Steven Watkins, Chief Content Officer at Government Marketing University

Many times on Modern Marketing Today we’ve discussed the benefits of taking a journalistic approach to content creation. In fact, just last week at MozCon, speakers examined the growing trend of journalists entering the content marketing industry.

Here to share his journey from journalist to content marketer is Steve Watkins, Chief Content Officer at Government Marketing University.

Watkins will also be moderating a panel at GAIN 2016, an exciting new event just for government marketers, later this week. Learn more about GAIN 2016 here.

Tell us a little about your background and your current role at Government Marketing University.

I come from a journalism background. I came to Washington in the late 1980s and spent most of my time reporting on federal programs and policies in the areas of international trade, national security, and government management and modernization. My last and longest-serving position was as the Editor of Federal Times.

I stepped down last year to start my own content marketing business. My experience at Federal Times provided me with a solid grasp of how the federal marketplace operates and the specific challenges that many federal organizations face as they attempt to modernize and transform. I think this background has provided me great insight into how to help clients better connect and resonate with their targeted government audiences.

In late 2015, Lou Anne Brossman, a long-time government marketing professional with whom I have a close working relationship, approached me with the idea of launching Government Marketing University. This was an idea she has had for years and she felt the time was ripe to start standing it up. Once she explained to me the concept of GMarkU, as we call it, it made perfect sense. It is a community-based platform to help government marketing professionals improve their craft, network, and build a true sense of community. That simply didn’t exist before Government Marketing University and it is sorely needed.

The reception to this idea within the government marketing community has been incredible. Our events so far have been extremely well attended and we are seeing an amazing level of energy and enthusiasm from across the community, which we need because we can’t do this by ourselves.

My title with GMarkU is chief content officer. So I am involved with drafting or reviewing press releases, copy for events, our radio program Market Chat! on Federal News Radio, our website, and more. But my role really stretches beyond that to include generating and developing ideas for how GMarkU can grow and prosper and become more relevant to the community we serve.

What is Government Marketing University? How does it benefit B2G marketers?

Government Marketing University is a community-based platform dedicated to the mission of helping government marketplace professionals improve their craft, build community, and, ultimately, become better partners for success with their government customers in the advancement of the government’s many important missions.

We are in our infancy, but we are growing every day as we develop and execute on our many ideas and grow our community of willing contributors to help us get this stood up. Our offerings now primarily consist of live events, a radio show on Federal News Radio, and, soon, webinars. We have also created something called the GMarkU Ambassadors program, where we recruit former government IT and acquisition executives to engage marketers and provide them with tips and advice for how to effectively resonate with government executives so that better modernization decisions can be made.

We are very actively developing and executing a wide range of other offerings in the coming months to include an online learning platform with course content; a series of Special Interest Groups to focus on special topics and challenges of interest to our community; a mentoring program; and many other things that we don’t want to announce just yet.  Everything we have in mind in some way or other benefits B2G marketers.

Also, we are focusing our initial efforts on marketers, but we define this community broadly and fully intend to provide offerings that also will deliver benefit and value to sales and business development professionals who serve this market as well.

I would add that our intent is to benefit government customers as well. With programs such as our radio program Market Chat! and our Ambassadors program, our hope is that we can create an effective dialogue and conversation between current and former government decision-makers and marketers that will improve the caliber and responsiveness of government marketing and education so that better procurement and modernization decisions are made by government.

You previously worked as a writer and editor for Federal Times. Can you speak to how your journalism experience has influenced your career in the government marketing space?

I knew early on that I wanted to become a journalist. A chief reason is that it is such a versatile craft and profession — you can take it anywhere and apply it in many different directions. As an example, before I came to Federal Times, I realized a long-held dream to live abroad as a foreign correspondent. I quit my job in the late-1990s and moved to Southeast Asia, where I covered business news for a variety of publications during a very interesting period of time there.

Similarly, after I was at Federal Times for a while and was ready to move onto a new challenge, the idea of content marketing seemed somewhat natural to me, given the experience and knowledge I had. I felt ready to move on from journalism and to start my own business. I liked the idea that, as with journalism, content marketing would allow me to continue to learn new things and write to an audience. It was an opportunity to apply my skills in a slightly different way.

Also, as a journalist, I was inspired by the public service mission of my job — that is, to provide an independent eye on things, to provide oversight, to reveal news and information that my audience might not find elsewhere so they can make informed decisions. I look at content marketing as also having a valid and important mission. I am educating an audience of government decision-makers about certain capabilities and approaches that may help them solve their problems and challenges. At a minimum, I feel like I’m contributing to their knowledge base, which can only be a positive.

The government’s challenges continue to grow more and more complex. And the commercial technology marketplace is evolving at a mind-boggling pace, offering new advances in technology that frequently seem to eclipse what has come before. So the education task is truly vital for anyone looking to modernize enterprises as large and varied as those in government. I enjoy being a part of that.

At the end of the day, we all want and need the government to be successful in the many critical roles and missions it carries out, right? I see content marketing as playing a role in that.

You are moderating a panel at the upcoming GAIN 2016 conference. Can you tell us a little about it?

I’m very excited about this panel. We are calling it “A peek behind the curtain with public affairs officers.” As long as I have been associated with the federal community, I have never seen a public conversation around the topic of how government public affairs offices decide requests by contractors to use an agency’s logo or tell a government customer’s case study or to provide a government speaker at an industry event. Federal agencies are not allowed to endorse — or even to imply an endorsement of — a company. So we will explore in depth what that means exactly and what it doesn’t mean.

I think our audience will love it because they deal with this challenge all the time. We have representatives from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the U.S. Navy, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Army’s Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS) confirmed to join us for this panel, so it should be great.


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