The stereotypical view that marketing in the public sector is for gentle, sensitive types who can’t hack it in the commercial world is not only condescending but also outmoded, as an increasing number of marketers from the private sector are crossing over into the public sector.
At COI Communications, the Government marketing communications body, 90% of marketers are from the private sector. "We’ve hired marketers who have been working on nappy accounts for three years and want to do something more worthwhile by creating campaigns that save lives," says human resources director Emma Lochhead.
Research from the Strategic Consulting Group shows that one in ten senior university marketers have moved to their posts from the private sector. Leeds University marketing director Martin Holmes joined from the National Australia Bank, where he was head of personal financial services and brand. "I’d never considered working in the public sector and turned the job down flatly at first," he says. "However, I was persuaded to talk to the vice-chancellor who convinced me that it was an exciting opportunity. No doubt I bring a level of technical expertise and marketing efficiency, but it also helps that I’ve been there and done it."
World Wildlife Fund head of marketing communications Giles Robertson moved to the public sector from the advertising industry because he wanted to try something different. "I was approaching my 30s, had been made redundant from Ogilvy & Mather and wanted to do something that involved the arts or the environment," he says.
Recruiters report that the not-for-profit sector is keen to bring in private sector expertise, particularly in areas such as direct marketing. Local government institutions are also looking to attract private sector marketers, and, since coming to power in 1997, the Labour Government has invested heavily in marketing as a way to promote its policies. For private sector marketers, the bigger marketing budgets available for many public awareness campaigns, as well as the chance to influence consumer behaviour, offer enough incentive to make the leap across sectors.
Many in the industry welcome the crossover in expertise and skills. Marketers that have worked in the public sector are often used to stretching budgets, while private sector marketers bring commercial acumen and customer focus.
Moving to smaller and less well-funded marketing departments in public sector institutions is not without its challenges, however. Public and voluntary organisations are under a lot of scrutiny about how they spend their money, and cannot afford to be seen wasting it on extravagant campaigns.
Hilton International senior vice-president for marketing Mike Ashton worked at Scottish Enterprise before moving into the hospitality industry. He began his career in the packaged goods sector and believes there are two principal differences between the sectors. "First, there’s no competition [in the public sector], which was the main driver behind marketing when I worked at Procter & Gamble," he says. "Second, you are not driven by commercial measurements, such as return on investment. So, while many of the skills required to do the job are the same, the emphasis and measurement are different."
Works Both Ways?
While moving from private to public sector seems to be on the increase, some find the experience disappointing, and fewer marketers are moving in the opposite direction.
Ware Anthony Rust head of interactive production Sarah Stacey moved from a digital marketing agency at the start of her career to Richmond Council for two years. She moved back to work in the private sector because she missed the variety of work."I found the public sector very bureaucratic and it moved a lot slower, which could be frustrating," she adds.
Some marketers believe working in the private sector requires a different mindset: the speed at which campaigns move is faster, there is competitive urgency and goals are financially motivated.
Tameside and Glossop Primary Care Trust communications manager Margaret Hyde found it almost impossible to move to private from public, but disagrees with the idea that public sector marketers cannot handle the pressure of private sector marketing. "It was probably the case once upon a time, but the sector has changed and people are under more pressure nowadays," she says.
The recruitment process still differs between the sectors. There is some crossover – for example, both sectors rely on trade and national press, as well as the internet, to advertise marketing positions. But whereas the private sector might exclusively work with headhunters to find the right marketer for a job, the public sector has to take a fair and open approach and recruit from the broadest pool possible.
The recruitment process in the public sector is also more formal and takes longer. Candidates are vetted, and recruiters must promote diversity and equal opportunities.
Private sector companies generally have more flexibility to negotiate salaries, although bodies such as the COI are trying to overcome this disadvantage by promoting benefits such as flexible working instead. Senior consultant at branding agency Dragon, Nina Cooper, has also noticed that public sector recruiters are increasingly talking the language of private sector marketers. "[The terms] brand, creativity and marketing mix are creep- ing into job descriptions where previously the idea that the public sector marketed to people would have been unacceptable," she says.
Leap of Faith
Whether recruitment strategies in each sector become more closely aligned will partly depend on the numbers making the leap. While there are clear advantages for employers and marketers in sharing skills across sectors, the final decision comes down to the individual and whether he or she is willing to take a risk and embrace a new working environment.