It has certainly occupied our minds here at M4C (Group M's bespoke media agency for all of the UK government's media buying) since our launch. However, one of the key things that emerged from the spending freeze was the opportunity to see what happens if you did something as bold as switching off the cash. Flu-jab numbers fell, as did teacher and Ministry of Defence recruits. Smoking prevalence rose and blood stocks plummeted to record-low levels. For the first time, this allowed the Government to prioritise what were "essential" campaigns and, more importantly, which required "paid-for media".
Finally, this month saw the Government announce its first "proactive communications plan", which aims to spend £285 million on communications for 2012/13. And although I can understand some of the ex-COI chief Carol Fisher's comments surrounding the real savings gained from COI's closure, it's somewhat irrelevant to us here at M4C in 2012. Behind all the political acrobatics and conjecture, M4C and government departments have been cracking on with the day job, implementing campaigns in excess of £120 million this year alone.
In the "proactive communications plan", you'll see a theme of "deficit reduction" running through it. There are the expected redundancy and streamlining programmes, but more interesting are the types of campaigns being promoted.
The plan speaks of seven communication hubs but, outside of "Health", I believe most campaigns fit into one of three categories, which serve to reduce the public debt: essential acquisition campaigns, such as recruitment; campaigns that either reduce expenditure or increase revenue, eg. tax compliance; or campaigns that drive growth, eg. Visit Britain.
The final step in the process that allows government to do "fewer things better" is the Efficiency Reform Group. This essentially forces departments to prove what each pound will deliver in behaviour change, awareness or back to the public purse. Notably, this means the kinds of campaigns that M4C have been implementing should, will and do work.
The "TV Doing Good" Thinkbox event saw the Cabinet Office's Wendy Proctor recall an article that stated: "Government advertising, once seen as the fairytale princess, is now Cinderella." She said: "Although not the fairytale princess yet, Cinderella is certainly on her way to the ball."
Government marcoms have been back in business for a while now, and are a more focused, accountable and leaner operation, where paid-for comms is once again central to delivering policies and behaviour change.
Therefore, I'd go one step further and say Cinderella's already at the ball waiting to be noticed by Prince Charming.
Pete Kemp is the managing director at M4C