News of the demise of Government marketing appears to have been exaggerated

Russell Parsons

Good news – steady yourself – from the Government last week. No, not news of promised funds, and an extra bank holiday, so the country can properly celebrate Kate n Wills’ nuptials next year, but evidence of a willingness to spend on public health campaigns.

The cause for tempered celebration? The Department of Health is looking to appoint an agency, through the Central Office of Information, to handle a campaign to push NHS 111, the phone service dedicated to fielding non-emergency calls from the public.

Good news for direct marketing (assuming that there will be a significant DM element to the activity), good news for an NHS that is forever creaking under the weight of in-person demand for its services and better news for the now slimmer (and very possibly still under threat) COI.

The campaign would be the second to be green-lit by the Cabinet Office in recent times, following the appointment of M&C Saatchi to create a £9m campaign to alert people to the early signs of cancer earlier this month.

Activity for 111 and early presentation comes despite a freeze on marketing and communications spending, except when campaigns are deemed to have an immediate impact on the nation’s public health.

Stirrings of activity, therefore, demonstrate that despite the tough rhetoric, and action taken in cutting the Government’s marketing budget since the coalition took office, those DM agencies on the COI roster that have previously handled work for the Government should, if not rejoice, take comfort.

Those that were previously reliant and grew fat on public spending will continue to struggle as a trickle of campaigns does not herald a return to the heady, or as Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude might put it, profligate days of the previous decade, but it does indicate a more measured approach than some might have previously feared.

In sticking to its commitment to OK activity for the public good, the Government offers hope to those that have a stake – DM agencies, the COI and public sector marketers. Budgets have, and will continue to be slashed – spend is down by over 50% year on year in many areas – and many stakeholders have already paid with their jobs, but the feared by many obliteration of all marketing activity seems unlikely to happen.

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