the people and the services they pay for with their taxes. Using these channels to push initiatives, programs and the organisation’s brand is vital to bring the public on board. 

The marketing takes different forms. For instance, a transport ministry can run a road safety campaign on social media, complete with imagery and hashtags to encourage road users to drive safely. This is like the award-winning #DriveSmart campaign by the Scottish Government and Road Safety Scotland which targeted young male drivers telling them to ‘Drive like Gran’s in the car’. Granny characters would unexpectedly pop up in the car while their grandsons are behind the wheel, and address them on different unsafe behaviours, from using mobile phones while driving, being distracted by passengers, or driving too fast. The campaign was carried out across multiple platforms, including social media, podcasts, cinema, TV, catch-up TV and interactive events. This led to 40% of the young male drivers taking proactive steps to prevent accidents.

Video: Drive like Gran’s in the car – Phone 

Engaging With the General Public – Why Digital Marketing Matters

Unlike conventional marketing that is focused on sales, public sector marketing looks to engage people, raise awareness, and even educate. For instance, the central government or local authorities conducting a drive for vaccinations use the marketing channels to get the public to show up and participate. Here is how authorities and organisations get to benefit:

  1. Greater transparency

Governments rely heavily on the trust of the population. It’s a social contract – and using channels like social media to remain accountable to the masses gives you more transparency. This ranges from policies whether they are in the ideation or implementation stage, projects that have already got the green light and need public order for them to be successfully completed, all through to responding to issues that have generated public interest – people can instantly access this information through different digital media, and having a program in place through which you can communicate with them will make you more accountable, and increase their trust.

he government spent approximately €1.5 million on the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public information campaign in 2019. It was an informational campaign to prepare the population for the General Election in the United Kingdom, as well as the political developments that would result from the vote.

  1. Managing Crises

How does your department spread the word during real-time threats? These range from actual disasters like weather hazards, to public emergencies ranging from outages, fire outbreaks and terror alerts. The public is already online, and having channels that you can use to get the message to them and help them monitor the situation, or give your organisation or department information from the ground where they are, will enable the situation to be handled more smoothly. For instance, the Dublin Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service uses its Twitter account to give real-time updates on incidents and advises the public on measures to take.

  1. Information gathering

Public sector marketing opens a 2-way channel between the organisation/government involved, and the people. This means that citizens can easily share information about what is happening in their communities with the relevant body, especially through social media. The organisation can also hold live streams, polls and the likes to better understand the citizens, and also use blogs, social handles etc., to keep the population up to date about issues and policies that matter to them. More on these and more public sector marketing channels shortly. Police departments are increasingly using Twitter and Facebook to collate information directly from the public, where the citizenry talk directly with them to volunteer information needed to help solve crimes.  The Leicestershire Constabulary in the UK is one such police department, being active with the community through social media. They also maintain a Twitter profile, Facebook page and a YouTube account with information on ongoing criminal investigations, and they also publish “Wanted” and “Missing Persons” posters and requests for residents to respond with any leads they may have. The website has also been designed to enable users to report incidents from crime, sexual assault, disputes, missing persons and traffic accidents. These work together to increase the reach of the police department and gather more information from the public.

  1. Counter fake news, and build confidence

In this digital age, news spreads fast – and unfortunately that also usually includes propaganda, misinformation and blatant lies. When left unchecked, these can easily cause panic, unwarranted outrage, and chaos. In fact, over 57% of Irish citizens find it difficult to differentiate between real and fake news online. Trust remains a fickle thing, and public perception about the individuals that have been elected to office, and the institutions that are serving them needs to be professionally handled. Organisations and governments connecting to the public in real-time and showing how they help is essential to build long-lasting relationships. 

Marketing Channels For Public Bodies & Institutions

There is a vast range of challenges that organisations can use for their campaigns, initiatives and engagement with the citizens. You can use one or a mixture of them, depending on the time and resources available, and the size of the audience that you want to reach. 

