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Mallard: Social marketing in the public sector

Trevor Mallard Speech: Social marketing in the public sector

Speech to the opening of the inaugural Social Marketing For Social Profit Conference, Hotel Intercontinental, Gray St, Wellington

Good morning.

We are surrounded by messages trying to sell us something - that's marketing and it's what makes the commercial world go round.

But some of the messages are selling a social product - a behaviour or lifestyle change. Are these social "products" any different, or any better, than their commercial counterparts? Yes, they are - because they are about creating positive social change; making the lives and lifestyles of individuals, families and society better in the long term.

Some social change takes place naturally. When it seems that change won't occur naturally, the Government can intervene through legislation and regulation.

But in some instances it is not possible or appropriate for the Government to legislate.

That's when Government turns to its agencies in the public sector, and their partners, to encourage change through other means.

Increasingly, agencies are using social marketing in order to promote positive behaviour change.

This is a relatively new concept for New Zealand, but the profession first evolved in the 1970s.

It was then realised that the same marketing principles that were being used to sell products to consumers could be used to promote or ‘sell’ ideas and behaviours – and could be integrated into policy development and service delivery.

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There are now many social marketing programmes, most of them taxpayer funded, underway in New Zealand.

Today, I have been asked to set the scene for the first national social marketing conference.

And as a representative of the Government, which invests in so many social marketing programmes, I want to take this opportunity to:

- talk about the public sector context that your programmes sit within, and talk about my vision for public service in New Zealand; and

- add my perspectives to the debates and discussions that will take place throughout this conference. It is my hope that you will come away from this conference with new insights and perspectives, and that we will see the results in the social marketing campaigns that you are involved in.

There is change underway in New Zealand’s state sector management as this government seeks to build a strong public service with the needs of New Zealanders at its heart.

However this change process is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The key drivers behind the changes are: The need for government to actively increase engagement with the public in its decision-making processes; Involving more people in how the state sector does business. This includes moving from a Wellington-centred approach to a community-centred approach; forming partnerships in problem-solving; and employing technology to simplify things for New Zealanders; The shift to a ‘whole of government’ approach to issues. The service experienced by New Zealanders is much more important than which agency does the delivery; and The need for government, and the public service as a whole, to take a more proactive and values-driven leadership role in state sector management. This includes strengthening the people, the culture and the leadership that comprise the state sector, as well as strengthening the integration of structures and processes. It also includes breaking down silos within and across departments and enhancing centralised coordination.

It is essential that we change the way we think of our own work in individual agencies and collectively expand our thinking across the wider state sector.

As the state sector focuses on getting better results from tax-payer funded programmes and services, there is increasing interest in preventative strategies and methods which encourage voluntary changes in behaviour.

In New Zealand, as in many countries, government agencies are seeking new and creative approaches to resolve long-standing social problems.

For these reasons social marketing to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences is now being applied to a wide variety of social issues.

As the government, we invest in social marketing programmes for one important reason: we want to create positive social change.

And because we can't do it ourselves, we must hand these programmes over to the public sector and their partners to conduct. And so we rely on you and your colleagues; on your managers and your staff; to do this well.

We ask you to spend the public money effectively, to get results, to create social change, to do good work and to conduct yourselves ethically on our behalf and on behalf of New Zealand citizens.

And, I think, by and large New Zealand social marketing is showing real strength. At this conference you will hear a number of case studies of programmes that are working well; but hopefully also some discussion of what hasn't worked well, so that you can learn how to do better.

For my part, I wanted to give you some of my ideas about state sector management trends and their relevance to social marketing.

One - Think innovatively

There is a need to think innovatively. Innovation is the application of creative, unusual or novel solutions to problems or needs. And in social marketing, perhaps more than anywhere else, innovation is crucial.

There is perhaps a tendency in the state sector to avoid risk. There are valid reasons for this - such as the sector's high visibility and political risk - which discourage innovation and tend to encourage cautious management behaviour.

But there are some times when responsible risk is desirable, and some challenges that require it. The complex area of encouraging behaviour change is one.

I said "responsible risk". To change this risk averse culture requires a deeper level of engagement between ministers and officials, so both sides understand the risks and can agree on the strategies to manage them.

For example, using social marketing as a tool to help stop child abuse involved some real risks. However, the Breaking the Cycle campaign in the mid-1990s was very successful at raising public awareness and modifying behaviours amongst its target groups. Extensive multimedia education exposed emotional and verbal abuse, whilst the accompanying parenting booklets and freephone counselling service provided interactive support for the responsive primary target – adults capable of self-correcting behaviour. Evidence such as call data suggests that this approach provided a powerful combination, motivating parents to change their behaviour.

Two - Think whole-of-government

Secondly, the idea is to think “whole of government”. In other words, form partnerships with other agencies.

Social and health issues are often so complex that one agency can't make a dent by itself.

You need to team up with other agencies that share the same goals and identify ways you can work together and be more effective. This conference is a great development in this regard.

Other organisations who share the same goals should be identified through the Statement of Intent development process. Alternatively, form networks and groups to share ideas and strategies. This very conference is the direct result of such associations.

It's also important to be aware of what other campaigns are being planned, or are underway, by others in the Government sector.

The New Zealand government sector is large by international standards (some 40 percent of GDP) and generates a proportionately large amount of communication activity.

