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Designing for Government Agencies

29 Sep 2020 by Paul Saris

Insight Creative has been designing for clients in the Wellington market for over 25 years, working across hundreds of public sector projects from websites, brands, staff engagement and culture initiatives, marketing...

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designing for government agencies paul saris

insight creative has been designing for clients in the wellington market for over 25 years, working across hundreds of public sector projects from websites, brands, staff engagement and culture initiatives, marketing campaigns, office fit-outs, installations, augmented reality, digital interactive projects and many more. we take a few minutes with paul saris, insight creative’s group account director to hear what he’s learnt in his ten years of working with government agencies.

who have you worked with?

who haven’t we worked with? i’d boldly claim we have done more government work than any other design agency in nz. kāinga ora, mbie, msd, ministry for women, culture and heritage, te puni kōkiri, health, ird, department of the prime minister and cabinet, foreign affairs, te papa, reserve bank of new zealand, transpower, internal affairs, nzta, nz post and many others. 

one of the big ones was cera in christchurch following the earthquakes. we delivered numerous identity projects, websites, campaigns and hundreds of pieces of communication collateral. i still feel really proud thinking about just how much we delivered and what a difference it made to our clients and to christchurch.

what do you most enjoy about doing work in the public sector?

the main thing is knowing that you’re working for the nation’s public good. commercial goals are all well-and-good but i’ve come to appreciate the difference we make in a greater sense. it feels good, knowing you’re making a difference to people’s lives, for today and for many years in the future. i also love the variety of projects that come through with government – from the simplest printed information brochures to really complex websites and identities, like the work we did with safe to talk.

are marketers and communications people in government agencies different from those in corporates? 

initially i thought public sector marketers were a different breed, but as time goes on i’m finding they are more the same than different, especially now as more of them move between government and private sector jobs. 

the main difference i see is how they engage in the process and involve their stakeholders. in the private sector, engagement is managed tightly, decisions are made faster and strongly underpinned by financial roi. in government, the rules of engagement appear more inclusive, allowing for deeper and broader consultation with many and varied stakeholders. success is often measured in a much broader sense, requiring marketers to have a much wider set of skills. 

what are the key things government agencies look for from their design agency?

the million dollar question. generally speaking, i find government agencies are risk averse, especially when it comes to things that may impact public perception. they look for credible agencies that can demonstrate capability, flexibility and a track record of delivery. what i hear most often is:

  • a well-resourced team who can adapt to our changing needs.
  • a good understanding of the challenges and scrutiny of working in the public sector.
  • able to work collaboratively with our other partners and in-house teams. 
  • robust processes, reporting tools and disciplines that allow good communications, decision-making and transparency.
  • good chemistry between the teams.
  • values and actions that align with those important to us. 

this last one is interesting and covers things like diversity and inclusiveness, wellbeing, a tikanga world view, collaboration, health and safety and many others.  

how do government clients judge value?

if there’s one thing that i think applies to all my clients, i’d say it’s delivering the results you said you would. 

it feels like procurement departments put a higher value on cost and risk management. whereas the marketing and communications teams themselves place more value on really good strategic and audience insights, engaging design, how easy you make it to work with you and how you help them manage their internal stakeholders and process. price is important for them too but it’s more about value for money, based on the results achieved, rather than hitting a certain price point.

how do you add value to your clients?

i look to add value by getting a really deep understanding of each client at both a professional and personal level. this means understanding what a government agency values, what’s important to them, how things get done, how decisions are made and how success is measured. by knowing this, i can spot opportunities to offer insights, suggest ideas and provide tools and support that’s right for them. stuff that’s valuable and tailored to them.

at a personal level, i work hard to build personal relationships. my clients are human, and like me, they want to know they are doing a good job, feel proud of their work and have a sense their efforts are recognised. i look for ways to help them feel exactly this and look good in front of their bosses and their peers. basically, i aim to add value by helping them achieve the things that are important to them as individuals.

can government work be creative?

many in the creative industry think they can’t be. i totally disagree. to me, creativity is about solving problems in ways that make personal and emotive connections with audiences. there are so many hugely creative projects that we’ve worked on with government clients that achieve this. off the top of my head: the 28th maori battalion website for ministry of culture and heritage. transpower’s office fit out. department of internal affairs wellbeing identity. the sport nz visual identity. the kāinga ora brand and many more.  

what’s your advice to anyone working with government? 

get to know your clients, respect their skills and knowledge and understand their aspirations. build relationships and help them manage the internal stakeholder processes and higher levels of accountability they operate under. do this well and they reward you with many meaningful, varied and highly creative projects. 

design, government, insight creative
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