Building Powerful Outreach - Executive Research Brief


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You’ve done the research. You’ve gotten leadership buy-in. Your government program is set to start helping people. But if nobody knows about it, your program will never make a difference. It’s like if a public health department had prepared thousands of flu shots, but no patients showed up to get them. In this brief, we will tell you how to empower your outreach.

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Building Powerful Outreach - Executive Research Brief

  1. 1. BUILDING POWERFUL OUTREACH E x E c u t i v E R E s E a R c h B R i E f
  2. 2. 2 Executive Research Brief
  3. 3. 1Building Powerful Outreach Engagement 101 You’ve done the research. You’ve gotten lead- ership buy-in. Your government program is set to start helping people. But if nobody knows about it, your program will never make a difference. It’s like if a public health department had prepared thou- sands of flu shots — but no patients showed up to get them. For a government program to be truly success- ful, for a project to have made a difference, for an initiative to create change, it first has to have an effect. And that can’t happen without effective outreach. Government engagement and communications have transformed over the last 10 years. Now email mar- keting, social media and text messaging are the tools of the trade. And in order to have an impact, you need significant outreach and en- gagement. But more often than not, engagement and outreach are not baked into government planning – and they suffer as a result. “There are very few programs where having stakeholder engagement isn’t part of a program’s success,” said Scott Burns, GovDelivery’s chief executive officer and co-founder. “If you’re hoping to engage stakeholders or the public, you need to think of your outreach and communications strategy as a critical part of your program’s launch or implementation. There are not many things in this world that work well with the ‘if you build it and they will come’ strategy.” In our latest GovLoop report, we look at why out- reach is often secondary to creating engaging com- munications that can drive stakeholder action and measuring a program’s success. Specifically, this report highlights: Analysis from a GovLoop survey of nearly 400 public-sector professionals. Scott Burns’ three-part process for creating a communications strategy. Why email reigns as king of outreach. How to rise above resource challenges. Five insider tips for implementing a successful outreach strategy. Government communications and the future of engagement. “In technology, we often say that there are more good - ence is often that companies launch products without a strategy for generating customers. Programs are the same way. There are probably more well-intentioned programs than successful programs, and a solid, mea- surable communications strategy is frequently the missing ingredient.” A B R I E F I N T R O D U C T I O N
  4. 4. 2 Executive Research Brief – Scott Burns, GovDelivery CEO & Co-founder
  5. 5. 3Building Powerful Outreach Survey Overview In order to get a clearer picture of what engage- ment looks like right now in the public sector, Gov- Loop, in partnership with GovDelivery, conducted a survey of 390 public-sector professionals. The survey included responses from state, local, federal and international public-sector employees. (See Figure 1, page 4.) felt communications and outreach were to a program’s success. (See Figure 2, page 5.) Then we examined how much their agency was willing to invest to make the en- gagement happen. (See Figure 3, page 5.) More than 70 percent of respondents said their agency was willing to invest in outreach, but when asked to de- scribe their organization’s actual initiatives, they were less enthusiastic. said Jay Kosluchar of Fridley, Minn. “We have a strong reliance on newsletters, and print ad- vertising is still the core.” Agency budget constraints often force people to con- tinue with what has proven risks on new initiatives. Most participants cited budgeting issues as the main challenge facing their digital outreach initiatives. “We are operating on a very tight shoestring budget,” said a U.S. Geological Survey designated outreach person. Basically, we rob Peter, Paul and Mary to make outreach work.” GovDelivery’s Burns wasn’t surprised by this separa- tion. “Historically, many programs have treated com- munication as a side note, and the current disconnect is the leftover impact of these old bad habits,” he said. “I’m not surprised to hear there’s a disconnect be- tween creating an outreach plan and implementing, The survey also revealed a sense that the communi- cations government tries to send aren’t always clear and easy for consumers to understand. “We try to communicate clearly, but we don’t always speak the same language as the general public,” a public health specialist said. Some agencies have taken a step to help bridge the com- munications divide. “We to develop a program to better communicate with our constituents,” said a from Helena, Mont. But having a clear mes- sage is only half of the battle. Another struggle is maintaining a consis- tent message and brand with scattered outreach. A P E E K I N T O G O V E R N M E N T C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  6. 