  • Social Media

Widely used social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, are the bedrock of public sector marketing. The citizens are already there, so national and local governments, organisations, and appointed and elected offices can use social media platforms to update their followers and subscribers. Posting notices, news and other kinds of content that is relevant to the public sector organisation on these platforms will get it to the target audience fast. 

For instance, local government’s Facebook or Twitter pages can post updates on road closures or electrical outages for the areas that are affected, all through county data on schools, demographics, etc. During the first nine months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Irish government spent €688,805 on social media and digital ads that covered restrictions and resources available to help individuals cater to their well-being during the lockdowns, ads targeting businesses that would be re-opened over the Summer – and measures available to support them from the government, as well as ads on postponing the Leaving Certificate and introducing the Calculated Grades system.

For posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, these can take a short time. However, with the video content uploaded on YouTube, this can require more resources. The content creation process for the organisations will depend on the kind of material that will be required. Working with a digital marketing team that has the creative team and tech stack needed for the process will enable you to ensure that the desired message gets out. 

  • Email marketing

This comes with a personal touch while enabling you to reach a large portion of the public. This includes citizens interacting with institutions for the services they provide, reaching out to external investors, dealing with queries and complaints, all through to cases where an official needs to convince senior managers and stakeholders to approve plans and projects in their communities. Stakeholders also include regulators who are tasked with ensuring the organisation is in line with the law, as well as suppliers who are needed to keep the day-to-day operations of the organisation running. Quality emails are an asset to your campaigns and marketing initiatives. This is also one of the most cost effective digital marketing channels, with a high ROI of €47 for every euro spent. The emails here need to be engaging to the reader, and be directed to the target audience to whom the content will be useful to increase its open rate and minimise cases of it simply winding up in spam.

Institutions like healthcare bodies, tax agencies, public schools, municipalities, and other government organisations need an email marketing strategy to:

  • Onboard new clients and citizens subscribing to the organisation, setting up the expectations of future engagement with the institution. 
  • Provide valuable information such as on new policies, informing them about upcoming events, and sharing in health and safety regulations. 
  • Encourage engagement with powerful CTAs e.g during election season, an email with the CTA “Be counted, be heard” can be used to encourage citizens to go out and vote. 
  • Get feedback, where the audience gets to share their thoughts and opinions about your institution 

The right tone of voice should also be adopted. For instance, if there is a mass vaccination drive being sent out to a general public list it needs to have a professional tone that accurately reflects the health organisation mandated with carrying out the drive. When the emails are being sent out to senior leaders in communities where a particular project is being implemented and requires the support of the people, this needs to take a more personable approach that way the recipient will feel like they are being addressed by an actual person who understands the situation they are in.

  • Website and Blog Content

When the public wants information about your organisation, the website and social channels are the main places they will look into. The website in particular is like an online billboard, packed with information that the citizens need about the organisation, its programs, news, means to contact the organisation and other kinds of information that you want to convey to the masses. There are also governments and institutions that use web apps, which are interactive with the users. The websites and social channels work in tandem, such as when users click on posts on the social sites, and get directed to the website for more information. 

Blogs on the other hand are an asset for providing valuable information to your audience. From supporting your marketing campaigns, being a resource to increase public awareness about the specific topics that the organisation is in charge of – this can all be done with the blogs. The content that is created can also be shared to increase its reach. 

  • Physical marketing channels 

These include posters, leaflets, flyers and similar media that get distributed amongst communities. When done with quality visual elements, they will hook the reader’s attention. However, such physical marketing requires more resources to go into production and distribution compared to digital channels. Working with a printing and distribution team that also entails GPS tracking and audit reports will get you more value from the budget spent on the process.

Digital Marketing Solutions For Governments

Do you work for a local council or a government department and need creative solutions to bring the public on board with your policies, or create awareness of a program that will require mass participation? Are you looking for creative campaigns to support your services? Salt Marketing develops digital experiences across websites, social networks, emails, webinars, podcasts and more, creating customised digital assets that will deliver your message. Get in touch with us by email via info@saltmarketing.ie or call 01-9065862 to discuss how you can set up a successful advertising and marketing campaign.

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