Public Sector and Nonprofit Marketing – Theme and Objectives

Objectives and planning 2014-2016


The current objectives and planning are based on the documents promoted in 2011 for setting up the Permanent Study Group on Public and Nonprofit Marketing.

They are updated taking into consideration the actual trends and preoccupations concerning social innovation, sustainable development or social responsibility.

General objectives

The general aim of the EGPA Permanent Study Group on Public and Nonprofit Marketing is to encourage specific researches in this important field of the managerial and administrative sciences, to strengthen the trans-disciplinary context of the public administration studies as well as to consolidate the links between the fields of public administration, public management and economics/ public policies and public and nonprofit marketing.

The Permanent Study Group aims at providing a place for dialogue for academics, researchers and other specialists on the specific current topics of public and nonprofit marketing. Continuing this dialogue can be achieved by establishing networks, promoting joint projects as well as new research trends of the field-specific processes.

As a field of study and research with a strong applicative feature, the Permanent Study Group will provide the framework in view to outline the best practices, case studies and comparative studies.

At the same time, the Permanent Study Group can become an organizational center, important for making other existent organizational structures concerns more compatible and harmonized – networks, national and trans-national associations etc. – that aim at studying public and nonprofit marketing.

Promoting high standards for research and broad dissemination of public and nonprofit marketing researches results also represent an important objective of the study group.

Public and nonprofit marketing as a study and research object

The public marketing theory and practice gain new dimensions by its spread to new areas of public administrative life like the ones of the public affairs marketing, governmental marketing, parliamentary marketing etc.

Creating a climate and a competition culture in an environment that is functioning in a monopolistic system, like the public sector one (Proctor, 2007: 2) sets the premises for focusing upon the social need as a central hinge of public services and upon satisfying the consumer as a feed-back of their delivery.

In the field literature, Kotler and Lee (2007), Proctor (2007), Chapman and Cowdell (1998) widely refer to the ever broader area of public and nonprofit marketing. Cousins (1990) asserts that since the last decade of the 20th century, the public sector in various European countries started to see its clientele as customers and perceived the benefits of applying marketing tools and strategic marketing planning in order to “sell” policies to citizens, while Belz and Peattie (2012) develop a global perspective on sustainability marketing.

Public and nonprofit organizations employ four types of marketing (Proctor, 2007: 6), which differ from each other in the objectives underlying them:

  • “Marketisation” means that certain aspects of public sector activities became akin to commercial marketing in the private sector by subjecting products and services to the competitive forces of the commercial marketplace. The aim is to bring down the price level and to bring the standard of quality more into line with customer demands (Chapman and Cowdell, 1998).
  • All organizations use marketing for promoting their self-interest. For instance, Burton (1999) suggests that public organizations use stakeholder marketing to secure their continuous existence by support of the market and society.
  • In the case of local authorities, marketing is used to promote the area under the responsibility of the public organizations, such as city marketing.
  • Marketing may be instrumental in promoting key political objectives, i.e., the realization of social effects.

The fundamental directions of thought refer to:

  • The higher expectations of the citizens towards public institutions. The relation between the citizen and the public institution becomes more and more complex, thus having a strong mutual influence, and also a broader area. Rediscovering this relation in the context of the 21st century’s reality represents precisely the research object of public and nonprofit marketing. The main issue of the way in which the essential marketing principles and techniques, already proven, must be used to improve the above mention relation. The complexity and even the difficulty of the issue at stake derive from the triple dimension of the “Common Good” in the public sector – social, economic and ecologic (Kotler and Lee, 2007: 5).
  • Establishing the most appropriate marketing instruments form the private sector that can be used in the public and nonprofit sector. The studies in the field have identified numerous private marketing instruments that can be transferred to the public and nonprofit sector: total quality management, strategies based on client’s needs, e-marketing, cost-benefit analysis, etc. The question that is raised is how far can be taken the application of these instruments considering that the activities in the public sector are definitely different from those of companies. The above assertion is underlined by some arguments belonging to Osborne and Gaebler (1992):

ü  The governmental organizations are often monopolies; the companies operate on competitive markets.

ü  The public administration is meant to serve citizens’ interests; the companies aim at maximizing return on investments.

ü  The political leaders are the electorate’s creation, reflecting their interests; the business leaders are responsible for their board of directors.

ü  The administration distributes, redistributes, and regulates the resources; the companies mainly produce and distribute the resources.

To these arguments, others may be added, mentioned in fact by Osborne and Gaebler (1992) referring to the different degrees of confidence between the public and private sector, different “speed” of action, opposite tendencies decentralization/centralization between the two sectors, etc.

  • The Role of public and nonprofit marketing in improving the public sector’s activity. Understanding and establishing this role has as ground, on one hand, another view upon marketing belonging to the ones coordinating and working in the public and nonprofit organizations. This fact assumes fully understanding the public and nonprofit marketing beginning with its four instruments: product/service, price, place and promotion.

In this context, marketing proves to be the best planning base for a public institution willing to answer citizens’ needs and to really contribute to social development.