6. 4 Executive Research Brief “Our program does intensive outreach, but it is not really coordinated very well,” said Jeleen Brisco, an avian specialist at the Agriculture Department. “So a lot of problems.” More than three-quarters of survey respondents said outreach should be considered when drafting a new program. Responses included: Although 75 percent of respondents said outreach should be considered when implementing programs, many said they themselves did not participate in any engagement or communications with the public. “I think communication is important, but only our handle outreach,” said one survey respondent from the Treasury Department. “Will it be part of everyone’s job to be able to create a newsletter or draft a press release or produce a video?” Burns asked. “Probably not. But private-sector compa- nies like Amazon and Apple have taught every single employee that he or she is an extension of the brand of their company, and part of that requires communica- tions and outreach.” Outreach is only half of the equation. Measuring results is also essential for engagement success, but for many government organizations, metrics and analytics pose another major challenge. Several survey respondents said they wanted more metrics but were unsure how to incorporate analytics into the project plans. “Metrics are poorly understood and are not a top con- from Oregon said. Others used more informal metrics to chart success, such as attendance at events, media coverage, refer- rals and feedback from constituents. Others have a more tangible way to prove success. Guam’s procurement specialist, Anne Camacho, said submit proposals, bids [and] price quotes to ensure maximum practicable competition and best value – if that [increases], we have been successful in our out- reach,” Camacho said. About a fourth of respondents considered “growing their reach” to be their top communications priority. (See Figure 4, page 5.) Burns agreed. “Programs need participants, whether that isv 100 people or 100,000,” he said. “A program’s success is about generating results on a scale that matters: more more people being aware of how to stop bullying, more people avoiding fraud traps. People are at the center of programs, so connecting with more people and getting them to take an action is critical.” Lastly, our survey asked how government organiza- tions were getting the word out about a new program or feature. (See Figure 5, page 5.) Not surprisingly, email was the No. 1 method. In a recent research report, eConsultancy noted that “Email is a component of virtually any integrated cam- moved, content needs distribution or an event is on the horizon.” • “Absolutely! Individuals have to be empowered, and pre- paredness has to start with individuals.” • along the way so the program can be created with the users in mind.” • “I use the thirds rule to set up and run programs: one- management/tracking, one-third stakeholder manage- ment and communications.” • - ence? What do they need to hear and how do they need to hear it?’” • “We are mandated to create public reports every quarter on how the foster care system is functioning.” • “I developed a veterans email list that allows me to reach out to about 1,250 veterans.” What level of government do you work for? Local: 34% Federal: 32% State: 21% Other: 9% Industry: 4% FIGURE 1
  7. 7. 5Building Powerful Outreach How important is comminication and outreach to the success of a program? FIGURE 2 Is my agency willing to invest resources to get more people aware and engaged in our agency’s government program? Yes: 70% No: 30% FIGURE 3 Whichofthefollowingareprioritiesinyouroutreachactivities? Reaching large amounts of stakeholders: 25% Complying with regulations 18% Internal guidance: 18% Crafting a compelling message: 14% Matching the medium to the message: 10% FIGURE 4 What methods do you use to get the word out about your government program? Email: 82% Press Release: 75% Social Media: 69% Magazine Advertising: 32% Internet Advertising: 32% PSA: 30% TV Commercials: 13% SMS: 12%0 20 40 60 80 100 FIGURE 5
  8. 8. 6 Executive Research Brief A B R I E F C A S E S T U D Y Email Reigns as King of Outreach More than 80 percent of our survey respondents said their primary outreach method was email. “Email is really the foundation of how people com- municate online and the channel with the greatest return on investment across the public and private sectors,” Burns said. Overall, email is the most widely used digital chan- nel and the one that is most accessible for profes- sional and official communications. “What’s even better is that other channels, like social media, do much better for programs if the programs promote them through email,” he said. “The reality is you can’t create a Facebook account or a YouTube ac- count without an email address.” The U.S. Department of Education demonstrates the success of its outreach and communications strategy with more than 250,000 email subscrib- ers and a 52% engagement rate. They have been able to parlay their success with email marketing to other channels like Twitter and Facebook. Futhermore, every year roughly 20 million prospec- tive