Mark this date down. You won’t see this often, but I’m about to come to the defense of the U.S. federal government.
In September 2016, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Senator Mike Enzi (R-WYO) commissioned a report on public relations spending by the federal government from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report showed that the U.S. Federal Government spends “close to $1 billion annually” on public relations and marketing activities and contracts, and about $500 million in federal salaries to public relations and public affair specialists.
When I first saw the report, I didn’t fixate on the dollar amount. I know it’s a lot of money. But it really isn’t.
After all, $1.5 billion is NOT even 1% of the total federal budget of nearly $3.8 trillion.
Let’s compare the spending from a private-sector perspective. Consider this recommendation based upon several market research firms.
” . . . a $1 billion firm can expect to spend between $40 million and $102 million on marketing, and between $600,000 and $2.6 million on public relations. – Michael A. Monahan, PR Daily (July 2016)
If my math is correct, a private sector firm will spend about anywhere between 4 and 12 percent, which is pretty close to what market researchers have found to be the mean. And, I’m not even sure if that figure and recommendation factors in the cost of marketing and public relations employees salaries like the GAO report did.
So, why are we still seeing bloggers and news reports making a big deal about this report nearly 4 months after it was issued?
“Congress should tell the administration how agencies are doing through rigorous oversight. Funding self-promotional agency PR campaigns is absurd.” – Adam Andrzejewski
“Interestingly, with billions being spent on public relations, the federal government ‘continues to be viewed less favorably than state and local governments.’” – Sara Lee
I know that my position goes against the grain, but I really don’t see what the big deal is about the amount of money the federal government spends on PR.
Granted, do I think that the Pentagon and the DOD should make up roughly half of the U.S. Federal Government PR budget? No, I do not.
But, I’d rather see a more equitable share of the dollars spent in PR across governmental agencies than reduce the spending.
We often get some of our most valuable information about the federal government’s activities through public relations. PSA’s, public health brochures, the Smithsonian Zoo’s webcams, governmental press releases, The White House press team, and so much more are tools that the federal government uses to keep us informed about activities of the government. PR helps keep the government transparent and even provides us with pleasurable experiences.
Take a look at the extensive governmental agency website index. Each of these websites provide us with important updates and information regarding the workings of the federal government. This information is available to the public 24-7-365. These websites are often the place where private citizens and the press alike can gain learn about what’s going on in the government through press releases and statements.
Unlike a private sector company where the main function of the marketing and public relations team(s) is to create a favorable image in order to produce more profits, the main purpose of the federal government’s public relations and marketing teams are to keep its citizens informed. Without the federal government PR employees and spending we’d have a heck of a lot less transparency.
So, I’d really like everyone to stop making it seem like the federal government is wasting our money on public relations. The federal government does waste a lot of money, but I don’t think that this is one of those areas. At a time when everyone is calling for more transparency in government, federal PR is crucial.
What do you think? I’d love to see your comments.
As always, thanks for following and sharing.