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Advertising, sponsorship and all things commercial

by on February 10, 2010

Firstly, I’d like to thank all who have commented on the previous post regarding advertising on the Portal. I really appreciate your feedback, particularly, the pragmatic views expressed that accept the very real economic circumstances we all find ourselves in.

Later in this post I’ll set out in a little more detail some of the opportunities we will offer, however, I thought I’d first deal with a few of the points made in the previous thread.

Times are tough and budgets will shrink. This is a statement of fact for most in the public and private sectors and the Planning Portal is not immune.

Where we are more fortunate than many is in the opportunity we have to develop commercial services that contribute to our costs and help secure our future. We have always had a commercial outlook and this challenge presents us with an opportunity to bring our commercial experience to the fore.

Read on for more information on banner advertising and sponsorship including how to get on board

For some, the idea of commercialisation of Government services is an anathema bringing with it issues of probity and influence. These are valid arguments and we will do our utmost to ensure that there is clear separation between our role as an authoritative service provider and market channel.

We are enabled to use wider market powers to generate revenue; however, we will be careful to ensure that we do not use our position to act as a monopoly, indeed we aim to stimulate activity and opportunity across the sector.

The Planning Portal has over the past few years developed a leading position in the online planning marketplace and generates on average six million page impressions per month. By opening up the website to partners we hope to share the benefit of the investment Communities and Local Government has made in the Portal to date.

Where possible we will seek to monetise standalone services, but inevitably some commercialisation will occur on the website itself, where this is the case, we will badge it clearly as either advertising or sponsorship.

We will exercise great care over the partners we work with and ensure any commercial content is relevant and appropriate to our audience. We will also be keen to ensure nothing gets in the way of our customers use of the site to perform the task they came for.

Finally, it is worth saying that every penny we generate will go back into product development, meaning you can rest assured that we will be around as the economy improves.

We plan to activate the opportunities as a steady stream of releases beginning on 1 March 2010, and I list the first here.

Banner Advertising Introductory Offer
We are offering banners on the General Public, Planning Professional and Government User homepages with each banner position being available to no more than three companies. The banners can be booked for a minimum of one month at a time and are available at an introductory rate of just £1,200 per month for the first three months only (after that we anticipate moving much closer to standard commercial rates).

If you are interested in advertising, please get in touch at and we’ll get back to you right away. These are available on a first-come basis.

Interactive House Sponsorship
The Interactive House is used by more than 40,000 customers every month, each of whom spends on average 15 minutes viewing the guidance and advice it provides.
Sponsoring the Interactive House therefore, provides an invaluable opportunity for a sponsor to associate themselves with this much lauded service.
As this is a high-value opportunity, we will offer it to one sponsor for a period of six months.
If you are interested in discussing this opportunity further, please contact me at

These simple but effective solutions offer advertisers a rare opportunity to position themselves or their products alongside a proven Government success story.

Advertisers will benefit from the enormous exposure, press and publicity the Portal receives and will be able to stake a claim at the leading edge of change in the planning profession.

  1. john monk permalink

    This to me seems a good idea on the face of it, however it seems to me that a government agency will be giving advertisers an unfair advantage over the rest of us small businesses. Will you include the phrase other companies are also available.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Hi John,
      thanks for the feedback.
      We will make it clear which content is an advert and we have tried to price the offer to include as many businesses as possible.

  2. Ken Usman-Smith permalink

    I am not surprised its being done. It makes commercial sense and as such needs to be carefully watched to see the impact out here in LPA land as well.
    Because if you do it, there will be temptations locally and local advertiers such as the press, will very likely complai about taking potential revenue from them.
    Of course we are still having to advertise some applications in the press, so perhaps there is a trade off?
    There will be some interesting responses from the advertising media no doubt, but thats currently not a reason to lose an income generating opportunity.

  3. Mark Wood permalink

    why not indeed. I think users of the internet expect to see advertising, and either find it useful, or learn to ignore it.

    i personally think that the probity and influence arguments are a little naive. As long as the opportunities are open to all businesses and the distinction between content and advertisement is clear, who looses out?

  4. diesel permalink

    A little naive? It depends if your view is that everything has a price and that economics is the only driver to consider.

    With the best of intentions something starts without anyone thinking it through several years down the line. From a very proper start. there will be continuing pressure for more commercialisation and then reduced funding from Government.

    I think it is a major mistake for the division between Government and commerce to be blurred – in any way. Despite talk of careful differentiation between paid and unpaid are we “naive” to the steady erosion of boundaries as this portal becomes more reliant on its advertising revenue.

  5. Graham Cosslette permalink

    Allowing Planning Consultancy’s to advertise on the Planning Portal web-site is the same as allowing Tobaco Companies to advertise on the NHS web-site.
    What has happened to planning for all?
    I am a sole trader, who does not charge the inflated prices that allow me to advertise at even the discount prices you are offering, I would expect free advertising so that I can compete on an equal basis. Bad day for the little man I suspect.

