When it comes to marketing and communications, government contractors and public sector IT providers face a set of unique challenges. For one, the customer base of Federal, state and local decision makers responsible for purchasing technology products and services – ranging from CIOs and CTOs to program managers, IT managers and procurement officers –represents a finite group that can be difficult to reach.
Compounding this predicament is the fact that government contractors must not only market their brand, product and services to these decision makers, but also time these marketing efforts strategically. This means building awareness far enough in advance of a contract award, and then sustaining marketing and PR efforts throughout what can be a multi-year process from pre-RFP to the contract award – and even beyond due to potential contract protests, delays and budgetary obstacles.
Marketing to agency decision makers is just one piece of the puzzle. For small to mid-sized contractors, marketing and public relations efforts must often extend to larger prime contractors in order to ensure these lesser-known firms are on the radar when Primes are assembling teams to pursue contracts. Large contractors, for their part, must also market needs and capabilities to smaller partners that might hold an elusive product/service, market expertise, status or agency relationship.
We have assembled 6 ways that forward-thinking contractors and IT providers can grow their business and contract opportunities by looking beyond traditional marketing, advertising and public relations tactics.
Leverage B2G responsive landing pages
Responsive design is a critical website approach for providing customers with a seamless experience across all device sizes. With a responsive website, government contractors and IT providers can be in front of buyers at every step of their online journey. A user viewing a website on the go via a mobile device can have the same powerful experience as when sitting in their office.
Responsive websites provide continuity between different viewing contexts, remaining completely agnostic to the type of device used and the size of the screen the user has. Responsive websites also rank higher in search engines’ rankings, as Google recommends responsive web design because having a single URL for desktop and mobile sites makes it easier for Google to discover content and for Google’s algorithms – which are constantly changing – to assign indexing properties to content.
It was the need for a responsive website that brought GovDelivery, which enables public sector organizations to connect with more people and to get those people to act, to Bluetext.
As the number one referrer of traffic to hundreds of government websites, including IRS.gov, SBA.gov, FEMA.gov, IN.gov, and BART.gov, the GovDelivery Communications Cloud is an enterprise-class, cloud-based platform that allows government organizations to create and send billions of messages to more than 60 million people around the world. Bluetext was hired by GovDelivery to help them reach public sector organizations that can benefit with tremendous cost savings while reaching more people, automating complex communications and driving mission value through deeper engagement with the public.
For this responsive design project, Bluetext conceived and designed a responsive landing page with an infographic demonstrating the benefits of using GovDelivery for government agencies as the centerpiece of the campaign. We also developed a responsive email template and infographic poster to be used across many marketing channels.
Extend reach and share budget with B2G partner campaigns
While going it alone from a marketing and public relations perspective provides a company with more control over a campaign, it also can be costly and restrict the reach and impact that could otherwise be achieved by aligning in an innovative way with industry partners.
Bluetext has worked on numerous occasions with industry partners that align around a specific campaign targeting government decision makers. Govplace, a leading enterprise IT solutions provider exclusively to the public sector, turned to Bluetext to develop FedInnovation, a destination designed to help government agency executives get the latest information on current technology challenges and solutions for big data, cloud, security, mobility and storage. Developed in conjunction with leading technology providers including Dell, Intel Security and VMWare, it includes exclusive content, videos, blogs, and real-time social feeds.
FedInnovation combines relevant, fresh content, complementary offers, and financial resources to deliver an educational platform to drive awareness and leads for Govplace across its target market. The development of platforms is a continued focus for Bluetext as we look to conceptualize, design and develop creative solutions that deliver measurable business impact for our clients. It is increasingly clear that customers of our clients demand unique experiences with premium content delivered in an easy to consume manner.
Another partner campaign targeting U.S. public sector executed by Bluetext was FutureAgency.com, a digital content experience effort on behalf of McAfee and Intel that depicted virtually a “future government agency.” For this project, Bluetext created a virtual experience around client subject matter experts in an effort to present content for government decision makers in a more engaging fashion. Rather than static white papers and marketing slicks that often go unread or unfinished, Bluetext created an experience whereby avatars of actual company thought leaders were created, and they delivered presentations on topics in a virtual conference environment. The clients found length and quality of site visitor engagement superior to that of traditional white papers and similar content.
Create compelling B2G digital experiences to reach decision makers
The web has become a go-to resource for decision makers to research products and services prior to purchase. Product sheets, white papers and other pieces of online collateral can be useful supporting resources for government decision makers, but will hardly help contractors stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Recognizing this, government contractors and IT providers are creating more dynamic, immersive digital experiences that can more effectively engage target constituencies and impact the decision making process. Additionally, these experiences are molded to be as valuable as any in-person interaction site visitors would have with products and services.
A recent Bluetext project showcases a forward-thinking technology provider, CSC, which was seeking to ensure prospective customers could have a similar experience as they would if they were physically at CSC’s corporate headquarters.
Bluetext designed and built CSC’s Digital Briefing Center, a virtual experience where clients and CSC’s entire ecosystem can come to learn about CSC’s key technology conversations across its target verticals.
