The government shutdown is over. Every contractor and tech company working with the federal government can breathe a sigh of relief. Now it’s time to really get to work.
The first month of the year is usually a busy one in the Washington D.C. area, especially after a midterm election. There’s a new wave of elected officials. Committees in Congress find new members. New initiatives and projects are brought to the forefront. Agencies begin developing budgets in earnest.
In short - the contracting community lost the month of January. That means there’s added emphasis on the month of February to play catch up. As your marketing machines kick back into overdrive to close the gap, here are four things every federal marketer should do to ensure success in 2019.
Fine-Tune Your Federal Messaging
When tech companies approach me about entering the federal market, they are under the impression they can simply “federalize” content by changing words here and there.
“If I change company to agency, they’ll know it’s federal, right?”
Suffice to say, this is not true. Federal leaders, especially those dealing with technology, can see right through blatant attempts to bring corporate messaging to the government. It never works because the government’s issues are so different than those in the private sector. Just one example, as our Federal Content Marketing Review proved, is how little federal decision-makers care about products – they want to know how you’re going to help them achieve their mission.
For companies trying to break through, February is a perfect time to ensure your messaging is consistent and aligned to the current strategies driving procurement. A great place to start is the President’s Management Agenda, which outlined a three-pillar approach focused on reforms to technology and workforce management, specifically IT modernization, data accountability and transparency, and federal workforce transformation. Similarly, the next revision of the Federal Data Strategy is expected in February, after being targeted for January. That strategy will inform much of the decision-making process for agencies when it comes to advancements in areas like analytics.
Target a Podcast for Your Top Spokesperson
I’ve written previously about why podcasts are critical to any marketing strategy, and I want to double down on that here.
The amount of podcasts in the federal market has exploded over the past six months, with nearly every trade publication starting at least one, and individual ones popping up by the day.
At the Merritt Group, we’ve heard from executives who appeared on Washington Technology and Federal News Network podcasts that have received notes on LinkedIn and emails from colleagues saluting their appearances. The target reach of these federal outlets drives increased awareness and maybe - just maybe - plants the seeds for a deal or three.
Especially in this area – raise your hand if you spend too much time stuck in traffic or on the Metro – podcasts are extremely popular to fill daily commutes. These podcasts are a perfect opportunity to get your top spokesperson in front of these leaders. It is estimated that nearly half of American homes are fans of podcasts, a staggering total of 60 million and there’s no doubt federal decision-makers are part of that huge and still growing number.
Track Where Agency Leaders are Speaking
The federal market remains old school because everyone is concentrated in a very small geographic area, instead of being dispersed like just about every other sector today. That means that live events retain their importance.
As your company tracks specific RFPs or agencies, it’s important to track where the leaders of these agencies are speaking. For me personally, there are few things more enlightening when it comes to learning about an agency’s goals than hearing a leader give a presentation.
Of course, not all presentations are the same and some leaders are more forthcoming than others. Regardless, you’ll almost learn something when listening to agency leaders discussing their goals, priorities and concerns. It provides a valuable window into their thinking that could be used to influence your marketing program by targeting your message to what leaders are discussing.
As an example, I attended a FedScoop event in October 2017 because the White House’s then-acting CISO presented on the Administration's keys to purchasing technology. As you re-read that article about 18 months later, you’ll see how they’ve all influenced future policy, specifically the keys about being agile and integration. We have used that knowledge to help our clients develop messaging that will appeal to leaders trying to align to those goals.
Solidify Your Plans for September
“September? That’s 7 months away!”
September is the last month of the government’s fiscal year, which always leads to a bit of a spending frenzy. However, that frenzy hit insane heights in FY 2018, as the government needed to spend $140 billion more than previously thought in the fourth quarter.
While the expectation going into FY 2019 was the government would do everything in its power to avoid a similar situation, the prolonged shutdown may have made that inevitable. Usually, at this point, agencies have formulated budgets and prepared their spending for the rest of the year. This year, that process is only beginning now, and it’s likely that will push any spending later and later into the fiscal year.
September was a crazy month for spending last year and this year figures to be even crazier. But if you do the first three things on the list, this fourth one should be easy.
Ensure all roads lead to a September crescendo for your company to crush the federal procurement game by developing a clear, consistent message that you land across a wide variety of channels that reach federal decision-makers. Make sure they notice you long before the September frenzy arrives.
Want to learn which federal marketing tactics are most successful? Download this study to find out!