As reported by NextGov, yesterday there was a column in Wall Street Journal stating that .gov websites should accept advertisements.
In the column, he suggested that IRS could make between $50-100 million in advertising alone from their website.
In an interesting pilot study, WA Department of Transportation is working on a pilot of including advertising in their 410 million annual page views - really fascinating study and use case
At one level, we are already doing a lot of advertising on gov't property
-Bus stops - full of ads
-Inside bus & subway - full of ads
-TSA bins - have Zappos ads in about 10 major airports
Budgets are tight at all levels and may be a way to increase revenue.
So what do you think, should we allow advertising on .gov websites?
Are their cases where you think it's okay?
Certain types of sponsorships?
I've been immersed in this issue since early this year. Municipal park and recreation departments have long published program brochures, and it seems that more and more are selling advertising in the publications to fund production. As we move into the new reality of trimmed budgets, and make tough choices on whether to continue or eliminate programs and services, advertising is one of the areas that is cut first. Unfortunately, cutting advertising - as expected - frequently results in decreasing revenue.
In an effort to mitigate cuts to our internal advertising/print budget, we've made significant shifts in information dissemination - the number of issues of program brochures have been reduced, the print run has been scaled back, and we are relying more on email distribution of information. On one hand, budget challenges have forced us to be more innovative (I now have an e-newsletter that goes out to 21k+ people every month, and have the ability to do targeted email advertising), but on the other hand, the concerns about the digital divide are amplified even more.
Early this year, we began to craft a policy regarding advertising in our program brochure. What we found was that there are many good examples of government advertising policies out there, and it's in our best interests to develop a solid policy and implementation procedure before accepting advertisements. We are developing the policy for print advertising so that it would be fairly easy to adjust to include web advertising.
While I do not know if print advertising and web advertising are one in the same when looking at case law, I do know that there is a solid foundation of case law dealing with what governments can and cannot do when setting policies for print advertising ("print" being broadly defined as ink on media - this could be the side of buses, magazines, transit benches, etc). The danger is whether by accepting advertisements you create a public forum... it is more desirable to create a limited public forum, and your policy will help ensure you don't set yourself up for having to accept advertisements from everyone.
Our specific question was related to potential "competitors" buying advertising in our program brochure. For example, we run a fitness center at a community center -- what if a commercial fitness center wanted to buy advertising? Would we have to accept it? The answer was "yes." We can limit advertising in the publications based on content (no political advertising, no issue-based advertising, commercial only, no adult topics, no alcohol/tobacco/firearms, no illegal content, etc.), but cannot restrict types of vendors.
We've discussed exploring whether advertisements could be added to our website, and our thought is that eventually we will probably have to address that. We're not there yet, though, and would rather have others develop policies and test them in court.
I'd be interested in hearing from any legal-minded folks reading this thread how analogous print advertising policies are to web advertising policies - does case law relating to limited public forums translate to electronic media? Are there any issues if we were to implement advertising, contract with a third party vendor, and have non-permissable content slip through? I'd be hesitant to contract with a third party for the specific reason that "non-PG" ads frequently slip through on sites.
Government entities are elected by their local constituents and have a responsibility to explore this issue (like others) particularly in these trying financial times where key staff/services are being cut and costs to maintain/enhance and host such websites are rising.
The benefits and risks can be weighed accordingly by each entity and each have the opportunity to have their citizens respond/weigh in on the issue. Remember there are risks in everything a government entity undertakes. Gauging and measuring the probability of such risks is something that only each entity can do as they analyze the costs and related benefits.
Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. What you see as losing credibility may be viewed by another constituent or local business owner as a great way to promote goods/services to their local community in a cost effective manner while indirectly spurring local sales which in turn keeps sales taxes local within that community/area. Plus if the advertisements do not affect the viewers user experience and navigation then it puts the onus on the viewer whether they elect to even pay attention much less click on an ad if interested.
If an entity elects to go forward on this matter, then passing a local ordinance on what is allowed/not allwowed (tobacco/alcohol/political ads/non-profits/etc) is something we recommend. This dictates the policy on online advertising (or modifying an existing policy that might already be in place for kiosk/bus stop/bus/etc advertising).
The ordinance typically follows form on court upheld restrictions on select types of advertising that governments can restrict (alcohol, tobacco, etc and even on all non-profits so you don't have religious, political, etc come into play).
Initiatives on government advertising continue. City of Chicago goes out for RFQ.
Emanuel looks to attract more advertising: City offers marketers space on trash cans, website, water bills
State of Washington Department of Transportation has launched online ads off their travel pages website (they already have ads on their ferry boats).
I agree - except one point - many websites for users do not suck. And users are so varied - sometimes helps to differentiate presentation of information. One landing page, sure - one site, perhaps not in best interest of anyone.
While it rubs me the wrong way to do this, I would support it with the restriction that all funding be directed at paying off the federal debt.