Thursday, December 21, 2017

Looking Backward at 33 years in GovCon . . . and counting

Career Highlights Timeline
Observations and lessons learned

(This is a continuation and the background for my article at WashTech). 

I am a marketing guy who happens to specialize in B2G marketing. I watch the market closely, comment on it frequently, often sharing ideas that may not be popular, sometimes stating things many may think but don't have the venue to say.

The freedom to write and say many things has garnered me attention well beyond marketing. I'd be lying if I said i did not enjoy the attention, but it comes with a self-imposed responsibility. I strive be be accurate, able to support my positions. I work hard at not being mean and taking cheap shots, except occasionally at Congress. And I try very hard to be open-minded, to be able to alter an opinion or acknowledge when I am wrong.

As a marketing guy I have had more than my "fair share" of publicity, but I work hard to stay on the radar.

So how did I get here? This is the timeline.  There are lessons learned from each decade at the end.

Late 1984: get tired of working for other people; Ronald Reagan is president.

1985-2004: The Direct Marketing & Big GovCon Show Era

Jan 1985: I open Amtower & Co. Our original niche was compiling small databases of key feds: IRMs (old name for CIO), CFOs, Procurement execs, Program managers, trainers. We sold these in a dbase program which generated mail labels. I started getting information from government mail managers and address requirements.

1986: Lynn Bateman becomes my unofficial mentor

1988: a list client calls, and after a lengthy chat, at the end she says “What’s great about talking to you is you never send a bill…”  The consulting side of Amtower & Co is born.

1988-1991: co-founded Assn of Mailers to the Federal Government with John Long of Federal Computer Week. We represented the top mailers (catalogs and business pubs) going into federal agencies. It was the first time the government trade publications acted in concert, making certain the magazines and (hopefully) other mail got through the labyrinth.

We started meeting with the Committee on Mail Policy (fed mail mgrs) and discussing deliverability issues. Also started going on tours of various federal mailrooms, including the Pentagon. AMFG merged with the Direct Marketing Assn of Washington in 1991.

1988: I attend my first Federal Sources OUTLOOK and am awed by those attending- a veritable “who’s who” of the marketI met Tom Hewitt.

1988: IMPAC charge card pilot program at DOC

1988: George HW Bush elected president

1989: IMPAC card program rolls out; $9 million in year 1

1989: first article in a trade publication- Circulation Management, first of over 300 articles in over 30 business publications

1990: first public speaking gig to a group of Canadian companies that want to do business with the US Federal govt. I said "uh" frequently and made little eye contact.

1990-??: There was at least one major GovCon trade show each quarter, sometimes more. FOSE was always the biggie, reaching a high of over 60,000 attenders. ComNet, Federal Computer Conference, TechNet and more.

1990-1991: start getting involved in associations; FGIPC (now ACT/IAC) and IAC, AFFIRM

1991 (Jan): first Amtower & Co public seminar, “Direct Marketing to the Government” – over 80 people attend the morning an ice storm hits town.

1991: met with my first GovCon CEO, Dendy Young of Falcon Microsystems. This occurred because Carol May (of FCW) told me my target client should be CEOs, not MarComs.

1992: Bill Clinton elected president.

1992:  Married Mary Ellen June 27. Spoke at the GSA CASU conference in the middle of our honeymoon in Charleston, SC.

1992-1994: founded and produced The Government Marketing Services Conference and Expo (my attempt to run a major event. We took over the McLean Hilton ballroom and all meeting rooms for a full day – 3 years. I discovered that I should not manage conferences.

1992-1994: member, FOSE Board of Advisors

1992-1994: member, National Computer Security Assn (NCSA) Board of Advisors

1992-2007: editor The Amtower Marketing Report (hardcopy newsletter, the e-newsletter); 7,000+ subscribers. Changed name to The Amtower Report around 2003

1993: I learn the real power of connections via Tom Hewitt and FOSE. Christina Nelson, in charge of the conference portion of FOSE, called and asked me to help getting a General at the Pentagon to  return her calls. I told her I would help. I did not tell her I had no idea who this guy was, so I called Tom Hewitt, probably the best connected person in the market. Tom knew “General “Buzz” and within 2 hours the General had called Christina and provided a speaker.

