Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Could the government replace some advertising and communications contracts with crowdsourcing?

Many government initiatives need to be communicated to all or some of the community to increase awareness and, in some cases, encourage behavioural change.

Whether advising people of changes in tax laws, informing and influencing the community's health habits, or seeking public submissions in a consultation, there needs to be communications strategies in place to identify, reach and influence appropriate audiences.

Over the past forty years, like other large private sector organisations, government departments have worked with specialist advertising and communications agencies to provide the extra help required to craft messages and run communications campaigns.

This approach helps smooths out bumps in hiring (providing extra hands and minds for short periods), introduces fresh ideas from highly talented communications experts and provides a broader perspective through exposing government departments to people who continually work across the entire communications industry.

However new approaches to sourcing communications ideas are now emerging - thanks to digital communications.

Recently Unilever removed the advertising agency for its Peperami product and replaced it with - crowdsourcing.

Rather than using Lowes, the agency who had worked on the account for 16 years, Unilever put up a US$10,000 prize and, using a service called Ideabounty, opened up the account to anyone in the world with good ideas.

I won't go into the details of this example - there's more information in The Guardian's article, Unilever goes crowdsourcing to spice up Peperami's TV ads.

However what I will ask is this - should the Australian government look beyond advertising and communications agencies for good communications ideas?

Should we go directly to the communities impacted by our programs, invite them to provide ideas for communications campaigns and reward them appropriately?

Will this cost less than using professional agencies?

Will it deliver better or 'as good' outcomes?

Finally, if it does make sense, will our procurement and advertising guidelines allow us to use a crowdsourcing approach to deliver better outcomes at lower costs?

It's probably a good time for government agencies to think about these questions - I expect we'll begin being asked them in the next few years as more organisations visibly consider crowdsourcing.

Below are a few reference articles on the topic worth reading - I welcome your comments, particularly from  anyone who provides communications services to Australian governments.

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