Bluetext designed a virtual office building where each floor represents a specific vertical industry, and visitors can learn about CSC’s key solutions and experience across cloud computing, big data, applications, cyber security, and mobility. While not specific to the government market, it is indicative of how “stickier” digital experiences are reshaping how existing and prospective customers interact with content.
Highlight customer innovation
No matter how large or well-known a government contractor/Federal IT provider is, gaining approval from an agency to speak publicly about a technology project is often mission impossible. Agencies must be careful not to appear to endorse a specific vendor in public comments or a press release quote, and even when project leaders are amenable, the process often grinds to a halt with the more conservative public affairs officers.
As such, vendors often have their hands tied on how to showcase a successful project so that other agencies – or even other decision makers within the same agency – will take notice. An approach that can bear more fruit involves shining the spotlight on an agency leader or the agency itself through awards and speaking opportunities.
Multiple editorial publications and associations hold annual award programs that showcase outstanding IT projects and agency leaders at the federal, state and local government level. Agencies tend to be more open to sharing an IT story through an award because it demonstrates innovation and can assist with employee morale and retention.
Beyond award programs, there is also significant benefit in generating media coverage and awareness of state & local customer projects. These agency customers tend to be more amenable to participating in public relations campaigns, and the drawing attention to these projects can demonstrate capabilities to prospective Federal customers as well.
Develop targeted B2G campaign to pursue a specific contract
As contractors and IT providers know all too well, winning an agency contract requires a very different sales cycle than a small business user signing up online for Dropbox or a similar “as-a-Service” software offering.
At some level, there will always be marketing activities designed to reach decision-makers across multiple civilian or military agencies – and in some cases both segments. These external efforts may involve communicating product capabilities, service chops, or the expertise of the contractor’s team. But in today’s hyper-competitive market for agency contracts, developing innovative, targeted campaigns in pursuit of a specific contract or that are designed to reach decision makers at a particular agency, can make the difference between a game-changing contract win and a devastating loss.
Bluetext is increasingly tasked to partner with contractors in developing innovative branding and outreach campaigns around a specific contract pursuit. In early 2014, L-3 Communications, in partnership with Harris Corporation, hired Bluetext to help them pursue the Air Force’s $1B Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) Modifications, Maintenance & Operations (CAMMO) Contract.
Bluetext worked with the L-3/Harris Capture teams to develop a campaign strategy that would position them as a Prime by highlighting the many advantages they bring to the table. The overarching campaign theme Bluetext developed is:
“The Power of Partnership, From Vision to Reality”
The creative strategy of this project began with the core concept of the ad, “from vision to reality.” The left side of the ad is a wireframe representing the vision with the right side representing its reality. After the wireframe of the satellite was created, it was overlaid on top of the red diagonal to create a striking visual element to draw attention to the campaign. The first series of ads were placed in high visibility areas inside of Colorado Springs Airport, a key travel hub for Air Force brass. The media plan for the campaign also includes online, print and OOH media placed strategically to maximize reach and frequency throughout the entire contract RFP and award lifecycle.
Focus on agency challenge, not yourself
Dramatic changes in staffing and mission of government IT media outlets means that the days of getting a product reviewed or corporate profile written are for the most part a thing of the past. As such, contracts and IT providers must get far more creative when it comes to communicating capabilities.
Government IT press don’t want to hear about products. They want to hear about trends and challenges sweeping through agencies, and how contractors and IT providers are developing solutions to solve those challenges.
This was the backdrop for a media strategy Bluetext architected for Adobe Government. Over the past few years, government-wide budget cuts have been swift and relatively unsparing in their impact on agency in-person conferences and training events. This presented a significant challenge for agencies seeking to maintain the collaboration and education benefits these events delivered.
The challenge dovetailed with Adobe’s web conferencing solution Adobe Connect, which was seeing a rise in demand in the public sector due to pullbacks in physical, in-person conferences. Bluetext built a PR campaign around this angle that included a pair of thought leadership articles (one targeting the broad federal IT community and one targeting military decision makers), generating multiple articles around this topic in key federal, state and local media outlets, including:
Federal Computer Week – Budget cuts push conferences online
Washington Technology – Budget cuts, scandal fuel videoconferencing boom
Federal Computer Week – Could virtual meetings replace conferences in sequestration age?
Defense News – Communicating in an era of canceled conferences
Federal Computer Week – Defense Connect Online hits milestone
Federal Computer Week – DOD connects online to cut travel
Government Executive/NextGov – Agencies are saving millions with virtual events
Federal Computer Week – Cutting costs with virtual conferencing
Reaching and impacting government decision makers requires government contractors and IT providers to push beyond the status quo and engage with partners able to help develop and deliver innovative campaigns to grow their business and increase contract opportunities.
The Bluetext team is in the thick of industry conference season for clients, recently concluding support for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the RSA Conference in San Francisco, with ISC West in Las Vegas and Enterprise Connect in Orlando on tap in the next few weeks.