college students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. “When stu- dents get frustrated with the FAFSA process, they tweet about it,” said Nicole Callahan, new-media analyst for Federal Student Aid at Education. “We want to know when they’re frustrated. We want to pull feedback straight from the consumer’s mouth. Facebook is a good source to reach out to parents. You just have to cater to your audience.” Email is the rock for engagement and the platform within which the core of communication messaging is set – and it needs to be a priority in your communica- tion’s plans. Creating a Communications Strategy So what does a successful communications strat- egy look like? For one federal communicator regis- tration numbers are important, but making sure the public is informed is paramount to success. “If the community feels their concerns have been heard and taken into consideration during the course of the agency’s activities, if the community feels they have a voice in the process, then outreach is a suc- cess,” he said. “We measure that by asking com- munity members and leaders if we’re fulfilling that mission in their opinion.” GovDelivery’s Burns agreed. He’s developed a three-part strategy to help create a robust engage- ment culture: Priorities + Buy-in + Audience = Communications Success “People are at the center of programs, so connecting with more people and getting them to take action is critical,” Burns said. “You can’t forget that.” A T H R E E - P A R T P R O C E S S Set priorities: your program is trying to achieve.” Get buy-in: “You need to get some level of agreement within your organization on those objectives.” Find the audience: “Examine how and where reaching more people will impact your program, and determine who you want to reach and how you can reach them. Knowing the audience for your program is critical in developing a communications strategy.”
  9. 9. 7Building Powerful Outreach Rise Above the Resources Challenge A Q U I C K H O W - T O GovDelivery was cited in The Washington Post as the Afford- able Care Act’s secret weapon for driving traffic to But not all programs are as mas- sive or as visible as that one. Our survey found that although most government agencies want to implement an outreach strategy, they are stifled by a lack of time and resources. So how can agen- cies implement an outreach plan despite the obstacles? “First, program managers need to set clear objectives up front and make sure that the right amount of funding is allocated to out- reach,” said Burns. “Otherwise, the program is going to face problems over time. A program that is poorly used and poorly understood does not always last.” Second, the outreach strategy should use existing tools and audiences at the agency that align with program objectives. “FEMA, for example, reaches over 1 million people with email and SMS messaging by con- necting their digital proper- ties ( and with our platform,” Burns said. “When they sought to build an online component to their na- tional preparedness community (, they leveraged FEMA’s existing online audience to drive com- munity participation and adop- tion rather than starting from scratch.” Finally, the program should divide its communication strat- egy between building audience and generating action. “Building audience is about maximizing the number of people that can be reached through digital channels by growing your email and text messaging database and social media following, where appropri- ate,” Burns said. “One way we’ve seen programs build their audience dramatically is by working with other agencies to cross-promote sign-up options so someone visiting the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] website can sign up to FEMA’s Ready program at the same time,” continued Burns. “Then, programs can use that large online audience to generate actions that help meet objectives, whether that’s showing up at an event, applying for a grant or adopting healthier behavior.” This dual focus on connecting with more people and getting people to take action helped increase FEMA’s national preparedness community’s nationwide reach from approximately 6,000 people to more than 40,000 members and has led to measurable impact in the form of member-hosted preparedness events across the country that have engaged more than 1.4 million people. The Small Business Administration has empowered economic growth and job creation by : Increasing total number of email subscribers to 1.3 million. Increasing number of small businesses taking entry-lev- el courses by 255% and visits to targeted resources by 72%. has provided trusted, timely and valuable government information to a larger audience by: Doubling the ability to proactively provide resources by adding 244,000 new subscribers in 6 months. Increasing engagement of messag- ing with a 66% increase in total opens and 156% increase in total clicks in 6 months. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has increased awareness of healthier school lunches by: Increasing the total number of parents and providers receiving information about healthier food options by 143% in 6 months. Expanding reach beyond FNS through other key government stakeholders, reaching 500,000 additional stakeholders.