Going in depth of this debate, and referring to “Markets as Democracy” we rediscover “another theoretical approach to the problem of combining effective and efficient service provision with democracy” (Ferlie, Lynn and Pollitt, 2007: 108). “The NPM movement makes extensive use of competition – inter-sectoral, or even among agencies of government – as a strategy for improving public management” (Gruening, 2001).

To sum up, there is impossible to separate the public and nonprofit marketing issue from the public management, especially the New Public Management.

  • Enlargement and adaptation of traditional marketing instruments in the context of diffusion of innovation and consolidation of innovation market, promotion of sustainable development and social responsibility. The processes of social innovation are gaining in the latest decades more important dimensions aimed at sustainable development and increase of social responsibility. More public policies are focused on social innovation and incorporation of the traditional marketing techniques and instruments in the general ensemble of the respective policy implementation.  ”Promotion and marketing of innovative services and programmes to encourage behavioural change. This includes market research, market segmentation, and targeted campaigns” (Murray, Caulier-Grice and Mulgan, 2010, 38).

The Social marketing – Fundamental domain of public and nonprofit marketing

Dating back to almost half a century, the social marketing has been experiencing a great thematic development.

The social marketing establishes an essential connection between marketing and a social organization. The public and nonprofit social organizations deliver services for various categories.

Kotler and Zaltman (1973) consider that the “social marketing represents the projection, implementation and control of marketing programs that aim at accepting certain social ideas”.

Two decades after, Andreasen (2006) considers that the social marketing represents “the application of commercial marketing technologies in analyzing, planning, executing and evaluating the programs destined to influence voluntary behavior of target audience able to enhance their personal welfare and the society’s welfare”. The definition does not distinguish between the societal marketing and social marketing.

A social marketing analysis in the view of the four instruments that characterize public and nonprofit marketing will essentially contribute to understanding their specificity.

Setting priorities in Social Marketing

An important step to be taken into account during the priority setting process in the social marketing field is establishing certain criteria to be used when the social marketer must choose among different options.

  1. There should be a clear understanding of the difference between having an initial impact and having a lasting impact.
  2. The process is of Challenge – Action – Result type, namely to change downstream behavior calls for other parties’ involvement in an upstream action so that the initial innovator succeeds in reaching its final target.
  3. The success of that particular intervention greatly depends on an effective parallel intervention.

As Andreasen (2006:111) perfectly outlined, when searching to predict the system’s reaction, one useful framework for considering possible options that is widely used in the commercial sector is scenario forecasting (Scearce and Fulton, 2004; Schwartz, 1996). This approach begins with the present status and recognizes that there are many pathways in the future. Some of these pathways are influenced by the actions we take, some by the actions others take, and some by broad forces that are not directly under anyone’s control (such as changes in the local economy).

There are a number of factors that must be closely followed when approaching a social problem:

  1. Market size – the potential market’s dimension.
  2. Segments – establishing the composition and reaction time of the market segments.
  3. Strength of demand – motivation level, demands sensitivity.
  4. Innovativeness – the action requires large or small adjustments.
  5. Skills required – level of experience.
  6. Investment level – level of funding.
  7. Cost per transaction – cost of prospective actions.
  8. System support – workload assessment.
  9. Competition – utility analysis, competition analysis.
  10. Sustainable development and social innovation.

When setting priority, social marketers always aim at influencing behavior. Therefore, the behavioral objectives will definitely be the most emphasized when choosing the program and the implementation method. At the same time, there are many actors in the upstream problem environment who have important roles to play (Andreasen, 2006: 117-18), namely: enablers, motivators and partners. The way in which these three roles will be addressed and the importance which will be given to each at a certain moment take us back to the initial scenario-planning framework.

Organizational research infrastructure in the public and nonprofit marketing field

The steps taken to create a Permanent Study Group are compatible with similar concerns of important European and international universities, as well as trans-national structures in the public and nonprofit marketing field.

It is worth to mention:

  • Associations and research centers:

o International Association on Public and Nonprofit Marketing (IAPNM);

o American Marketing Association, Chicago, USA.

o National Social Marketing Center – a collaboration between the UK Department of Health and Consumer Focus;

o Social Marketers Global Network – online community for those engaged in social marketing;

o Social Marketing Institute at Georgetown University;

o Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling;

o Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, Ottawa, Canada;

  • Journals:

o Social Marketing Quarterly – an academic journal of social marketing;

o International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing published by IAPNM and Springer;

o Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group;

o International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, Wiley;

  • International events:
    • 13th International Congress of International Association on Public and Nonprofit Marketing (IAPNM) (12-14 June 2014).    The edition June 2010 was organized by the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania;
    • XVIII IRSPM Conference (9-11 April 2014), in the framework of the panel Innovation/ Special Interest Group on Innovation in Public Services.

Specific Public and Nonprofit Marketing topics

Social marketing

As a central instrument for bringing to market certain mass-behavioral issues, the social marketing needs to be properly tackled in the framework of outlining the major influences affecting people behavior. Thus, social marketing explores the strategic aspects and draws implications for our understanding of social marketing from different experiences, case studies in view of public sector and public administration development.

