Ottawa View: Groupthink mot de jour experiencing sea-change

This column, serving as Strategy's window on Ottawa, looks at emerging issues, practices and trends in federal government communications.During the mid-1980s, some bright media light in search of a posh-sounding synonym for 'mean' must have tripped across the term 'draconian.'As a...

This column, serving as Strategy’s window on Ottawa, looks at emerging issues, practices and trends in federal government communications.

During the mid-1980s, some bright media light in search of a posh-sounding synonym for ‘mean’ must have tripped across the term ‘draconian.’

As a consequence, in true group-think form, the rest of the journalistic profession, and, subsequently, many interest group spokesthingies, couldn’t spit the words ‘cut’ or ‘measure’ out without prefacing them with ‘draconian.’

Thankfully, this use now seems to be on the wane.

However, I’m here to report that a new ‘mot de jour’ may well be muscling its way into the media lexicon.

Watch for it. ‘Sea-change’ looks like a real winner to me.

‘Convergence’ has also, of late, gained quite some currency.

Most commonly used to describe the coming together of telephone, television and computer technologies on the ‘information highway,’ it also aptly captures the tenor of what is happening in the marketing business.

Advertising, public relations, sales promotion, contract publishing, and, even lobbying are all sharing the same bed.

And, while there are plenty of cold feet, it is becoming apparent that in order to serve and keep clients, agencies must deliver on all fronts.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t any cover-hogging going on. The battle for supremacy between the impertinent upstarts that are now, more than ever, vigorously tugging away at previously sacrosanct ad budgets, and the traditional masters, is now at full pitch.

While the trend in Canada’s largest markets is toward mega-agencies that house a diverse range of expertise under one roof, Ottawa, although this country’s fourth most populous centre, is, of necessity, following a different route.

Because its largest ‘advertiser,’ as a matter of policy, must spread its budget out across the country, the revenue base here is not capable of sustaining big ad agencies.

In fact, the biggest, Hewson Bridge & Smith, ranks somewhere in the mid-40s among Canada’s top 100.

This is not to say that Ottawa lacks talent. Far from it.

The region boasts many lean, capable design/pr/advertising, and, increasingly, sales promotion, agencies.

In order to get business, many have formed alliances with each other. This approach will continue apace, particularly in light of how the federal government is accommodating convergence.

Partly to eliminate duplication, partly to co-ordinate the divergent, yet converging, disciplines mentioned above, and, partly, in its traditional role, to ensure consistent government-wide messaging, the Advertising and Public Opinion Research Directorate (formerly, amg) will, now, to a greater degree, be overseeing all departmental communications efforts.

In line with our ‘convergence’ theme, here’s how a recent Treasury Board contracting policy notice defined advertising:

‘All activities, including research, involved in the purchase, by, or on behalf of, the government, of space or time in print or broadcast media, or in other mass media, such as outdoor and transit advertising.

‘It also includes any collateral materials such as posters and counter displays, and printed material such as inserts that are a direct extension of an advertising campaign.

‘Public service announcements are also considered advertising.

‘Co-sponsorship initiatives, public relations, special events, direct marketing and promotion activities that are an extension or form part of an advertising campaign are included in the definition of advertising.

‘Paid announcements are not considered advertising in this context, unless an advertising agency is to be used.’

While I don’t understand the last sentence, the overall message is quite clear.

The Advertising and Public Opinion Research Directorate, under its minister, David Dingwall, is right on top of the convergence issue, and, as such, is taking legitimate steps to make sure that all government communications efforts, not just traditional advertising, work together to complement each other.

In order to adapt, Ottawa communications firms will, more than ever, have to rely upon their alliance-forming skills – both locally and nationally.

Nigel Beale is president of Nigel Beale and Associates, a communications firm, and operates the Ottawa offices of News Canada, a news distribution service. Reader feedback is encouraged and Beale can be contacted at (613) 241-9900 (phone); (613) 241-9477 (fax.)