  10. 10. 8 Executive Research Brief Government outreach has under- gone a tremendous transforma- tion in the past 10 years. “There has been a massive transition from communications as a public into communications as a strate- gic asset to change behavior and support program objectives on a massive scale,” said Burns. “Gov- ernment is increasingly using com- munication to have a critical and measureable impact in areas that matter greatly, and that is exciting.” Government is at a crossroads. Today, communication tools are leading the government into the future, helping modern- ize and transform how govern- ment agencies connect with the public. By adopting these tools and strategies, you will put your agency on the path toward more adoptions, efficiency and effec- tiveness and re-energize your organization by transforming the way you engage with the public. • - formation updates on your agen- cy’s homepage. But don’t have the sign-up option only there. You should have sign-up boxes on every page that has compel- ling information and on pages • Implement an overlay on your homepage. The overlay will dark- en your homepage, but it high- lights the ability to sign up for content from your organization. GovDelivery has seen public sec- tor organizations increase their outreach by more than 500 per- cent using overlays. • Find a collaborator. Find entities that have similar programs or mission goals and work together to promote one another’s con- tent and information. If your pro- gram is focused on bullying, then work with an education organiza- tion or department to promote your content. • Craft a message that is relevant to your audience. When draft- ing a message consider whom you are trying to reach, what you want to inform them about and what you want them to do with the data. • Use a single platform that can track goals to coordinate multi- channel engagement tools. Give all internal stakeholders access to the platform, and utilize roles and permissions to drive consis- tent, cohesive messaging. 5 Tips for Implementing a Successful Outreach Strategy Government Communications & the Future of Engagement A F E W P O I N T E R S A Q U I C K S U M M A R Y marking and communications. We do the best we can with what we have, but if we had more resources we could and should do more. Our goal is to show people that we can enhance their lives and the com- munity by providing exceptional experiences.” – GovLoop Survey Participant Successful engagement is not just clicks and likes. “Success is about getting a large number of people to engage with the program in a way that sup- ports the program’s objectives,” Burns said. “If you’re trying to get people to comply with laws, how many are reading the most recent regulations and dem- onstrating comprehension or improved behavior? If you are promoting flu shots, can you demonstrate where outreach supports that goal?” To help you make successful pro- grams, Burns has outlined five easy insider tips for creating a robust engagement strategy:
  11. 11. 9Building Powerful Outreach About GovLoop GovLoop’s mission is to “connect government to im- prove government.” We aim to inspire public sector professionals by serving as the knowledge network for government. GovLoop connects more than 100,000 members, fostering cross-government collaboration, solving common problems and advancing government careers. GovLoop is headquartered in Washington D.C. with a team of dedicated professionals who share a commitment to connect and improve government. For more information about this report, please reach out to Emily Jarvis, GovLoop Online Editor on twitter: @emichellejarvis or via email: GovLoop 1101 15th St NW, Suite 900 Washington, DC 20005 Phone: (202) 407-7421 Fax: (202) 407-7501 Twitter: @GovLoop About GovDelivery GovDelivery enables public sector organizations to connect with more people and get those people to take action. More than 1,000 organizations, from the smallest local parks to the largest national agencies, trust GovDelivery’s secure, scalable, cloud-based plat- form to deliver highly impactful communications. In total, GovDelivery connects its clients with more than 60 million people. GovDelivery’s enterprise-class technology allows organizations to transform their communications to meet mission and program goals, resulting in safer communities, happier commuters, healthier families, and better government. Additional GovDelivery solutions allow public sector organizations to deliver emergency notifications, enhance online transactions, build online collab- orative communities, and track customer requests. For more on GovDelivery, visit
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