10 Years of Federal Media Consumption Research – A Q&A with Aaron Heffron

05 Dec 10 Years of Federal Media Consumption Research – A Q&A with Aaron Heffron

For the past 10 years, Market Connections has created a comprehensive study that analyzes the media habits of federal decision makers and helps federal marketers take a data-driven approach to their marketing planning process. Each year, approximately 3,000 federal respondents at defense and civilian agencies around the country answer questions about their use of digital, social, mobile, print and broadcast media, creating an invaluable resource for companies that sell to the federal government.

I had a chance to sit down with Aaron Heffron, president of Market Connections, to discuss ten years of the Federal Media and Market Study and what marketers should take away from this year’s research.


Q: This is the tenth anniversary of the Federal Media and Marketing Study. How have the survey and the responses changed over the last ten years?

A: The way we communicate has changed so much. Websites were online brochures at the time we started this study, and we were at the very beginning of the social media age, especially in the federal market. We actually had to refer to social media as networking sites and give clear examples. We were asking people about these new “smartphones” and the growth in usage of tablets. Now it’s smart speakers and streaming media.

The breadth of available media resources has also grown tremendously. While print publications aren’t what they once were, the number of digital media properties has exploded, including several niche outlets.

Finally, everyone got older. Father Time always wins, but over the past ten years the federal audiences have become, shall we say, more experienced. Federal employees are getting accustomed to going to digital/social media sites because they are doing it more in their consumer life. This creates an opportunity for marketers to reach them via these newer methods.

Q: This year’s survey included a Marketing Impact Index, which is a combination of engagement and perceived confidence in the news that’s presented. What are the biggest takeaways for federal marketers working on their plans for 2019?

A: The past 2-3 years have proven to be among the most difficult to be in the media. General trust has declined, while skepticism of the sources of news has grown exponentially. Especially for digital media, the effect of this mindset change cannot be understated. Few people read something online without checking out the source for bias. With this issue so front and center in the general media, we wanted to test the maters to see if it has bled into the federally-oriented media outlets, digital, print, TV and radio. If it has, marketers will need to think twice about who they want interviewing their SMEs, where they want their banners dropping, and in what publication they want their logo emblazoned. Research over the years has shown that those advertisers that are associated with trusted media sources get a positive bump from that association, while advertisers associated with more polarizing media sources may be called out by community groups – or worse.

The good news is federal publications have not experienced the same decline as mainstream publications. However, as we must keep in mind, many of the mainstream media have much greater reach than any federal media property could. Balancing trust with reach should be a top consideration.

Q: In terms of media consumption by federal IT decision makers, what are the most trusted sources of news? What would you suggest to federal marketers looking to allocate their budget between federal media advertising programs, associations, or social media? 

A: Federally-focused media are at the top of the list of trusted sources of news and information. However, as mentioned, they rarely have the reach of a major media outlet or social media platform like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Federal marketers need to determine what they want to accomplish. Marketers interested in raising awareness of their company and increasing name recognition need a broad campaign that reaches the most eyeballs. In contrast, if they need to convince buyers that their company has the best mousetrap, partnering with professional associations and cultivating champions will build credibility and provide a good bang for the buck.

Q: What do you think will be important to keep an eye on over the next ten years?

A: Social media is going to evolve. It already has begun to overwhelm many individuals, but it will not go away. I believe it will become the vehicle that will further blur the lines between our personal lives and our work lives. New generations entering the workforce are not drawing the clear, bright lines between timeframes before work, during work and after work. Work is just part of a life that includes social time, work time, and personal time. Media that makes itself relevant at all points throughout the day will be the most successful in delivering your message to your customers.

We also need to keep an eye on how the devices we communicate through integrate artificial intelligence to better curate the content we view. Content curation is going to be easier because of AI, but also, potentially, can dull the discovery of new products and brands.

Thanks to Aaron for his thoughts on this year’s research report. If you are interested in learning more about the 2018 Market Connections Federal Media & Market Study, a summary of the survey and order form can be found here.





Katie Hanusik
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