Finding Your Groove in Public Sector Marketing: Q&A with NetApp’s Shelie Brooks and Karen Borosky

by Chelsea Barone

Earlier this month, government marketers gathered to discuss the latest trends and pressing pain points in their field at the annual GAIN Conference in Reston, VA. Part of the event always includes an awards ceremony that acknowledges government marketers who go above and beyond in such a uniquely challenging sector of the marketing world. We’re very excited to share that our friends at NetApp U.S. Public Sector were recognized for their phenomenal account-based marketing (ABM) work with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

To learn a bit more about this year’s awards and what wisdom the NetApp U.S. Public Sector team has to share about the growing government marketing space, we sat down with award recipients Shelie Brooks, Senior Field Marketing Manager – DoD, FSI, and CSP, and Karen Borosky, Senior Field Marketing Manager for State and Local Government and Education. Here’s what they had to say:

Modern Marketing Today (MMT): How is marketing in the public sector evolving and what do you think will be the most prevalent trends in coming years?

Shelie Brooks (SB): Over the years, we’ve learned how and where to reach our U.S. public sector (USPS) audience. There was a time when USPS was in a bit of a bubble when it came to marketing, with only a few print trade pubs available to read. Now we’re seeing more tradeshows, custom events, federal employees on social media, digital campaigns, and valuable references being shared.  We’re definitely going to see a lot more ABM and social media strategy in the public sector.

Karen Borosky (KB): I agree with Shelie. Social media and digital tactics are changing how people find and consume information, so marketing campaigns have to change as well.  I think social media will continue to be a prevalent trend in coming years as new apps are created.  However, I still think there will be traditional marketing tactics; people still want to engage face-to-face and hear from trusted peers.

MMT: What makes marketing to the public sector so unique and challenging?

SB: I think the first thing is just getting to them! Finding the right medium for that audience, whether it’s federal, defense, or state and local, is crucial and they all engage with those mediums differently. After that’s identified, it’s all about tailoring your message to directly address their needs and expectations.

For example, in the private sector, DreamWorks is producing petabytes of data to create movies and need to access it quickly. The Department of Defense is also producing vast amounts of mission data that needs to be accessed at the drop of a dime. Both these organizations have the same need of accessing critical data, different “mission.”

KB: It’s also important to consider that there are, of course, the gifting and ethics guidelines that go with marketing to public sector customers. Similar to what Shelie said, there is also the need to deliver relevant content that resonates with the customer’s unique mission.  Most content created by companies is not focused specifically on public sector, so you have to pick and choose what is relevant or create your own content programs.

MMT: What do you think were some of the driving factors behind NetApp’s win of this award?

KB: We worked with AWS to create a truly integrated campaign, leveraging custom content, a major industry event, a webinar, and digital and social media components.  I think the fact that we looked carefully at how we could to deliver our message to our target audience from every possible angle set us apart.

SB: Without a doubt, the true partnership we have with AWS and the results achieved by tackling something fairly new to us all in the public sector: account-based marketing.

MMT: What partnerships do you think best showcase NetApp’s ABM skills and your ability to deliver a data-driven marketing approach?

KB: We started a partnership with Strategic Communications Group, Inc. over four years ago to create an editorial style microsite, GovDataDownload, that allows us to deliver relevant content specific to our public sector customers. GovDataDownload keeps us top-of-mind with our customers while serving as a valuable platform for our specific ABM marketing efforts.

In the state and local government and education space, where I focus, we also have a strategic partnership with e.Republic that helps us reach key decision makers in that space through events, custom content, and digital programs.

MMT: What advice to you have for budding marketers looking to break into the world of public sector marketing?

SB: There are, of course, different regions within USPS: federal, state and local, and higher education. Find the one that strikes a chord with you personally. That will help you effectively deliver your product message wherever you are.

KB: I recommend that you get your feet wet with a summer internship in public sector marketing.  Many vendors and resellers offer internships and they are a valuable way to get experience and build key connections in this market.

MMT: Anything else to add?

KB: Just that I am grateful to be a part of the NetApp public sector marketing team.  I work with a great group of marketers here at NetApp and support a fabulous sales team.  I think it is important to work for a company that provides a strong culture of collaboration and compassion.  That is what NetApp is all about.

SB: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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