In this era of government bashing, sometimes it seems there is only one group that approves of the public sector's spending habits: information technology marketers hoping to sell high-tech systems to federal agencies and gain a bit of that Beltway largesse.
"The thing about the government market: It's predictable," said Robert DeMarzo, publisher of CMP Media's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR.
Government IT spending tends to grow at a steady 4% to 6% rate, according to observers, with some areas increasing more than others. Federal spending on enterprise resource planning, for instance, is expected to increase 33% to $7.7 billion by fiscal year 2010, according to a report released by INPUT, a research and consulting firm specializing in government IT.
And where there are marketers looking to communicate with government IT buyers, there are media that reach these decision-makers. The kingpins of government IT media remain 101communications' Federal Computer Week and PostNewsweek Tech Media's Government Computer News, but now these publications have more challengers than ever.
In August, CNET Networks unveiled ZDNet Government, a Web site geared to government IT professionals. The site features a directory of white papers and case studies; a handful of blogs, including one written by Phil Windley, former CIO for the state of Utah; industry news via real simple syndication feeds; government IT discussion groups through ZDNet sibling site TechRepublic; and rich video content.
"When you look at FCW.com and GCN.com, we have more government IT users than they do, and we have marketers asking us, `How do we reach government IT users?,' " said Stephen Howard-Sarin, VP-business technology portfolio at CNET. He said CNET identified government users by .gov and .mil domains.
Others take notice
Other media companies have noted the attractiveness of the government IT market. Ziff Davis Media's eWeek, for instance, has a gover nment "industry center." And CMP Media introduced GovernmentVAR three years ago as an occasional supplement. This year the magazine will be published 10 times, and the goal is 12 times next year, DeMarzo said.
DeMarzo acknowledged that ad pages, while producing revenue, are not the growth engine for the GovernmentVAR brand. Web growth, as for most publishers, has been strong, and CMP added a conference this year, XChange Government Integrator, which attracted sponsors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. Avnet, Symantec, Red Hat, Citrix and Computer Associates International.
The focus of GovernmentVAR is on computer resellers specializing in the public sector, and CMP Media, with CRN and VARBusiness, is a dominant presence in the channel. The strategy of GovernmentVAR is simple: to carve a sliver of the IT media spending meant for the channel.
Anne Armstrong, publisher at FCW Media Group, questioned the ability of sites such as ZDNet Government to cover government IT as FCW does. "What's important is that they don't have the editorial resources to cover this," she said.
Similarly, Dave Greene, president of PostNewsweek Tech Media, said that such approaches cannot compete with the singular focus of his company on government. Additionally, GCN offers Web advertising itself as well as its FOSE trade shows.
Greene said he knows that IT marketers trying to reach the public sector are looking for a variety of ways to communicate with the audience-and not all of them are traditional trade media or its offshoots.
A captive audience
For instance, Juniper Networks' federal marketing director, Lou Anne Brossman, is running weekday ads in the Washington Post's free tabloid magazine, Express. "I've had tremendous response," she said. "People read it on the Metro. They're a captive audience."
Kirsten Edmondson Wolfe, VP-federal marketing group at Computer Associates, demands integration and likes FCW's capability of providing it. "FCW, they've created an integrated approach," she said.
The perception among many IT marketers is that FCW outperforms GCN when it comes to putting together integrated packages. Many observers believe GCN made a move to combat that perception when it hired Nellie Callahan earlier this year as publisher of PostNewsweek Tech Media. Callahan came from Hanley Wood, a company noted for its integration of print, online and in-person marketing programs.