In addition, it is estimated that central government (excluding its commercial arms) spends about $50 million annually in ratecard value on advertising in all forms of media.

We must therefore be careful not to create a situation whereby the general population feels bombarded with government messages and switches off the concepts.

More market segmentation and information sharing between agencies on the nature, and timing, of programmes may provide some answers.

Three - Share research and resources

This leads into my next point – share your research and resources. Social marketers often have many different audiences that their programme has to reach in order to be successful.

Research is fundamental to understanding all these different audiences and the best method of reaching them.

For example, many government agencies must undertake research in the area of teenage attitudes, behaviours and perceptions – whether towards smoking, drinking or safe sex.

I would hope that this research is easily available to be shared between the relevant agencies or perhaps, even better, that agencies might come together when planning research, to maximise its use and minimise the "research impost" on the public.

Research that is used to form policy development should also be used to inform social marketing strategies. But to do this, it has to be designed appropriately. This requires good planning and working relationships within public sector organisations.
Four - Be aware of the wider policy environment

Social marketers working in the public sector must also be aware of the wider policy environment. Social marketing works best when it operates hand in hand with appropriate policies and services.

Social marketing programmes can do well in motivating individual behaviour change, but that is difficult to sustain unless the policy environment they are in supports that change for the long run.

It is therefore essential to remain cognisant of current policy. Rather than straying away in a different direction, embrace it as an overarching framework for your dynamic campaign. Ultimately, this approach can only further strengthen your message.

Five - Connect with the community

It’s also clear that social marketing won't work unless it connects with the community.

The government is intent on engaging more with the community – so we can develop practical solutions rather than being seen to preach Wellington waffle.

However, delivering social marketing programmes to specific community groups has to be handled carefully to avoid the risk of stereotyping the target group.

The problem of communicating with ethnic groups effectively is one that every social marketer faces and I think New Zealand is still working towards getting it right. The answer probably lies in doing it through and with the communities themselves, and we have got a lot to learn from overseas, who have been struggling with this for longer than we have.

Mäori audiences have recently been the targets of some exciting social-marketing activity by the Ministry of Education.

The Te Mana campaign is aimed at lifting participation and achievement by young Mäori in education, by providing motivation and information and tools to help them achieve and encourage them to stay tuned in to education.

A lot of effort has gone into ensuring the Te Mana campaign was conceived and carried out in a culturally appropriate way.

The campaign featured real people telling real stories – to try and break through the cynicism barriers. Te Mana is now showing some encouraging attitudinal and behavioural change results. This initiative is pushing the boundaries and will hopefully create momentum for similarly edgy, people-centred campaigns.

You will be hearing from the Te Mana project coordinators Lynley Cunningham and Tere Harrison about the Te Mana campaign and how it works, later today.

Six - Measure your outcome

A question often asked by ministers is whether the results of social marketing campaigns can be accurately measured.

There is an absolute need to gauge the value and effectiveness of such programmes, but it is also important to ensure that the cost of measurement is proportionate to the cost of the programme. For smaller budget programmes this can mean being creative about how you design your measurement - and designing your implementation strategies to support this.

Measurement is obviously very important in big dollar social marketing campaigns.

For example, Sport and Recreation New Zealand’s ‘Push Play’ campaign has been designed around a set of specific measurable objectives and outcomes.

I know, as Sport and Recreation Minister, that physical inactivity comes second only to smoking as a modifiable risk factor for poor health and is associated with eight percent of all deaths.

Physical inactivity is estimated to account for over 2,600 deaths per year. A 10 percent increase in participation in physical activity could result in 600 fewer deaths per year.

Weighty statistics like these highlight that it was important to establish a programme to address this social problem. A key part of the programme is a research and measurement process designed to contribute to campaign development, assess effectiveness, and also to assist in refining the campaign as it develops.

Grant McLean, Senior Advisor Research SPARC, will tomorrow be explaining to you what factors motivate and constrain physical activity and eating habits in New Zealand adults.

Seven – Consider Ethics, Values and Standards

Social marketers should consider carefully the issue of ethics when developing campaigns.

These campaigns are often exhorting behaviour change in very private areas of our lives, and the programmes, if they are successful, can have a very powerful impact on people. The information sought through social marketing research programmes is often very personal and private.

For this reason, social marketers must be careful at all times to respect the information and the rights of the people they are marketing to.

And, I should remind you, the public sector also has a responsibility to operate ethically in its interaction with external organisations and suppliers.

For public servants, this relationship must be handled with caution.

For example, the Ministry of Health is currently taking a close look at its contracts with non-government organisations in order to ensure they are appropriate for a central government agency.

Our public service is founded on the principle of political neutrality - that public servants should act in ways that enable them to serve the current, and any future, government irrespective of its political make-up.

Party political activity, including lobbying and/or advocacy, or funding of such activities, is unacceptable.

Social marketing, like state sector reform, should proceed slowly. The public has lost its appetite for any big bang approach. Change has to be done incrementally and rationally and there is no single model or philosophy that can be applied across the board.

This however, should not be seen as a barrier, but provide motivation to connect, share, create and together achieve brilliance.

Take this opportunity to engage, become empowered and establish a robust dialogue. These projects are in existence because the government invests in them, and in return, is looking for real, positive social change. I ask you to amaze me with the programmes that you conduct.

I wish you well with your future programmes and for the remainder of this conference.

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