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Contractors Take Message To Their People

Former Washington Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen uses sports analogies in ads for Chantilly-based GTSI Inc., a company that sells technology products and services to the federal government.
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen uses sports analogies in ads for Chantilly-based GTSI Inc., a company that sells technology products and services to the federal government. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

And while there may be only a few dozen officials involved in the final decision on a contract, Calkins added, those people can be influenced by others -- like co-workers and bosses -- who might encounter an ad.

That's the idea behind Lockheed's campaign for the IWN communications network, Lusk said. Along with those who will decide the contract, Lusk said, the company also hopes to spread the word among those who might use the new communications system -- and who might make their opinions known to acquisition officials.

In a similar vein, Chantilly-based GTSI Inc., which sells technology products and services to the federal government, has enlisted Jurgensen to make its pitch through sports analogies. For example, in one ad Jurgensen says, "Every passer needs receivers that can play the whole field for a solid 60 minutes. The same is true in federal IT."

The theory: While a small portion of Redskins fans are government buyers, a big portion of government buyers root for the home team.

"Sonny has great personal brand equity -- he's legendary in our marketplace," said Scot Edwards, chief marketing officer for GTSI. An ad during halftime of a Redskins game might reach fans who will never work for the government or buy a big-ticket technology system, but the company is betting it will also reach a few fans who do both. So too are L-3 Communications, which promotes some of its military offerings on the giant video screen at Redskins games, and office supply company Canon USA Inc., which trumpets its government division during the Redskins wrap-up radio show on WJFK.

Neither WTOP nor individual companies would discuss the amount of money involved in contractor advertising. Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said one reason mass market ads are popular among defense contractors is that the cost is low in comparison with the stakes involved and the amount being invested in developing bids.

"They spend so much money putting together their proposals that the relatively small amount of money they spend on advertising is a way to try to protect their investment in the proposal," Allen said. "They might do a $20,000 ad campaign on WTOP, which gets you some nice air time, but that is a fraction of a cost of putting together their proposal, which can easily cost more than a $1 million."

Contractor advertising in Washington's public transportation system is only slightly more targeted than on the radio.

"We buy the lines we know we want to hit," said Eva Neumann, president of ENC Marketing Inc., a McLean firm that specializes in government contractor marketing. For companies trying to reach officials from the Defense Department, ENC buys ad space along Metro's Blue Line, which carries thousands of people to the Pentagon and Crystal City office buildings each day. Companies trying to get subcontracting work with big systems integrators in Ballston or Tysons Corner, however, should advertise on the Orange Line, Neumann says.

Not surprisingly, almost all of the 30 display cases at the Pentagon Metro station are filled with contractor ads -- Northrop Grumman Corp. says it is "shaping the future of defense on land, under sea, in the air, space and cyberspace," while down the corridor another group of companies declares: "It's a new era in maritime patrol."

Even at the nearby Pentagon City stop, where thousands of teens pile out of subway cars en route to a mall, an illuminated ad from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. says its helicopters, shown gliding among mountain peaks, are "the rescue system that will bring them home."

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