Government ad bill soars to £540million

Government spending on advertising, marketing and PR leapt 43 per cent last year, in a further sign of the comparative resilience of advertising outside the private sector.

Despite the onset of the economic crisis, the state splashed out £540million in 2008 on marketing and communications - £160million more than in the previous 12 months.

Spending by the Central Office of Information, which has the largest media budget in the country, on TV, radio and print advertising grew by 35 per cent to £211million.

And the bill for digital marketing that state departments racked up via the office also leapt, by 84 per cent – more than double the increase in offline ads - to £40million.

The government explained the surge in its digital marketing spend was its response to an increasing number of people choosing to get their information online.

It put the overall rise in its marketing and PR bill, which totalled just £81.2m in 1997, down to a series of high-profile campaigns, mostly related to the nation’s health.

Mark Lund, COI’s chief executive, said: “The need for government to communicate with the public is greater than ever as society faces challenges such as obesity, climate change and the recession.

“Government campaigns can help save lives and save money. Smoking rates and road deaths are now the lowest on record. The online tax returns campaign generated savings of £547m.

“Changing behaviour is difficult, but the benefits to the taxpayer and society can repay the investment many times over.”

But MPs have reportedly accused ministers of not coming clean about their motivations, saying spending on ‘spin’ is only up because the government needs to win votes for the next general election.

Media commentators say already-jittery marketers must be reassured that the election is not imminent, given a pledge to cut the COI’s budget by the Conservatives, who bookmakers expect to win.

The party reportedly wants to cut the state’s bill for PR and marketing to 1997 levels - a move which commentators fear will have a negative, overspill effect on the private sector, partly due to the breadth of the office’s unparalleled spending.


23rd July 2009

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