1994: the first time I see a resume that lists one of my seminars as “continuing education”

1994: my first major media profile/interview: profiled in AdWeek’s Marketing Computers, photo shoot on Capitol Hill the day after my daughter is born.

1994-2001: The Digital Government Era Dawns and Associations Rejuvenate & Expand

1995: August, Netscape launches Navigator and the world changes overnight.

1995: Jay Weinberg (then at Unisys) calls to tell me he’s moving to Chicago and thanks me for being his mentor. I am floored. I hadn’t viewed myself in that role. Jay told me I was mentor to many.

1995-2001: member, eGov Board of Advisors

1996: Bill Clinton re-elected president.

1996: started getting quoted regularly in government and business trade press; to date, over 350 quotes and interviews. In Federal Computer Week alone I was quoted over 130 times, and over 100 in Washington Technology (excluding my articles). 

1996: selected to co-chaired the most contentious election in IAC - FGIPC history. IAC nearly became history.

1998: the first AmtowerOff-White Paper highlights the stats that GSA Schedules are dominated by a very small % of GSA Schedule holders. Richard Mackey of CapitalReps provided the research.

1999-2001: the “gov 2.0 dot bomb catastrophe” where those influenced by Silicon Valley and massive amounts of venture capital back nebulous B2G start-ups and lost big $.

2000: George W Bush elected president.

2001- 2014: The web 2.0, Gov 2.0 Era; and the end of the Jurassic/Big show era

2001-2003: founded and chaired the Government Marketing Forum, monthly briefing for B2G marketers.

2001-2002: irrational exuberance hits the publishing world. Multiple “homeland security” publications pop up in the wake of 9/11  

2001-2004: member, Pest Patrol Board of Advisors (first suite of anti-hacker tools), Sold to CA for $40 million

2001-present: Government Marketing Best Practices starts as seminar. 2004-2005 toured US (12 cities over 2 years)

2002: defending a federal procurement exec in the press pays unexpected dividends-

2003-2006: member, American Consultants League Board of Advisors. ACL offered certification for consultants.

2003: my most popular and quoted off-white paper: Amtower Off-White Paper #21 “FOSE, The Big Bag Theory, Marketing Myopic and the Making of Myths” causes a major stir in the GovCon community -

2004: joined LinkedIn February 11, member # 222,445.

2004: George W Bush re-elected president.

2005: Government Marketing Best Practices published as book; published by Government Market Press (an Amtower Company) – sells over 9,000 copies. 

2005: The “epiphany” lunch speech at the annual MeritDirect coop. It was a hit. Several people asked for a copy of the speech and two of my advisors, Don Libey and David Powell, said it should be my next book.

2005-2009: charter member, American Small Business Coalition Board of Advisors; Board chairman 

Summer, 2006: I get a call from a friend. He is at a VA Conference in Richmond and he tells me that as he is speaking, the VA OSDBU is in front of 300+ people holding up my book saying, “I don’t know who this guy is, but you’ve got to buy this book!”  THE VA ends up buying over 2,000 copies on my book to distribute to small businesses. As the book was self-published, I was able to give them a great price.

2007: Government Market Master program starts. First projects are CD interviews with industry experts: 3 hours with Bob Davis on business development and 4 hours with Max Peterson on selling to Uncle Sam.

2007-present: invited to host Amtower Off Center on Federal News Radio. Amtower Off Center is the first talk show anywhere to address the issues faced by government contractors. 

2007: Why Epiphanies Never Occur to Couch Potatoes- the MeritDirect speech becomes a book.

2007:  reading 2 books changes my view of marketing:  I’m on LinkedIn, Now What?  (Jason Alba) and  The New Rules of Marketing and PR  David Meerman Scott)

2008: BtoB magazine selected me to be one of the Top 100 Business Marketers. I am the only consultant from GovCon ever awarded this honor.

2008: started writing about LinkedIn as a marketing tool in my newsletter; newsletter shelved after Aug, 2008.

