I'm always looking for support of my theory that state legislatures, and indeed all levels of government, need to do a better job of promoting the value of their institutions. To accomplish this, I suggest such crazy concepts as engaging the media, putting public information staff at the policy table, increasing communication staff and even considering public awareness campaigns and advertising.
That's why I was attracted to the title of a book, Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy, written by two colleagues at the Harvard Business School. John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz (whose last two names resemble the tiles I usually pull in Scrabble, without the vowels) successfully make the argument that a "citizen can learn from the consumer and government can learn from marketers."
They suggest that "just as our economy and society have evolved, so should our democracy." The two present data and theories to support their arguments. Their style is more academic than the people who I believe need to embrace their recommendations -- public officials, agency heads and public information staff -- care to plod through.
Still, they make critical points on why marketing is important to democracy. Whereas government agencies and legislatures could once command the attention of the media, the landscape has changed dramatically. In the media, there fewer news organizations and reporters covering government. And there is more competition for time and space. There are very few corporations or advocacy groups that don't employ public relations strategies to get their messages across. And then there's that age-old problem of everyone railing against the institutions.
"If political players -- including the two major U.S. parties and individual politicians -- were marketers, they would collectively worry about building the public's faith in their institution. They would want to convey value in what government delivers to citizens...But politicians, for whatever reason, have done very little to market government. They are as likely to campaign against the idea of government as to campaign for it."
Another benefit of marketing, the authors say, is that it helps advance good public policy.
"Good marketing can assist public policy objectives that involve changing citizens' attitudes and behaviors....However, politicians recoil at the word marketing (despite marketing themselves) and habitually underfund marketing programs that come up for budgetary approval. Often the solution to society's needs is a matter not only of inventing programs or products but also of delivering them and educating people on their use."
Public officials are very reluctant to engage in public relations strategies because of the associated costs and perceived perception that taxpayers will find such expenditures unworthy. However, I tend to agree with Val Marmillion, of Marmillion + Company, who has told NCSL audiences, "If you aren't controlling the message, then someone else is controlling it for you."
Quelch and Jocz rightly argue that marketing just for marketing's sake is not the right thing to do. "Marketing at its best is not only image-polishing: it is also a matter of improving substance." And politicians often don't help the cause, they say. "...Corruption scandals involving politicians and government officials taint the entire institution. Ultimately, if citizens lose faith in the possibility of good government, they are not likely to demand good government and not likely to get it."