Seeing Spots

Contractors place ads where government buyers will read them.

Metro riders in Washington are bombarded with messages about vacationing in West Virginia and buying houses in Baltimore. Now they're getting hit with one more: Buy Unisys software.

This fall, Unisys Corp., an information technology services company in Blue Bell, Pa., wrapped Metro trains in bright red and orange along with the tag line, "Don't take fear for an answer." It's part of a national campaign to associate the company with cutting-edge solutions in IT security.

"It helps our clients see us in a bolder, more creative way," says Ellyn Raftery, vice president of worldwide marketing and communications for Unisys. The purpose, she says, "is to get [clients] talking, to get them more aware of us, and for them to ask, 'What's going on at Unisys?' " Since 50 percent of Washington Metro riders are federal employees, she decided the trains were a good way to reach federal clients.

With tight agency budgets and a competitive market for government business, federal contractors are turning to advertising to rise above the crowd. Their full-page ads appear in The Washington Post and other publications, including this magazine. Sponsorships on National Public Radio and local commuter spots also are designed to catch the eye of federal employees, congressional staffers and senior government leaders with the power to direct contracts.

While the contracting process is designed to select companies based on objective criteria, analysts say advertising can provide an edge over competition.

As the Air Force looks to buy a slew of new planes, the subway routes that pass the Pentagon are covered in advertisements for various options, including Northrop Grumman's KC-30 Advanced Multi-Role Tanker Transport, Raytheon's Joint Cargo Aircraft and Boeing's tanker. "All the companies that are competing have been placing ads," says Murray Bond, director of marketing and sales for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

In September, when the Air Force Association hosted a convention in Woodley Park, a residential Washington neighborhood, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon blanketed the local subway station with images of their latest tanker and cargo planes. With hundreds of Air Force personnel passing through the station daily during the show, the goal was "to get people interested," says Northrop spokesman Gus Gulmert.

Not everyone is convinced the ads make a difference. "I don't pretend to understand why they think putting ads in the subway will affect decision-makers in the Pentagon," says Bond.

But contractors believe it will. In addition to creating "ongoing buzz," Raftery says Unisys places extra ads when bids are due, especially during the period between the solicitation release and award announcement, when contractors are prohibited from lobbying agency officials directly. "We might be in a blackout period where we can't necessarily have day-to-day verbal presence, but we want to stay alive and relevant," she says. And does it help? "My gut says yes."

Gordon Adams, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says ads amplify larger campaigns that involve lobbying and meetings with congressional and executive branch officials. Bid evaluators "could be reminded of aspects of the technical claim made by the contractor," he says. Or an ad might remind a congressional staffer that he has a meeting with the company's lobbyist later that day.

At the same time, when Adams served as a White House budget official during the Clinton administration, he says he can't remember anyone ever saying, "I saw this great ad, we have to buy this puppy."

Contractors also hope to create general good will through their advertisements. SAP, the global software company based in Newtown Square, Pa., uses advertisements to help make SAP a household name. Booz Allen Hamilton, a McLean, Va., consultancy, buys 10-second sponsorship slots on National Public Radio to promote its brand and boost morale among employees, as well as to recruit new ones.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.