Q&A: Federal Media & Marketing Study Co-founders Commemorate Ten Years of FMMS and Its Impact on Federal Marketers

Federal marketers understand that when it comes to their budgets, every dollar is a precious resource, and having a strong strategy in place is essential. With that in mind, ten years ago, Market Connections and Sara Leiman launched the annual Federal Media and Marketing Study (FMMS) to help federal marketers hone in and perfect their campaigns using solid third-party research.

FMMS Co-founders

FMMS co-founders, (left to right) Lisa Dezzutti & Sara Leiman

The first (and still only) of its kind, the survey garners responses from more than 3,000 decision makers inside and outside the beltway, to understand their media consumption habits for print, digital, broadcast and social platforms. After ten years, the federal media study continues to be a must-have marketing tool in the federal arena.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary, Market Connections reached out to co-founders Sara Leiman and Lisa Dezzutti to reminisce on the birth of the study and to learn about how the study has evolved over the past ten years.

Market Connections: Think back to 2008. In the absence of research in the federal market space, what were you and colleagues like yourself doing to try to reach the market?

SL: The prevailing thought years ago was to lead with frequency by providing continual visibility in the same media outlets that best matched a given demographic; whether that was print, websites or broadcast. While the media community had very separate sources of research for each type of media; including: audit statements for print, Arbitron for radio, Nielsen for TV, and a growing number of ad serving and ad measuring companies for digital; the media community had nothing that looked at media habits holistically in a single study where one could compare different channels within the federal decision-maker community.

This lack of information did not allow us to provide custom recommendations by audience. We had no data that would tell us which media outlets were preferred by different demographics, for example, those who purchased IT services versus finance. Without the ability to prioritize media by specific audience, we could not prioritize their preferred method of delivery either; whether it was print, digital, radio or other outlets.

Market Connections: When you first got started, can you tell us what were some of the toughest hurdles you had to overcome in creating a comprehensive study like this? 

LD: The biggest hurdles in any research project are constructing an effective survey and ensuring sampling is sufficient and valid. This study was no different. We spent a lot of time crafting the survey questions and testing them before we ever rolled out the first survey. From a sampling perspective this study is more challenging than most because it requires such a large sample size for the data to be valid.  Sampling continues to be a challenge in the public sector as more and more agencies have adopted a “no-survey” policy. Our federal insights panel that we have built over the years helps us fill in the gaps.

Market Connections: What are some of the biggest lessons learned over the years?

SL: Overall, we learned that the federal audience is NOT a one-size-fits all. By this, we learned how media habits differed. For example, we learned LOCATION made a big difference. Media habits are very different inside versus outside the beltway as well as among civilian- versus defense-type agencies. DEMOGRAPHICS also had an impact on media habits including job function and area of purchase.

However, most importantly, and especially today versus 10 years ago, we learned it’s not just about the media; it’s also about TECHNOLOGY. It is important to understand how technology is used for targeting (by market, by domain, by specific demographics), for delivery (geo-fencing versus desktop or mobile by general location) and understanding how to overcome firewalls that are evermore present within government.

Federal executives have more choices for information access than ever before and they are using them all. Just like the rest of us. This survey captures the pulse of this audience with regards to their media habits.

Market Connections: What is the most interesting change for you in the market over the past 10 years, from your perspective?

LD: The most interesting has been the evolution of social media in the federal market. We didn’t even call it social media 10 years ago, we called it “networking sites” on the survey and listed examples LinkedIn and MySpace. The total that used those tools was less than 5%. The use of social media has exploded over the last ten years and forever changed media consumption behavior –attention spans are shorter and federal decision makers consume information from many more sources than ever before.  That presents both opportunities and challenges for federal marketers.

Market Connections: As you’ve done this study over the years, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in terms of study questions, analysis, and presentation?

LD: The primary goal of the study really hasn’t changed. It has always been to understand the media consumption habits of federal government employees. And we’ve always kept a core set of questions in order to track changes and trends over time. But there have been some things about the survey itself however that have changed over those years.

Throughout the years we’ve seen changes in media and in the federal marketplace and we updated the survey to capture those changes. Whether it was the addition of new media outlets, product categories and job functions, or technologies (the growth of mobile) and platforms (the advent of social media), the survey evolved as the media landscape changed. We also keep the study fresh each year by including a few questions that are topical to the federal market environment.

And last, but certainly not least, we listen to our clients, adding questions that are of particular interest to them and fit within the objectives of the federal media study.

Market Connections: How have your clients benefited from the data over the years? Can you share a story of a client who has used study results and has seen success?

LD: We had a client who was running radio spots in the DC area to influence perceptions of their company on key issues, particularly members of Capitol Hill. They contracted us to do a series of surveys to measure perceptions before, during and after a radio campaign. The mid-campaign survey, showed no movement in market perceptions. Given the size of their investment in radio we were surprised by this. Upon review of their media plan, we realized their advertising agency (not located in DC) was recommending stations that did not well target federal decision makers. We suggested they use the FMMS data to recast their radio buys for the second half of the campaign. The final leg of the study showed significant improvement in perceptions. Using the data to target federal decision makers in the right media outlets made all the difference.

In addition, over the years we’ve seen companies that use our data in very different ways beyond media planning and buying. We’ve seen clients use the information in sales playbooks to help sales and BD teams have a better understanding of their accounts and account behavior. While others have used the data as an input when creating buyer personas (a detailed representation of your ideal customer that helps determine where to best focus time and investments). Clients also use the data to help target content placement and PR pitches.

Market Connections: Why would you recommend federal marketers purchase a subscription to the dashboard?

SL: As industry professionals, our job is to make sure that we are investing our client dollars in the most efficient way possible. The customized reports by demographic that are available in this survey database allow you to view and understand the most comprehensive and efficient media for any demographic within government.

LD: No one has an unlimited marketing budget. Federal marketers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate success. There is not a lot of wiggle room to make a mistake. It is easy to waste a lot of money very quickly in this market. The FMMS data helps ensure that companies are getting the best ROI they can on their marketing investment by effectively reaching their target audience.

Learn more about the study and subscribe to the dashboard.

Did you miss the Federal Media & Marketing Study breakfast event? Join us for the first of our webinar series highlighting key points and insights from the study, “Marketing Tactics and the Federal Environment: A Federal Media & Marketing Study Webinar.”

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