Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lessons Learned: Amtower & Company - 29 years and counting

I started Amtower & Company January 1, 1985. After stints at Government Computer News (circulation director), the Gary Slaughter Corporation (management consulting and training), Earle Palmer Brown (ad agency), I had come to two conclusions:

    - I did not like working for other people, and
    - no one was treating marketing to the government as a distinct discipline.

So I thought I'd go to work for myself. Not that I had a choice...

I started by compiling lists of key feds in certain disciplines: IRM (now known as CIO), financial, procurement, training and a few others. None of these lists were huge (the largest was about 1,200). I had a dBase software package written so I had a way to deliver the data (floppy discs!). The software produced 3 different label formats. I kept these lists up-to-date via telephone and a few key government connections, and sold them as annual subscriptions, with updates for each.

In the 1980s, direct mail was a mainstay in marketing, even in marketing to the government. After a few years of doing this I discovered a few more things. I had developed a very narrow knowledge base that few possessed- I knew how to get mail delivered inside federal agencies and I had developed a bit of a reputation ( I was the "government direct mail guy") and had started meeting a few key movers in the government contracting arena.

Around 1989 one of my list clients said she really enjoyed talking to me because I never sent a bill. Apparently my knowledge of direct mail was important to more than a few people So the consulting side of Amtower & Company was born.

In January 1991, I hosted my first B2G seminar.

The four major components of marketing in the 1980s through the early 1990s were space advertising, PR, events and direct mail.

And along the way we had FASA, FARA, ITMRA - all manner of procurement reform and the advent of the purchase card program, each of which impacted B2G marketing.

In 1994 I was retained by PRC to advise on the marketing of the 2nd GWAC ever awarded, Supermini, a 9-year $11 billion contract.

By the mid-1990s my lists started including email addresses, and my best seller became the IMPAC (now SmartPay) mailing list, which became quite large. The web was pushing its way into B2G. Netscape changed everything in August, 1995. Not only did web sites become important, but email and e-commerce gained a foothold, led by Dendy Young and Falcon Microsystems.

Fast forward to the dot-com bubble, where venture capital firms were looking for B2G portals that offered a "one-stop" shop for feds. Bad idea...

Then the bottom fell out and we started over. Except that for many in this market the bottom did not fall out, because most government contractors were not fascinated by the shiny rocks of the dot-com era, knowing full well their biggest customer was a slow adopter and would continue doing business the usual way.

My skills, however, were morphing. Lists were becoming a much smaller part of my business and the consulting side, helping companies figure out the best ways to reach key audiences, was growing. Over the years I have advised hundreds of companies and helped them earn tens of billions of dollars.

So what about those "lessons learned"? Here are a few of them:

    - There is no marketing magic bullet. Each client and situation is different, defined by the nuances that occur with the passage of time, people involved on both sides, the current procurement and budgetary environment and more. So "one size" does not fit all and never has.

    - Differentiation is now and has always been key. Your company has to demonstrate superiority in one or more ways that resonates with the customer.

    - It is possible to develop a "subject matter expert" status in virtually any niche.

    - "Content is king" is not new and has been important all along. Hardcopy newsletters to key federal audiences were used by several companies as early as 1984, and probably before that. Bohdan's TechLetter helped Compaq grow quickly in the federal arena in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    - GSA Schedules have never been a panacea, even for products, and will be less so now.

    - Being "#1" is not a lifetime gig. Witness GTSI, the major reseller for more than a decade (1982 through the mid 1990s).  GTSI developed an attitude that bordered on arrogance. They got lazy, were bumped out of the #1 spot, then bought.

    - Marketing methods morph, and you have to provide information to influencers and buyers in multiple formats.Web 2.0 tools are critical moving forward- learn to use them.

    - Often it is necessary to tell the CEO that his concept of marketing is literally from a different era- the Montgomery Ward catalog model is dead.

    - White papers will never die.

    - Doing anything here without first doing the research is just plain dumb. Stay educated on the market nuances and trends.

    - Even with the difficulty we are currently experiencing with conferences and other events, face-to-face remains a key ingredient and events will not go away.

    - Social networking has come of age and is now an integral part of the B2G marketscape. LinkedIn especially has been adopted by feds and contractors alike and is now not simply a "must do", but a "must do well".

    - Educated salespeople are the best marketing tool. And as Fred Diamond says, if marketing is not aligned with sales goals, you are wasting money.

    - This is, and always has been, a relationship driven market. Your relationships and reputation are key to your growth as a company and as an individual.

    - The biggest lesson is not to become myopic, stuck in a marketing rut. Watch what is happening in B2C and B2B and be prepared for it as it is adopted into B2G.

And as my friend Bob Davis once said, "marketshare is rented, never owned".

29 years is just the beginning- I am not yet done...

If you are interested in seeing what works in B2G now, the now 15 year-old Government Marketing Best Practices seminar is back in February- and I hope to see you there!

Feb 11 – Government Marketing Best Practices 2014, Columbia MD -

Feb 12 – Government Marketing Best Practices 2014, McLean VA