Flipside: A few minutes with... Mark Amtower

Mark Amtower

Mark Amtower is founder and senior partner at Amtower and Co., a consulting firm that helps companies shape their marketing and advertising messages for the federal market. He also publishes an e-mail newsletter that focuses on marketing to the government, and it has something of a cult following. He also wrote a book on the subject.

Amtower didn't set out to be a consultant, but he launched his firm in 1985 after working in government media and observing that contractors and their advertising agencies didn't know what they were doing. Twenty years later, he said, many of them still don't.

What you do is not easily categorized. How do you define it?

Amtower: It is its own category and that's probably straddling several. It's probably easier to say what I'm not. I'm not an ad agency. I'm not a [public relations] firm. I'm not a contract consultant. But I work with companies to provide an overview of all of those functions. My main focus is to help companies identify and reach the niches in the government they need. Very few companies need to reach the vast majority of computer users out there. But somewhere out there is a pocket of people who are going to be most influential in your category.

What are the most common misconceptions you find?

Amtower: The most common misconception I run across is that a General Services Administration schedule contract makes your phone ring. The same people who win on other contracts are the same ones who win on GSA schedule contracts. They understand that the schedule contracts are just a license to sell. You can be successful on the schedule and make a lot of money, but marketing is a key aspect. Frankly, most companies shouldn't be getting their own schedule anyway. They should identify a company selling something close to what they're selling and get appended to their schedule.

You identify poor marketing or bad advertising. What are some common mistakes that companies make?

Amtower: The biggest thing is the inability of corporations or a corporate ad agency to understand the nuances in this market. They'll take their normal commercial ad, and they'll plop it into Federal Computer Week. They won't even go so far as to replace the word "company" with "agency" or "department." The [ad] agencies I've seen come out of New York or northern California just don't get it at all.

How did your background prepare you for this field?

Amtower: My degrees are in American literature. While I was working on them, I ran a bar. Then I broke my ankle and foot and couldn't tend bar anymore, so I got a job telemarketing. That led to jobs in [direct] telesales. Then I was recruited by a government publication as circulation director, and when I got there, I saw that nobody was paying attention to marketing. That was in '84, and in January 1985 I opened this business. I think there's a lot more open feel to doing business with the government right now. There's a lot more opportunity. A company coming in blind needs me or somebody like me, or they need to make an intelligent hire [to guide marketing].

— Michael Hardy

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group