2008: July session of GMBP was the first time I focused on the entire session on the power of web 2.0 and social networking

2008: Barack Obama elected president.

2009: present, columnist for Washington Technology

2009: first speech on LinkedIn at Virginia Beach AMA session. Met some great people, including Steve Bain.

2009: winner, Rock The World With Your Online Presence, a LinkedIn profile contest. Seven profiles were ultimately selected out of 50 million. Mine was one of the seven. 

2011- while many are in awe of Vivek Kundra, I look for substance, find little and say so publicly

2011: Selling to the Government (John Wiley); 1st run is 10,000 copies; ebook version comes out June 2011. It hit the Amazon business best seller list briefly a few times.

2011-present: member, HyLighter Board of Advisors

2011-present: founder and director, The Government Market Master Forum (continuing professional educational forum)

2012: Barack Obama re-elected president.

2014: the re-launch of The Amtower Report

2015-present: adjunct professor George Washington University graduate school for Master’s degree in Government Contracting

2016: Donald J Trump elected president

To date:

I have advised over 1,500 government contracting companies, written 300+ articles in various trade publications, been interviewed or quoted in over 350 publications worldwide, have presented at over 250 industry events, produced of over 150 public and private events, written 6 books, been on the WFED for nearly 12 years, contributed to Washington Technology for 9 years - and I am not done yet.

2018- to ??: The Web 3.0/mobile era,
24/7/365 access and the emergence of (nearly) embedded technology

Lessons from the 1980s:

-         - Relationships count

-         - B2G direct marketing was important, but it was only part of the puzzle

-         - Having an educated point of view was critical

Lessons from the 1990s:

-         - My educated point of view starts to find and develop venues for sharing

-         - Big events eat major holes in marketing budgets; is it worth the freight

-         - Producing a major event is EXPENSIVE!

-         - 1993: Hewitt/FOSE and the power of having a network

-         - Netscape Navigator changed the world in August 1995

-        -  Static Websites were cool – hell, at least you had one.

-         - “Irrational exuberance” over how the web was changing things got into the B2G arena in the late 1990s – with soon-to-be disastrous effects

Lessons from the 2000s:

 The government is a slow adopter when it comes to the ‘transactional web”

-          Even big events suffer a slow death; FOSE starts a slower shrinking process and other events just disappear (eGov, FedMicro, etc)

-          When a major disaster (9/11) strikes, slimeballs crawl out from under rocks to try to cash in (Equity International)

-          Small things can set Congress is a reaction mode (“I need 15 seconds of air time!”, or if you prefer, the Claude Rains syndrome- think Casablanca when he is “shocked” to find gambling at Rick’s)– 1 instance of credit card abuse-

Lessons from the 2010s:

-    The government re-cycles failed procurement philosophies: LPTA (the “Desktop” contracts from the early 1990s); GSA as IT lead (Anne Rung sounding like Lurita Doan)

-    - Mobile will be king- at least for a while. But 24/7/365 information access is here to stay regardless of the format

-   - SBA still has no clue as to what constitutes a “small business” when it comes to the government market

-   - Events will not go away, but become more issue/results focused

-    - Web 2.0 marketing & networking are here to stay, though they will continue to evolve

SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE: the big issues – Questions that have been coming at me for 34 years
11)      Who is the decision maker and how do I reach him/her?
22)      What are the most effective marketing methods?
33)      Should I exhibit at/attend (this) event?
44)      What are the best sources for contract info?
55)      What are the best lead sources?

Big lessons learned

- the government market is big and there is room for many. However it is not for the faint of heart, those looking for a quick hit, and regardless of how hard you try, the odds are NOT in your favor unless you hire the right people AND get good-to-great advice early and often. This advice HAS to come from the outside;

- this market demands that you and your team stay on top, keep learning, and be near the cutting edge, not on it;

- the biggest lesson is this remains a relationship driven market and your reputation is your biggest asset.

Bottom line: I am a marketing guy who happens to specialize in B2G marketing. I happen to have opinions and an educated point of view, which I share in multiple venues.

If I can do it, you can do it.