An Interview with Mark Amtower – Government Marketing Expert

02/07/11 by Brandon

Our latest entry in our interview series ‘Trade Show Experts’ bring us Mark Amtower.  For those woking in the Government space, you’ve very likely heard Mark speak or have read one of his many articles as he is the leading authority in training businesses on how to secure work from the government.  For more information on Mark and the services his company offers, visit his website here.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into government focused marketing?

In the early 1980s I sold management training to Fortune 1000 companies and the government. I went from that to Government Computer News as the first circulation director. At both positions, especially at Government Computer News, I saw that no one treated marketing to the government as a separate discipline. I opened my company in 1985 and have focused on marketing to the government ever since. I also learned early on that this is a relationship driven market – you need to develop deep relationships with those occupying space in your niche on both the vendor and government side, as well as the trade press and event producer sides.

Can you tell us about the types of clients that you work with? Sizes?  Product/Service offerings?

Client size or product/service does not matter as much as the willingness to listen and act on my recommendations. I have worked with very large (Fortune 100) and very small (2-3 people) in both the product and service areas and the clients that listen and act are the ones that benefit. It is usually easier to get traction faster for product vendors, but any company coming into the market has to understand that it is a highly competitive and crowded market and no one enters quickly.

What are services that you offer to your clients?

I offer advice. I am not an ad agency or PR firm. I can help companies enter the market and I can help companies grow once in the market. My area of expertise is marketing to the government, knowing who the target audience is and how best to reach them. I can develop a marketing plan but I do not implement the program. I design things that the client company should be able to do internally or with their current agency. That would include event selection.

If a new business comes to you seeking advice on how to break into the government space, where do you recommend they start?  The government is so large, and there is so much information out there, that it can be overwhelming. What are some simple ‘get started’ tips?

Research is always first. Does the government buy what you sell? If so, what types of contracts do they prefer? Who are the competitors and how entrenched are they. How much do they currently make? What kind of resources will I have to dedicate in order to successfully enter this market and how long will it take to get traction (make money)? The final “up front” question: what are the odds of success. Research is always key, then figuring out what kind of internal and external resources it will take to accomplish the mission.

Everyone loves a good success story… Do you have any good/fun stories about a client of yours that experienced tremendous success in the Government space after working with your team?

Several come to mind, but one of my favorites goes back to the 1990s when I worked with Micro – the PC side of Micron, not the chip side. Micron had great desktops and laptops but the competition included Compaq, IBM, Gateway and Dell as well as several others. Dell was on a major government growth spurt and they could outspend Micron about 100-to-1 in ad dollars. So I sat down with the team (also about 100th the size of Dell’s team) and we looked at what Micron (MPC) had in the way of government customers. It turned out they had customer clusters in 5 major agencies. Rather than compete against Dell and the others head-up, we focused exclusively on those five agencies with in-bound sales, field sales account teams, agency-focused events, targeted advertising and other tactics. The idea was to sell where you were known and liked, to maximize the Micron presence in each agency where sufficient market share already existed. Over the enxt two years Micron was able to more than double their presence in each of those agencies. It isn’t sexy and it involves hard work, but the payoff was a growing “share of wallet” in each agency.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make with their government sector marketing?

Mistakes include thinking of the government as one homogeneous market, not as a morass of niches. The government buys every legitimate business product and service imaginable and the buyer/user community for each comprises a niche market within the government market. There are publications, events and associations that serve each market segment and the major task is to figure out who your target audience is and how they accumulate information for products and services during the buying decision process. The last key is to understand what kind of contracts they use to purchase those products or services. And that can vary from agency to agency.

Are there any tools, subscriptions, or organizations that you would recommend government focused organizations be subscribed to or participate in?

Drawing from the previous answer, one size does not fit all. In my new book Selling to the Government, I address this question by showing the reader how to determine what subscriptions, publications, consultants and organizations would be best for your niche. What benefits an information technology service firm will not benefit a company selling fleet management services. There are associations for all manner of disciplines, and many national associations have chapters for government. For example, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) is a national, perhaps international association, but it has hundreds of government members as all levels of governments own and manage buildings.

There are hundreds of events around the country for marketing & selling to the government. How do you determine which are worth participating in, and which can be skipped?

There are hundreds of events for all governmental activities, and some are really good, some fair, and some simply bad.

The first step for selecting an event in any industry is to look at the pedigree of the event producer: how long have they been in the government (or other industry) market? How long has this event been around? Do they have relationships with key people in the government and industry to ensure a successful event? If an event producer is new to a market, you should be cautious. If they are new to producing events, you should pass.

The second criteria is “past participants”- can you speak with previous sponsors and exhibitors? Are there third party studies or audits on the attendees for the event? What kind of information is being provided by the producer that verifies the claims the producer might make.

There are many events that you should simply pass on, and often these are the ones where you get a call, or an email from someone you don’t know representing an event you’ve never heard of. I get calls from seasoned market veterans asking me some of these questions- “do you know this event?” and my answer is usually “neither of us know them!”

If it sounds “to good to be true”- it usually is.

Are there any trends that you are noticing in the government marketing and sales space?  Any thoughts on how our very smart readers could get ahead of the curve if your observations and thoughts catch on?

There are three questions you should be asking your best customers and prospects. I used these in my first book, Government Marketing Best Practices and I repeat them in my new book:

  1. What do you read? Here we are looking for key trade publications
  2. What do you belong to? This defines the associations and special interest groups
  3. And what do you attend? This tells you verbatim the events you should be at

Any closing thoughts for the Exhibit Edge readers and clients?

Don’t drink some else’s Kool-Ade. The guy who calls with the latest, greatest event in the world where ABSOLUTELY everyone you need to know will be is selling a very empty promise. Do your homework, call around and ask others in your niche (those relationships you should be building) if they have heard of this. Look at your competitors web sites and see where they attend and exhibit.

The more involved you are in your niche, the more likely it is you will know where you need to be.