Insights Pulled from a Sneak Peek of the 2020 Federal Media & Marketing Study
From the desk of Laurie Morrow, Vice President of Research Strategy, Market Connections Inc.
Over the twelve years my team has conducted the Federal Media & Marketing Study, we have looked at how federal audiences are engaging with different media properties from print publications to online to newer social medias. In addition to analyzing readership, we also investigate habits, trends, levels of trust and confidence and time spent with media along with other marketing tactics year over year.
With all the changes and pivots the federal market and those marketing to them had to make this year, I was eager to see whether there would be changes in this year’s results due to the pandemic, elections and other recent major events.
Taking a sneak peek into the findings, I found some interesting results around trust and confidence that while not tied to pandemic, may be a result of a charged political and social climate this year.
Confidence in News
The first is an overall decline in confidence in general news media. Like others, I was not necessarily surprised by this finding, as we started to see some drops in confidence in general news sources last year tied to political party affiliation.
What I did find surprising was seeing a decline in some federally focused media as well this year. Over the years, the level of confidence in federal news outlets has relatively remained unscathed but has distrust now seeped into federal media? Is this due to the charged climate, or do we expect to see this trend continue to grow in an era where “fake news” and general distrust in media grows along political and geographical lines?
Trust in Source
Similar to the level of confidence in news, this year’s results indicate an overall decline in trust of ALL sources of information, from associations to industry pubs to government contractors. While the ranking of trust in sources is relatively the same as last year, the general decline across the board could possibly point to a growing skepticism within the federal audience. In coming years, we will continue to measure that level of trust to see if this continues to trend down or if this current dip in trust is due to the current climate.
Regardless of whether this is a trend or not, this begs an important question, “What can we do as an industry to regain our federal customers’ trust?”
In addition to details around the level of confidence in media properties and rank sources of information by trustworthiness, the 2020 Federal Media & Marketing Study most notably studies the readership of general and federal publications, social media site usage, and television viewership and radio listenership (for the DMV), among other marketing tactics. We highlight any differences found by agency type, location (inside the beltway vs. outside), party affiliation, and geography (urban, suburban, rural) among other characteristics, where statistically different.
Learn more about our study, purchase the on-demand overview and/or annual subscription to the dashboard.
Laurie Morrow has over 25 years of experience in market research and was Market Connections’ first employee when it was founded in 1997.
In addition to her passion for research, Laurie also has a passion for the curly W – that is the Washington Nationals. You can almost always count on her being at spring training each March catching her favorite team prepare for a summer of pitches, swings and home runs for the upcoming season at Nationals Park.
With two signed baseballs from Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, a signed third base by Anthony Rendon, a signed baseball bat by Ryan Zimmerman, an impressive collection of bobbleheads and up- close-and-personal pictures with more than 20 players, we thought it would be fun to give you a glimpse to a different side of Market Connections’ vice president, and Nationals’ superfan, Laurie Morrow.
MC: How long have you been a Washington Nationals fan?
LM: Though I went to a few games here and there during the early years, I really started to take an interest when Bryce Harper was brought up to the majors. He is the same age as my oldest son who also played baseball. It was around the time my son stopped playing in his senior year of high school that Bryce came along. Instead of sitting in the bleachers at travel league and high school games, I started watching the Nationals faithfully on TV. I also try to attend a few games in-person every month.
MC: Who is your favorite player and why?
LM: Anthony Rendon. Tony is an awesome player and is truly underrated. He has never made it to the All-Stars but deserves to be there. Besides being a great baseball talent, he is very involved with the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. I hope the Nats re-sign him.
MC: What is your favorite Nationals memory?
LM: Attending spring training games played in their old stadium in Viera, FL before the team moved to West Palm Beach. The new stadium is very nice, but the old stadium was a great way to see the games and players up close. My husband and I try to go to spring training every year.
I can also share my least favorite memory. This was game two of the 2014 NLDS when the Nationals lost to the Giants (after 18 long innings!). I was at that game and stayed until the bitter end!
MC: Of course, we have to ask, do you miss Bryce Harper?
LM: I wasn’t surprised that the Nationals didn’t sign Harper. However, I wasn’t happy that he went to the Phillies and I will have to watch him play against the Nats 19 times a year for the next 13 years! I don’t really miss him. The Nats have great young talent on their team.
