Marketing the message
- By David Hubler
- Aug 18, 2007
"Because we're small, we can't be looking at all the different agencies, but each of us kind of has a sweet spot and so we can look at each other's services to team." ? Lisa Martin, president and chief executive officer of LeapFrog Solutions
The Forest Service introduced Smokey Bear on a poster in 1944. Dressed in a park ranger's hat and blue jeans, often carrying a shovel, Smokey became instantly recognizable. His original slogan ? "Only you can prevent forest fires" ? became one of the best-known advertising phrases in the world.
Smokey is perhaps the government's most successful marketing endeavor, said Lisa Martin, president and chief executive officer of LeapFrog Solutions, a government marketing firm in Oakton, Va.
Although not in the billion-dollar ranks of information technology and defense spending, government marketing is big business and accounts for a major portion of revenue for many of the market's niche consultants.
In fiscal 2006, federal agencies spent $418.5 million under Advertising and Integrated Marketing Solutions, or Schedule 541, according to the General Services Administration. The contracts for fiscal 2007 have exceeded $363 million as of June 30.
That schedule "is only one of the many vehicles that the government uses to get the outreach communications services they're looking for," said Josette Oder, vice president of client services at LeapFrog. Firms can also bid on consulting contracts under GSA's Schedule 70 and its Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services program.
In addition, agencies can extend contracts for advertising and marketing campaigns to inform the public, other agencies or government contractors about goods and services that are available or needed.
Oder said the Census Bureau recently issued a request for proposals for developing a $25 million citizens' awareness campaign about the 2010 census. "And the Army usually puts out an RFP of about $20 million for the recruiting they do in a year," she added.
Oder said it is becoming increasingly common to find a paragraph or two in a lengthy systems integration RFP that calls for outreach communications. "In cases like that, we'll team with federal contractors on the IT schedule because we can support those services," she said.
To find potential contracts, Martin routinely checks Federal Business Opportunities, e-Buy and other government Web sites. She also spends a good deal of time networking with local interest groups and professional organizations, such as the Northern Virginia Technology Council's Business-to-Government Committee and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's Government Contractors Council.
"We also look to our teaming partners [for] when RFPs may be coming up," Martin said. "Because we're small, we can't be looking at all the different agencies, but each of us kind of has a sweet spot and so we can look at each other's services to team."
When not competing against one another, companies will often partner or swap roles as prime and subcontractor depending on the terms of the RFP or contract, Martin said.
For example, LeapFrog is teaming with TMP Worldwide Inc., a large New York City-based marketing and communications firm, to help the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. expand its public image and retain employees who might be thinking of leaving for more lucrative private-sector jobs.
"We knew that we wouldn't go after this RFP by ourselves," Martin said. "But we knew that by teaming with them, we'd have a pretty good chance of all of us winning."
"We were both on the short list" for the FDIC contract, said Lindsay Wozniak, regional vice president of the mid-Atlantic group at TMP, which oversees government contracting for the company.
Teaming with LeapFrog was a win-win situation, especially because for the past few years TMP has been actively pursuing small, minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses as partners, Wozniak said.
She estimated that about 33 percent of TMP's government contracting in 2006 involved working as a subcontractor to a small company. That practice has grown to about 60 percent this year, she said. "The shift has been dramatic."
The two firms are bidding on several new contracts with LeapFrog as the prime contractor and TMP as the subcontractor.
"When we lead the plan, we end up writing a lot of [the program] and getting some augmentation from the sub," Wozniak said. "When the sub leads it, because we're such a bigger operation, we will help them write it."
Despite such amicable and profitable arrangements, small marketing firms face stiff competition on two fronts ? from large marketing companies like TMP and from the big systems integrators, said Eva Neumann, president of ENC Marketing and Communications Inc., a government communications company in McLean, Va. They also must often overcome a size bias on the part of agency procurement officials, she added.
"When I've gone in and talked to them, they say they already have a contract with a large global agency, but the work that the agency is doing could easily be provided by a smaller company," she said. "There is a comfort level in the ability to say, 'I'm working with a global agency,' even though it may be overkill," Neumann added.
"It's like the old adage that you can't get fired by hiring IBM," said Dave Acup, vice president of client services at ENC.
Acup said no matter how much the contract is worth, smaller marketing firms are more likely to assign their most experienced employees to the job than the large firm will. In that case, agencies might end up paying for something they won't get.
"In order to get their top talent, you have to be spending a tremendous amount of money," he said.
Sometimes when an agency stresses communications in an IT award, the contractor will opt to use its own in-house marketing people, Neumann said.
"We're competing more against Lockheed [Martin] or Northrop Grumman marketing people, and we're fighting the battle of [their] bringing in one other resource versus using their in-house people," Neumann said. "Our argument is that the in-house people don't have the depth of experience that an agency would have just because we're handling so much higher volume of marketing."
ENC has contracts under NASA's Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement and the Homeland Security Department's Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions. "We are helping them with their overall messaging," Acup said. "It's a government-to-government message" that provides detailed information about the programs under the two contracts.
The final product can include brochures, descriptive information for posting on an agency's Web site, oral presentations and speeches written for key agency officials.
"Most of our government clients hire us for strategic messaging, marketing communications planning and developing testing programs so they can prove" return on investment, Neumann said. "That's different than hiring us for design or advertising, which we also do."Associate Editor David Hubler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.