Cabinet Office issues guidance on government ad campaign rules

The Cabinet Office has sent government advertisers and department heads a guidance document enforcing the immediate freeze on all non-essential government marketing, unless permission is sought from the relevant personnel.

British Army campaign
British Army campaign

The 21-page document dated 4 June, which has been seen by Marketing Week, explains to advertisers that for activity costing over £25,000, exemptions must be sought from the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) via Matt Tee, permanent secretary for government communications,

For activity costing below £25,000, departmental directors of communication are responsible for implementing the freeze. Marketing and advertising activity with existing binding contractual commitments are not affected.

The guidance excludes the following formats of advertising:

– Recruitment advertising by the armed forces
– Information about paying taxes
– Advertising and marketing by museums and galleries
– Activities where government has a legal duty to provide people with information such as changes to legislation or public services
– Activities where there is unequivocal evidence that campaigns deliver measurable benefits relating directly to immediate public health and safety

Exceptions for essential campaigns may also be approved, on a case-by-case basis, providing the information is critical to the effective running of the Government.

The document warns that the new restrictions come into effect immediately and cover advertising and marketing activity across all central government departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies. It applies to all paid for new advertising and marketing spend for the remainder of the financial year 2010-11, across all media formats.

It warns that procurement should not begin until an exemption has been granted, including media costs and prepatory work. The ERG should take 3 – 5 working days to review applications and prepare recommendations. Decisions will be published on the Cabinet office Website.

The ERG says it will benchmark the marketing spend allowed to go ahead this year before forming a baseline against which the freeze is measured for future years.

On Tuesday (8 June), the government confirmed that all departments will have to justify spending on marketing to a group of senior cabinet ministers under a new spending review framework aimed at reducing the deficit.

Last week, in a letter signed by Peter Buchanan, deputy chief executive of the government’s advertising body, the Central Office of Information, it warned that the coalition government is looking to achieve savings of around £160m in its marketing and communications expenditure.

Buchanan told agencies that a spending freeze “will take effect immediately and will mean a reduction in the volume of work going through COI” until the end of 2010/11 financial year.

The move comes as marketing industry leaders called on the coalition government to provide greater clarity on its definition of “essential” campaigns after the Liberal-Conservative alliance said it will freeze spending on all “non-critical” marketing.

The freeze is being overseen by the new Efficiency and Reform Group, chaired jointly by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude.

The COI saw turnover in 2008/09 hit £540m. Almost half of this was advertising. It spent £111m in 1997/98.

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