Budget troubles affect attitudes toward government communications

I guess it was inevitable. After a contentious spring, federal and state budget deficits, and political posturing on both sides of the aisle (in an extreme case – Minnesota – both sides walked away from the table and the state government actually shut down!), government communications and marketing funding is on the chopping block.

Derided as “fluff” and “nice to have, not need to have,” government communications and marketing always seem to be the odd man out during these negotiations. Of course, when the feds and the states are cutting their own budgets, that means they’ll cut aid to local governments like counties and cities as well. Once again, the very people they claim to represent are the ones who feel the most pain at the local level.

You may ask, how can the lack of communications and marketing inflict pain on residents? After all, people don’t really need to know what is going on in their communities to eat, find shelter and send their kids to school, right? Wrong – and here’s why.

Imagine one day there was suddenly no government newsletters, emails, websites, flyers, doorhangers, televised meetings, newspaper articles, or even recorded phone calls letting you know about meetings, aid opportunities, hours of operation, available programs, and so on. You’d have no idea where to find out more about your local government and no clue on where to seek help, attend events, or register your kids for recreation programs.

Your only solution would be to take off work (because City Hall is typically open weekdays when most people are working), drive to City Hall (if you live close enough), and go ask your questions to someone at the front desk. Of course, the city would need to hire more people to be at the desk to answer these questions, or you’d need to stand in line until the one person there was available. Ah yes, you could call City Hall, but good luck getting through. Remember, the budget cuts have resulted in no website, no newsletters, no mailings – no nothing. So all you’d have is the front desk staff as your direct line to everything you need to know from the city.

And what about city marketing? After all, a city isn’t a product, right? You can’t “market” a community, right? Well, without marketing, I’d argue that very few people outside of the immediate area are going to learn much about your city unless they happen to visit. With no website, no printed materials and no advertising campaign to promote your city, you would succeed in making yourself virtually invisible to the outside world. Tourists would go elsewhere to spend their vacation dollars. Prospective businesses wouldn’t locate in your town, because they’d know all about other cities in your area – but not yours. Sorry!

While things look grim for government communications, there is some hope on the horizon. I have faith that government leaders will realize that they need to keep their residents adequately informed of what is happening in their community and that some form of citizen communications will continue. And the smart cities out there will beef up their marketing budgets – understanding the value of standing out in the crowd, particularly when times are tough and competition is so fierce. Some cities may even decide to outsource their communications and marketing efforts if they can’t afford a full-time staff person.

In the end, communications and marketing for local governments will hopefully survive, because people will demand to know what is going on in their communities. Those who propose cutting off this information will likely do so at their peril come election time.

Do you have an opinion about this? I’d love to hear what you think. Please send me an email or post a comment.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply