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Dragon’s Den-style moneymaking in the public sector

Local government budgets continue to be cut and resources stretched at the same time as increasing citizen demand and expectations. Some councils are responding to the financial challenge in new ways, generating their own income. With strategic use of marketing-communications to maximise services’ commercial potential, Essex County Council is one of the organisations spearheading this movement. Andy Allsopp is Head of Communications and Marketing.

I’ve recently been fortunate to be able to spend a little time looking at the ideas and approaches other councils have been taking to marketing their traded services.

This has involved me taking on the role of a ‘dragon’, Dragon’s Den-style, as part of a panel assessing the sales and marketing plans of colleagues from other councils in the Eastern region.

I haven’t worked out which dragon I most relate to yet, but I reckon I am more Peter Jones than Deborah Meaden, but quite a bit shorter and less expensively dressed.

All part and parcel of an East of England Local Government Association pilot to establish an ‘accelerator’ for traded services business plans to become a reality. It’s a system I’m familiar with because we pioneered it in Essex, and indeed I’ve been on the other side of the table when my own Marcomms team’s business plan went through its own assessment centre.

So, along with my fellow dragons – chief execs and directors of district councils in the region – we listened intently to the presentations and pitches from officers in areas as diverse as parks and gardens, building regulations and school meals services.

The best ideas were endorsed, with a couple being encouraged to do more development work on certain aspects before being cleared for take-off.

What was quite striking in some of the approaches to marketing was how their plans seemed to have morphed into a channel strategy, at the expense of (in some cases) a really compelling message or narrative about their offer. As you might expect the best ideas contained the best market analysis, combined with a sense of how the marketing and lead generation was going to be turned into sales.

That final element provided a bit of a eureka moment from my own perspective as someone leading the development of our own traded offer. We are fine at the marketing side. But translating that excellent work into sales is still unfamiliar territory. Marcomms teams not only need to be good in their core disciplines, but increasingly must have account management and business development as part of their acumen.

If you’d like to read more about how the team at Essex County Council is developing its approaches to traded marketing, I’ll be doing some regular updates via this blog and also the LG Comms website. And you can hear me and my colleague Karen Yates (Traded Services Marketing Manager) speak about our income generation strategy at Granicus’ Annual Public Sector Communications Conference on 26 September in London. Next installment there! Register for the event asap to secure your seat.