Marketing in Public Administrations

This specific field gains an appreciation of how marketing fits into the public administrations. In this regard, an important research objective is to draw implications from the administrations on marketing practice. In this framework, certain marketing concerns should be emphasized, with regard to citizens’ wishes and satisfaction, as well as to the public administrations’ objectives.

Reviving and Reinventing Public Marketing

This field challenges the researchers who are more idea rather than market led. It involves an in depth understanding of the public marketing diffusion. The types of research should cover all the three aspect, namely exploratory, descriptive and causal. The process of revival and reinvention of public marketing must take into account both the changing environment and public market so to meet its stakeholders’ expectations.

Marketing fits Local Development

Though it is an instrument of reducing the gap between the local public administration decision-makers and the local communities, marketing is still in the hands of the decision-makers, though the users are the gatekeepers. Local development forces an economically rational marketing approach for its endogenous side – supported through the efforts of the local community, and a more emotional one for its exogenous side – where the civil society comes into action. In this regard, the local entrepreneurial spirit should be emphasized.

Public Market – homogenous or segmented?

This duality considers two very high-profile aspects of the best way to approach the public market. The first one refers to the fact that most of the times the product is sent to the market as uniform, homogenous. Nevertheless, an adequate market research can point out the need for market segmentation, hence forcing the creation of different offerings, namely a bundle of values.

Marketing and Health Institutions and Social Assistance

Health institutions and social assistance are closely related to changing social and economic factors. In this regard marketing helps gathering information on both the external and the internal environment of the two factors. Therefore, it assists in identifying major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the health institutions and social assistance. Thus, it contributes to formulating assumptions about the future environment.

Transferring Public and Nonprofit Marketing Best Practices to South-Eastern Europe

The transfer of such practices is not at all new, but it often does not consider the most important aspect of the analyses in the field public administration, so that the practices’ adaptation is done in the context of the existent targeted public market. The risks of such an adventure should be covered by imported practices adjusted to the specific influencing factors and their interaction, which of course involves a profound knowledge of that certain market, obtained after an environmental analysis (economic, technological, social, political, legal) and a gap analysis.

The Path to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR was born out of the need for a non-vested interest market approach and launched needs to take account of the changing environment. CSR and public marketing go hand in hand for that reason mentioned above, namely the socially driven approach of the market, the understanding of the needs of the people and the materialization of the will of the people. Both CSR and public marketing are meant to primarily serve the community.

Marketing in Nonprofit Organizations

Being their backbone, providing programs and services of public benefit is the sole purpose for which the nonprofit organizations exist. Their mission is one of marketing’s most difficult demarches, involving a non-beneficial process in order to reach the beneficial aim. Moreover, the objectives of the provided programs or services are highly difficult to present, as they seldom involve concrete offerings, thus burdening the stimulation of citizens’ efforts towards reaching those objectives.

Marketing and Higher Education Institutions

The association between marketing and higher education institutions could only lead to spanning boundaries. The main focus of the higher education institutions is on development be it human or institutional development, and marketing emerged for the same reason. Both marketing and higher education institutions are in search of appropriate offerings and strategies for effecting changes.

Marketing Communication Decisions – Above (advertising) and Below-the-Line (promotion, PR) in Public and Nonprofit Fields

Marketing communications comes down to four main actions: differentiate, reassure, make aware, and persuade. It embraces a large area of activities, like media advertising, sales promotion, personal selling, public relations, direct-response communication, sponsorship, branding and so on. The research in this field should be addressing all the four components of the marketing communications process, namely the communicator, the channels, the audience and the message.


  • Andreasen, A., (2006), “Social marketing in 21st Century”, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi;
  • Belz, F.- M., Peattie, K., (2012), ”Sustainability Marketing: A Global Perspective”, Wiley;
  • Chapman, D., Cowdell, T., (1998), “New Public Sector Marketing”, London: Financial Times/Pitman;
  • Cousins, L., (1990), “Marketing planning in the public and non-profit sectors”, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 24, no. 7, pp. 15-30;
  • Ferlie, E., Lynn Jr. L.E., Pollitt, Ch. (eds.), 2007, “The Oxford Handbook of Public Management”, Oxford University Press;
  • Gruening, E., (2001), “Origin and Theoretical basis of New Public Management”, International Public Management Journal, 4, pp. 1-25;
  • Harris, P., Fleisher, C.S., (2007), “The Handbook of Public Affairs”, Sage Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore;
  • Kotler, Ph., Lee, N., (2007), “Marketing in the Public Sector. A Roadmap for Improved Performance”, Wharton School Publishing;
  • Murray, R., Caulier-Grice, J., Mulgan, G., (2010), ”The Open Book of Social Innovation”, The Young Foundation, Social Innovator Series;
  • Osborne, S.T., Gaebler, T., (1992), “Reinventing Government. How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector”, Addison-Wesley;
  • Proctor, T., (2007), “Public Sector Marketing”, Financial Times ? Prentice Hall;
  • Scearce, D., Fulton, K., (2004), “What if? The art of scenario thinking for nonprofit organizations”, Emeryville, NY: Global Business Network;
  • Schwartz, P., (2006), “The art of the long view: Paths to strategic insight for yourself and your company”, New York: Currency Doubleday;
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