A Glance at the Federal IT Marketing Space: An Exclusive Q&A with Alexandra McHugh of New Relic

by Jenna Sindle

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for marketing, especially when you take a look at the differences between the public and private sectors. Each marketing approach needs to be tailored to the concerns and expectations of its customers, including how they consume information and their industry’s context.

Here to discuss the vast differences between marketing for government and consumer audiences is Alexandra McHugh, Marketing and Communications Leader at New Relic and Founder of Mavens of Marketing, a group specializing in the area of government IT marketing.

Chelsea Barone (CB): Tell us a little about your background.

Alex McHugh, Marketing and Communications Leader at New Relic and Founder of Mavens of Marketing

Alexandra McHugh (AM): I have been fortunate enough that my entire career has been in marketing and I have loved it from the beginning. Marketing can take you to so many different places and so many different kinds of roles and I feel very fortunate that I found my calling and I’ve remained happily and gainfully employed in marketing. I started my career as an internal communications and marketing role for a global consulting firm, and then I gave the agency side a try and gained some really valuable experience in learning about customer needs there. Then I went on to work at a corporate headquarters for a large telecommunications firm and then transitioned in a field marketing role supporting the sales team.

I currently work with New Relic as a Marketing and Communications Leader and I am also the Founder of the government IT marketing group Mavens of Marketing. I’m really proud to have worked for some large, recognizable brands and I appreciate that every experience at every organization was so different. There’s never been a cookie-cutter experience.

CB: What are some key differences in marketing approach when looking at the public versus the private sectors?

AM: One of the big key differences in a marketing approach in public versus private sectors is the use of mobile technologies. In the private sector, companies expect their customers to bank, order car services and even shop on their phones and so the use of mobile technology in the private sector has grown exponentially and is now rivaling their digital experience. In government, we haven’t seen that level of adoption in the mobile method yet.

Another important difference to keep in mind is that government has stricter regulations about how they consume different marketing programs in the way of monetary limitations, and so there is a level of creativity that I get to extend in my marketing programs that support the private sector more so than the public sector. You can be more creative in marketing to the private sector and that translates into how you speak to them in your digital ads, your graphics, your color schemes, everything. Whereas in government I think there is an expectation that your marketing be more serious, less jovial, more concrete, more fact-based, and simply just less creative. I definitely think that there are ways to be creative in government, but I think there are more ways to be creative when selling to the private sector.

One advantage of being a field marketing manager, particularly in a vertical like public sector, is you’re sort of your own mini CMO, meaning your marketing plan has to incorporate all the different aspects that most other directors would be able to utilize from their corporate office. For example, digital experience and digital presence all have to be incorporated into a much more comprehensive marketing plan that most other marketing peers in the private sectors wouldn’t have to think about.

CB: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the federal IT marketing space?

AM: When you represent a fairly new technology, anything that challenges the norm, can have a slow adoption. While the lag can be challenging, it’s also thrilling to know that government cares deeply how money is being spent and follows in the footsteps of Fortune 100 companies in their choice of technologies.

I would also add that every new administration brings a level of uncertainty in the beginning and this new administration is no different. During the Obama administration, we saw a big support of digital services and there was a big emphasis on modernizing government. With this new administration, I think there is still uncertainty in the role technology will play and if Obama’s legacy of welcoming Silicon Valley will continue.

CB: What are some of the top trends you predict for federal IT marketing in the coming years?

AM: I definitely see an emphasis in the expansion on the digital experience, whether that means government employees having the capability of working from home and providing the tools necessary to secure that experience or how government provides services to citizens. Citizens now expect to interact with government the way that they do in their private lives so that means the ability to procure services online in a manner that’s simple. The world of Amazon and Alexa have changed the way that we operate our lives and citizens now expect that when we interface with government.

Alexandra is slated to speak at Government Marketing University’s Market Chat Live! Breakfast with the Editors event on March 23rd in Vienna, VA. She will be presenting a case study about how she has successfully engaged the Federal Media Community in a creative “out of the box thinking” initiative. More details about the event can be found here.