Government needs to put creativity and not cost first

In these straitened times, marketers have had to get used to doing more with less. In the public sector, particularly in Whitehall, this is even more acutely the case.

Russell Parsons

The Government’s spending on marcomms has plummeted to about £284m from the giddy heights of £530m in 2009/10 in line with wider austerity measures.

Alongside the cut in spending has come a relentless pursuit of value. This focus on efficiency was highlighted last week when the Government unveiled its “Creative Solutions Framework” to replace the Central Office of Information’s agency roster.

A total of thirty core creative, direct marketing, digital marketing and PR agencies were chosen to create the bulk of public information campaigns, compared to the hundreds that used to earn a crust from the public’s purse.

Alongside the dramatically slimmed down agency list a new criteria for selection – agencies are selected on the basis of 60 per cent creative ability and 40 per cent competitive pricing – with the key benchmark of value.

So far, so understandable. Government needs to save money, we, as tax payers, should be grateful that there is a keen eye on efficiency. It is only right that there should be such a focus on value and those agencies that are sharing the still considerable £300m are among the best of the best, therefore increasing the likelihood quality will not be compromised for cost.

The public’s purse strings, however, are about to tighten even more. Last week, the Chancellor delivered a less than chipper growth forecast, almost half of what had previously been predicted for 2013. And has been previously been demonstrated, this coalition is quick to look for savings in the marcomms budget when times are tight.

How long then before the 60/40 split is tipped in the balance of price?

To this humble observer, there is already evidence that the omission of branding and design agencies from the agency framework, has comprised quality. The GREAT campaign, for example, aimed at trumpeting Britain as a destination for tourists and businesses looks like it was cut and pasted together after a brief search of Google images.

This is not a call for a return to pre-recession spending levels. It is a plea that the balance between quality and cost is maintained and not sacrificed.

Public information marketing can save Government money if effective by improving the health of the nation, by increasing the amount of tax receipts, by bolstering inward investment. But only if creativity is given prominence.

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