Support we provide for key industry conferences often begins months before the event itself, and can be expansive in nature – ranging from message development and creating dedicated landing pages to booking and providing on-site support for press and analyst briefings.
Generating press and analyst attention and briefings at Conferences – especially large ones such as Mobile World Congress, RSA and CES – is no easy feat. Reporters and analysts are bombarded with hundreds of briefing requests, often reserving premium 1×1 slots for familiar names with significant announcements to make. That said, success is possible and there are strategies that do work. Here are 10 tips for generating buzz and briefings at your key industry conferences:
- Better to be early than late – For conferences where press and analysts attend, a pre-registered media list is available for sponsors and exhibitors in advance of the show. This is a valuable tool and one that should be fully leveraged; however, waiting until it is available can be risky. Most shows make the list available roughly 4-5 weeks in advance of the conference, and it is not uncommon to reach out to in-demand press and analysts upon receiving the list to find that their schedules are already fully or mostly booked. The fact is that there is no penalty for reaching a reporter before they start working on their schedule, but irreparable consequences for getting to a reporter after their schedule is already booked. Research which reporters and analysts attended the prior year’s show, use your domain expertise to make educated guesses on others who might attend the show, and float an email to them before the pre-registered media list comes out to see if they are attending and taking meetings. Worst-case scenario is that they are not yet working on their schedule, and you can follow up at a later time.
- Don’t rely too heavily on pre-registered media list – Yes, most reporters and analysts will be captured on this list, but some prefer to remain off of it precisely because they do not want to be bombarded with briefing requests. For that reason, follow the previously referenced strategy of researching who attended the prior year so that no key contacts fall through the cracks. This strategy is also valuable and far more necessary for clients that are not sponsoring or exhibiting, thus do not have ready access to the pre-registered media list.
- Expand timetable for briefings – One of the more ironic aspects of conference briefings is this desire to try and communicate a critical piece of company news in a horribly sub-optimal environment. Reporters are racing from one briefing to the next, must digest multiple announcements and often have a fraction of the time they would allot for a typical briefing. Increasingly, we are seeing more value in working with clients to arrange briefings immediately prior to or after the conference, when the media contact has more time and can give the client announcement full attention. Phone briefings cannot match the benefits of a face-to-face interaction, but how valuable is 15 minutes in a noisy, chaotic environment? There is a balance to strike.
- Yes, announcements matter – For every PR practitioner who extols the virtues of making a tangible announcement at key industry conferences, you will find another arguing that it is mission impossible to expect a client’s announcement to rise above 200 others. There is no cut-and-dry answer here, as it depends on the conference, the news, and the client. The fact is that many reporters and analysts will reserve their 1×1 time for clients with significant news, and if your pitch is simply to “catch up” or “brief the reporter on recent activities,” it is very likely that the pitch will be de-prioritized. If the client does not have a major product or news announcement, consider other means to provide media and analysts with value, such as a first look at results from an industry survey you have conducted.
- Team up – Another option for clients that don’t arrive at conferences with name cache or big announcements is to team up with a Partner, or better yet a customer. Strategically aligning with influential partners and customers allow reporters to kill two birds with one, while adding more perceived weight to the briefing request itself.
- Research Conference Product/Company Awards – Many conferences will hold award programs for “Best in Show” or “Most Innovative Product or Solution.” These award deadlines are often several weeks in advance of the conference and require the client to have sufficient advanced knowledge it will be announcing a new product at the show. That said, by entering it is another way to get on the radar of reporters who view these awards as a way to identify companies and products held in high regard.
- Don’t ‘wing it’ when it comes to meeting locations – Conference floors are huge, and reporters book briefings back-to-back with little margin for error. If you have a reporter meet at a spot not conducive to the meeting, and then spend 10-15 minutes searching out a better spot, you will draw the ire of the reporter and waste what precious time he/she has. If budget allows, book a dedicated meeting room, or virtually scout out the conference layout in advance to understand spaces available near the client booth. Conferences often have a “Media Center’ for briefings, but you can’t just walk in and expect a table and chairs for hours at a time.
- Go outside the traditional 1×1 briefing structure – Beyond budget and planning, there is no restriction on creativity when it comes to engaging reporters and analysts. From non-conventional demos to cocktail hours, think about ways to reach influencers outside of the traditional briefing format.
- Engage on social if not in-person – For reporters and analysts you are not able to connect with in person at conferences, follow them on Twitter to gauge what is capturing their interest and what they are doing. Finding a key reporter at a large conference is akin to the proverbial needle in the haystack. You can increase your chances by following these influencers on Twitter, and perhaps one might post that they are headed into a particular panel session – thus shrinking that haystack considerably.
- Be wary of going against the grain – Standing out among the crowd can be a good thing at conferences, but refrain from going too far askew of the hot trends at the conferences. Look in advance at what the meat of the agenda is and the types of companies speaking for a hint of what direction reporters will sway in coverage. The fact is that reporters’ daily roundups bucket company activity around prevailing show themes, and if you are part of those themes it is more likely you can be in the conversation. If your announcements focus on areas that are peripheral, they become harder for reporters to bucket into coverage.