MC: What is your outlook for the 2019 season?
LM: I’m hoping the Nationals will start playing better baseball than they have in April and early May. They are a very frustrating team to watch. You can’t turn off the TV thinking they already lost or already won. It’s always a roller coaster ride, but it’s a fun one!
If you have questions about market research or the Washington Nationals, you can reach Laurie at email@example.com.
Laurie Morrow, Director of Research Services, Market Connections, Inc.
When doing research regarding perceptions and attitudes of key stakeholders, it is often very challenging to gain feedback that may be brutally honest or even negative. The reality is that the most honest feedback from research is always the most valuable and provides organizations with the insights needed to enhance performance.
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) recently undertook an aggressive research effort to gauge perceptions of its suppliers. After Maurice C. Stewart, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), joined the VA a few years ago, he undertook the tremendous challenge of rebuilding the agency’s reputation with suppliers, many of which were unsatisfied with the VA.
Beginning three years ago, Stewart led an initiative called the Supplier Relationship Transformation (SRT) program. In order to thwart discontent, VA officials began surveying vendors and traveling around the country to host industry forums. The feedback the agency received was often hard to swallow, but they were able to begin developing targeted, multifaceted plans to make its processes with suppliers better. This was no easy task. Stewart recently told Federal Computer Week, “Initially, some folks were reluctant to read what was reported on the surveys.” Essentially, the VA recognized there was a problem and took the bold step of facing it head on.
When doing research much like the VA undertook, we recommend starting with qualitative research (like in-depth interviews [IDIs] or focus groups) that allows organizations to flesh out the actual issues and hear directly from the stakeholders. We then recommend following up with quantitative studies (online or phone surveys), in order to properly validate the issues at hand. The VA did it right by implementing semi-annual supplier perception surveys, quarterly internal customer perception surveys and events including annual webinars and ongoing supplier outreach forums.
For instance, the VA was able to track measureable progress. Vendors were asked to use a five-point scale to rate VA’s performance in specific areas. When the first survey was conducted in October 2010, the agency scored 3.5 or higher in only two areas. In the second and third semi-annual follow-up surveys, companies gave VA a rating of 3.5 or higher in four areas. Obtaining feedback from industry sources is greatly important.
When digging through the research it is imperative to listen to all points of view, negative or positive, and then prioritize which ones are the most important to act upon. After identifying the major issues, we recommend assigning people who are accountable for addressing these challenges. Then, it is important to effectively communicate with everyone involved. This way, the entire team is on the same page and can act on the findings in a timely fashion.
By not trying to address all of the issues at once, or biting off more than you can chew, positive change will happen — creating better relationships with stakeholders as a result.
The effort should not stop after the initial evaluation. It is best to do follow-on research after 12-18 months to ensure that the issues are being fully addressed. Communicating and providing a follow-up survey with stakeholders gives organizations a chance to see what improvements are being made. It also shows the stakeholders that someone is listening and action is being taken. The initial effort is your benchmark and the subsequent research tracks and confirms that the plan for improvement is working.
When embarking on a widespread program evaluation such as the VA’s, you must conduct upfront communication with all internal team members prior to the measurement and evaluation stages. For instance, providing clear instruction to your team that you are soliciting feedback from stakeholders and there is a high probability that negative feedback will occur will help make things more palatable. Provide a clear message that the objective is to collect information to facilitate improvements for the betterment of the agency.
The General Services Administration (GSA), which handles $50 billion in business volume annually, is also looking to improve vendor communication and relationships. Steve Kempf, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FSA) stated that they are in the planning stages of launching a supplier relationship management initiative.
Taking a page from the VA, the agency recently surveyed 50,000 contractors to gain an understanding of how FAS is perceived as a business partner. The results will lead to specific action plans to build positive relationships with vendors. Additionally, the GSA has been reaching out to companies earlier in the contract development process to help in this initiative. The GSA’s Interact website hosts a community for industry members who are interested in providing input about the agency. This proactive approach is a great step toward building better relationships.
The VA and GSA should be commended for addressing performance by using research as the foundation for improving relations with suppliers.
On Thursday, May 17, Market Connections will present the first of a two-part webinar series for government program professionals on how to build a program evaluation roadmap to drive the change management process. For more details and to register, click here.