U.S. Government Spent $4 Billion on PR Since 2007

For all public affairs firms out there: Mazel Tov!

For those who ever questioned their lot in life, may we present exhibit A?

We handle clients at times for various amounts of money. We invest many times over. We enjoy the fruits of our labor in emotional currency. Surprisingly, it seems the federal government is a big fan of our collective work.

The nonpartisan and often impressive government watchdog Open the Books conducted a report entitled The Department of Self-Promotion: How Federal Agency PR Spending Advances Their Interests Rather Than the Public Interest.” The headline shows this should be a real page-turner.

In the report, Open the Books found there are now “3,092 public affairs professionals working in the government, an increase of 15 percent—or about 400 people—over the past seven years.” Additionally, thanks to The Hill, we know that during that time, “139 federal agencies inked $2.02 billion in outside contracts with firms that perform public relations, polling, research and marketing consulting.”

Yes. With a “B”.

“Federal agencies…not only resist transparency but often pretend to be transparent when, in reality, they are engaged in self-promotion,” the report noted, “Too often, they use their charge to disclose information as a cover for public relations campaigns that are designed to advance their interests (i.e. their desire for more funding and higher salaries) rather than the public interest.”

Other noteworthy statistics for all you taxpayers out there:

  • U.S. Government ranked 2nd largest public relations firm in the world (based on the number of PR employees).
  • Salaries totaling $2.337 billion and ‘performance bonuses’ totaling $10.929 million flowed to public affairs officers (FY2007-FY2014). The highest bonus was $35,940 to John T. Burklow at Department of Health and Human Services in 2012.
  • 47 percent increase in outside PR consulting expenditures under the Obama administration vs. the last two years under the Bush administration.
  • Top PR firms in the world reaped millions of dollars: Laughlin, Marinaccio & Owens, Inc. ($87.98M), Young & Rubicam Inc. ($57.5M), Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Inc. ($47.93M), Fleishman-Hillard, Inc ($42.4M), Gallup ($42.0M), and many more.
  • 3,092 federal ‘Public Affairs Officers’ are employed by over 200 federal agencies in FY2014.
  • Top spenders include FEMA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of the Navy and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Word is getting around, so let’s put that money to good use:

“The Department of State endeavors to be good stewards of taxpayer money. We look for efficiencies in our programs and review expenses, always aware of the fiscal restraints in which all government institutions must operate,” a State official told The Hill in an email. “U.S. embassies conduct a broad range of surveys that help inform how to most effectively engage with foreign publics and explain American foreign policy abroad.”

If you have ever had the opportunity to work on a government account, it really can be exhilarating. Also, if you have that experience, you can understand the numbers being shared.

However, as long as all of our mothers continue to describe our jobs like most people read directions from an IKEA furniture set, we still have some explaining to do.