  6. Leslie Brown permalink

    Sounds like a typical government approach ……….. you move into Iraq then decide where the money comes from. I thought the Portal’s business plan would have worked this one out. Sorry cruel to be kind.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Leslie, I shan’t comment on the first part of your post but would like to draw your attention to our 3 year plan published on the Portal in 2008.
      In the plan I predicted just shy of £1M revenue for 2010-11. This was pre-downturn and therefore anticipated greater map sales revenues corresponding with the number of applications submitted.
      The commercial flexibility afforded by our structure, enables us to respond to market conditions by developing alternative revenue propositions exactly as we propose.

  7. game keeper turned poacher permalink

    We live in a commercial world and this is a legitimate opportunity for income, as I see it. I really can’t see what the fuss is about. The anology to allowing tobacco companies to advertise on the NHS is frankly an insult to would-be advertisers as the implication is that they are all inherently bad. I am not a planning consultant, nor a likely advertiser on here, but I do use consultants a lot. I’m afraid though that the above inflamatory remarks have done the person who posted them no favours at all! Ironically, not the best of “adverts” you could say….

  8. diesel permalink

    “We live in a commercial world” It is curious now that is mentioned that the Government managed to do some much without commercial assistance for the previous two hundred years when Britain grew to be the worlds commercial super-power.

    I can only reiterate that the blurring of commercial and regulatory spheres is not good government. What is cheap is certainly not necessarily good though the advertisers and the department concerned may be happy the general public may not be.

    And if space is limited those with the deepest pockets will be very happy. Still if this is successful the NHS Direct site would be a natural for subsidising from the pharmaceutical industry.

    I wonder what other countries have government bodies have sites with advertising – any?

    • PortalDirector permalink

      I’m no political historian, nor am I a fan of colonialism but wasn’t it exactly the blurring of lines between Government and commercialism that led to the commercial success and empire. I refer to establishments such as the East India Company.

  9. diesel permalink

    EIC got its charter in 1600 so rather pre-dates my selected time span which was chosen because Government was active [including subsuming the EIC territories].

    The point is that the Governments successfully managed to rule with commercial sponsorship/adverts or anything else. After all Hansard could have been sponsored, the BBC – oops wait a minute – do you think that even in the 1920’s an ethical case was made to keep Government and business separate!?

  10. CADPLAN permalink

    Looking at things from a different angle: Why do you need to generate revenue at the Planning Portal? This may be a simplistic view but much of what you are concerned with seems to be online submission. I don’t know how many staff you have working in Bristol that you have to support, but it always used to be possible to submit online direct to the LPAs. Now that the 1APP form is out it could be used as an interactive PDF by the LPAs in the same way that certain of them have an interactive building regulations form PDF.
    For agents who are digitally based it’s dead simple to then email the required files to the LPA registration department and no need to add the Planning Portal into the loop.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      the first thing to say would be that almost half of our users are members of the public who come for the guidance and help to understand the planning process, using tools such as the Interactive House extensively. You may say that such tools could be provided by LPAs individually, but how many could afford it?
      Providing the information centrally and encouraging LPAs to link to it saves tens of thousands of pounds in development and even more in savings as a result of better informed customers not clogging up their phones and offices.
      As for 1App, the question set is mandated by central Government and we provide the electronic forms, if we didn’t we’d be back at the beginning where every LPA had to develop their own form at their own not inconsiderable cost and with added risk of a return to the previous fragmentation with variances between forms leading to difficulties for agents working with more than 1 LPA.
      In addition many of our customers submit tens (and some hundreds) of applications every month and find the administration tools invaluable.
      Finally there is still a way to go driving up take-up of online submission and I believe that the Portal has a continuing role to play in keeping LPA’s and agents focus on this.

  11. Gill Thompson permalink

    As a sole practitioner (Urban Designer & Planner) trying to set up in the current economic climate, I’d like to know if you will be offering much reduced rates (or even free) adverts for Small & Medium Enterprises?

    • PortalDirector permalink

      The Plan is to offer a range of opportunities that will hopefully work for as many as possible but deliver value for money for the Portal.

      • Gill Thompson permalink

        Please tell me how sole practitioners can get their message across. As a start-up business, with 20 years experience in local government, specialising in characterisation, design, planning appeals and design and access statement who is keen to work in partnership with both other sole practitioners and larger practices, I’m very interested in how I can get my services out there.
        Gill Thompson Urban Design & Planning.

      • PortalDirector permalink

        Hello Gill,
        I have had a number of representations from SME’s regarding advertising on the Portal and as a result I will ask my commercial team to consider how we can help smaller businesses hook into the Portal.
        If you have any ideas I’d be glad to hear them.

  12. Graham Cosslette permalink

    My previous toung-in-cheek comments drew the expected responce.
    However, whilst I have no objection to advertisinjg in principal, some thought does need to be given to small sole practitioners. I agre with Gill Thompson’s observations about reduced rates for smaller enterprises, may-be free advertising for sole-traders?

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