Missing The Point in Chatham-Kent
One component of a healthy community is having a robust media with the resources and will to ask the tough questions and demand answers from local government. This is a component that Chatham-Kent sorely lacks.
It was with great anticipation that I read “The Municipality’s Facebook Spending Habit” published by The Chatham Voice, on April 7. From the Headline, I thought that, finally, someone was asking the tough questions. In the end, however, it turns out that the article was simply the local paper whining about not getting enough of the municipal spend.
Spending money on advertising is not a bad thing, as long as goals are defined with meaningful, measurable outcomes. Once those are in place, the next step is to design a strategy to meet those goals. The last thing you do is put the tactics in place to execute the strategy. The questions that The Voice should have asked was “In a pandemic restricted environment, what was the goal and strategy of spending any money in advertising and would you please show us the benefits that campaign brought to Chatham-Kent.”
That is the sort of question that a properly focused media entity would ask. It would allow the public an opportunity to evaluate the decisions being made at the upper levels of our municipal administration. Citizens would be able to determine if the goals and outcomes of the spending (our tax money) were actually worthwhile (questionable). In addition, community members could examine the strategy behind achieving those marketing goals. Finally, we would see the results reported, and maybe hear how things could be done differently next time. Citizens could have an informed conversation with their council representatives.
This is, after all, our money being spent.
Of course, we may not hear answers to any of those questions, which would confirm many people’s suspicions that the Municipality doesn’t really want us to know how tax money gets spent. This, too, would be a valuable course of inquiry for the media to follow.
Unfortunately, The Voice chose to run with a “they got more than I did” theme.
The fact is, you actually can target pretty locally on Facebook. You can select any town, be it Blenheim, Tilbury, Chatham, or any geographic point, and set a radius for your ad to appear. You can target by age, gender, and postal code. The analytics tell you how many people saw your ad, and when. It also tells you if the viewer did what you wanted them to do (click a link, for example) so you get lots of great detail on how your ad is functioning.
The Voice gets that whole Facebook targeting portion incredibly wrong.
The Voice also points out that on a population of 104,000 people the Facebook campaign reached 1.5 million people. They may be implying that’s an impossible number as it’s 15x the population of Chatham-Kent. The number is actually how many times the ad was viewed, not how many individuals saw it. At best, this is a basic misunderstanding of how analytics reporting works, and at worst, for The Voice, it actually argues against spending locally.
Let’s look at how this works through an imperfect analysis. If we assume 75% of the local population accesses Facebook, and let’s say that 75% of those 1.5 million people reached were local. That means, on average, 78,000 local people saw 14 ads. Since marketing works on repetition, on the face of it, this seems like a pretty good bang for the buck. Can our local media publications claim the same numbers? Can they each 78,000 local people 14 times each for $0.03 per hit?
My point here is that Facebook, and the fact that it is not a local business, should not be the issue. As taxpayers, we should expect our municipal decision-makers to make choices that get a maximum return for the investment of our tax dollars. If local companies can not compete, then they must adapt. It is not the municipal government’s duty to use our tax money locally simply because a local spending opportunity exists.
As a community, we should be asking more basic questions. An efficient spend is still a waste of taxpayer money if it’s not going to accomplish anything worthwhile, or the advertising strategy and campaign itself is flawed. The questions should have been: what were the goals of the various marketing campaigns? Were they to drive people to a certain website? If so, to what end? Were they to get people to access certain public services, if so, how is that tourism-related? You spent our tax money, can you show us, in measurable numbers, how that spend benefited our community?
Asking those questions should be the role of the media because the Municipality makes it pretty hard for the average citizen to ask for themselves.
The Municipality is basically impenetrable to most people. Google “Chatham-Kent municipal departments” and click the top link. You get a “404 Not found Error”. Ask a question about a project listed on the “Lets Talk Chatham-Kent” website and see if you get more than an automated response (I didn’t). Email your councilors, and see if your emails get swept up by the spam filters and never seen or responded to (mine do, consistently). Email a department head (if you can find their contact info) with a direct question and see how often they reply. The results may disappoint you.
Our municipality is not about transparency which is, ironically, the perfect opening for local news media who want a bigger cut of the advertising pie. Gain readership, (which is marketing clout) by being the publication that gets answers for the people, holds council and administration accountable and digs into the numbers to find real waste and inefficiency. Offer something other than reporting on the same stuff that every other outlet is doing. Be bold.
Then, maybe, there will be a legitimate argument about Municipal spending on Facebook. Maybe. But either way, if the readership goes up, so should advertising revenue through multiple sources. It’s a potential win no matter how it goes.
At The Voice, you could ask the hard questions of the big players (and don’t take the answers at face value). You could question and dig for the truth. Maybe expose those who are in positions above their ability or seem to have forgotten that they work for the taxpayer. Shine a light on what is really going on behind the closed doors. Report on both the good and the bad. Be a fair adversary. Be accurate.
Whining should have been below you.