Dr Mumbo

Why we’re better than these turkeys

For those of you who get excited about competitor analysis, this one’s for you.

This manifesto about how to destroy the enemy (leaked by a former employee and featured a few paragraphs below) was written by the man behind Alphabet Media, the Singapore-based public sector tech brand FutureGov, which you may have noticed is going through some interesting times.



In the last few weeks, as reported in chronological order, the founder and MD James Smith fired his two most senior sales staff on Twitter, then took to LinkedIn to blame them for the poor performance of the company’s events. He then removed the company’s entire events team, saying that FutureGov’s new subscription-based website “is where the greatest growth opportunities for the business are,” only for it to emerge that the two people he supposedly sacked a fortnight earlier had actually left to set up their own company. Called OpenGov. It was a classic case of getting the real story last.

Smith emailed this document titled “The competitor universe” to all staff back in 2011. But given what’s happened recently it still makes for interesting reading, particularly since FutureGov didn’t used to have any direct rivals until the start of this year.

It kicks off with a pep talk to help the troops understand “Why we’re better than these turkeys” and how to treat the competition:

Obviously we want to avoid sharing information on what we do with these people (don’t send them magazines, delete them from mailing lists, affect an austere condescension towards them when we meet them in public, snort derisively when others refer to them), and at the same time keep an eye open for any useful information about them and their plans.

The following chapters will have put staff nicely at ease with the headlines “YOU’RE NOT PARANOID – THEY REALLY ARE OUT TO GET YOU!” and “WHAT DO THESE B*ST*RDS LOOK LIKE?” to give a better understanding of the species of turkey involved.

Alphabet’s competitors clearly should not even bother taking on these “world beaters” because they’ve been doing for it for longer. “Suck on that, Questex,” Smith says.

It’s pretty long, but probably worth reading in full, even the bit about Alphabet having more Smeg fridges than any of its rival.

Here it is:

Awareness of our competition is sensible. Obsession is not. Our success is determined by what we do, not what others do. That’s the advantage of being number one in your chosen field.

What follows is a brief introduction to our competitor universe – to help you recognise who our competitors are, and understand what makes us better than them. Obviously we want to avoid sharing information on what we do with these people (don’t send them magazines, delete them from mailing lists, affect an austere condescension towards them when we meet them in public, snort derisively when others refer to them), and at the same time keep an eye open for any useful information about them and their plans.


Alphabet Media, primarily through our FutureGov brand, has made a lot of friends since we got going in 2003.

The flip side of that is that as we’ve grown, others have taken note of our success and have emulated aspects of what we do – whether conferences, research or on the publishing side. Also, as we expand our horizons, we start stepping on the toes of others – new offices in India and China, and bigger teams in Singapore and Makati, bring us in to competition with more companies.

But it’s important to put this competition in to perspective: Alphabet Media got here first.

Because we had the original idea to focus on public sector IT in Asia Pacific, and because we have retained our content and audience focus when we developed new products (eg. conferences, research, training), our competitors are all playing ‘catch-up’.

Alphabet’s first-mover advantage isn’t just about us having a few years head start – it also demonstrates that we’re genuine innovators. Our strong, longstanding relationships with the region’s public sector can not be replicated overnight – which means that we’ll always be best placed to understand and respond to the information needs of our audience. (As long as we keep listening to them.)


Our competitors fall in to several categories – helpfully listed below.

Conference companies

Anyone can rent a room in a hotel and invite people to a conference – which is why everyone does.

There’s a host of events companies – many focused in a single country, others with offices around the world. The bigger companies charge fairly high rates for delegate passes – and only a few companies really know how to sell sponsorship. But because there’s a lot of dodgy conferences on the market, the whole idea of a ‘third party’ conference (one organised by neither government nor the sponsor) can become tainted. This is where we have to constantly underline the unique nature of what we do.

Who: Terrapinn, IQPC, WBR, Marcus Evans, ACE Events, Singapore Exhibition Services

Why we’re better then these turkeys: The standard conference business model is to have a diversified portfolio of events across a range of different industries. They’re generalists, not specialists. They lack the single-minded focus we have, and (when we’re at the top of our game) cutting edge content we provide. Standalone conference companies are also limited in their ability to build strong relationships government audiences: they hold an event in a country once or twice a year for a couple of days – the rest of the time they’re busy running events elsewhere. So to recap – conference companies lack the expertise and the channels to sustain an engaged community all year round. By contrast we have great quality magazines and online publications and training and research – as well as conferences. The audience for our conferences never get a chance to forget who we are, because we’re always there for them, always providing them with relevant award-winning content.


Alphabet started off as a publisher – and our magazines are still central to our credibility with the public sector. There are numerous magazines in all of our markets that we partially compete with – as well as a few publications (particularly in India and China) that we directly compete with. Competing with magazines that cover all verticals (eg. CIO magazine) is straight forward – they don’t specialise in public sector, whereas we do. Competing with magazines that are focused on the public sector is also straight forward – they’re parochial, and/or crap. As advertising budgets for magazine advertising have declined, many publishers have turned to events as a means of growing their income – Questex Asia, eLets Technomedia and Hallmark Editions are good examples of this. Happily they don’t have the experience or infrastructure to organise high quality events.

Who: Questex (eGov Innovation), Fairfax Business Media (CIO Asia, MIS Asia), IDG (CIO India), eLets Technomedia, Cybermedia, Hallmark Editions.

Why we’re better than these turkeys: We’ve been publishing since 2003. Suck on that, Questex. Nobody can rival us when it comes to the length of time we’ve been publishing the magazine – and that means our audience/community of readers is the longest-standing and largest in Asia Pacific. The sheer number of events we organise also gives our journalists unique face-to-face access to government officials on a regular basis. The research content we create is also unique – other magazines don’t do this, and therefore can’t claim to understand the public sector like we do. Last but by no means least – because we have more offices in the region than any of our competitors, we’re able to publish stories on the world’s most interesting public sector IT programmes. Our readers get access to information that they can’t get elsewhere. Taken together, FutureGov publications have unique credibility – which explains why we attract former civil servants to work for us.

Research houses

Civil servants and IT vendors both have an insatiable appetite for data – and there are a number of research companies that are all too happy to oblige. Sometimes the research is provided free to the reader (because it’s been sponsored), sometimes you have to pay to read a report. All research companies cover a range of different industries – though some (like Springboard) made their reputation with a particular emphasis on creating public sector research. Research companies are now trying to move up the value chain (beyond peddling data and insights) and sell consultancy services.

Who: Springboard, Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, IDC

Why we’re better than these turkeys: Research companies require access to people in order to create the data that forms the basis of the report. Even though the best of our competitors are respected for their insights, they don’t have access to a constantly engaged community of public sector officials. We do. FutureGov is high touch: our journalists constantly interview civil servants; our conference researchers are constantly validating which topics are most interesting to government, and why; the world’s most influential officials servants speak at our events. We have a unique level of access to the most influential decision-makers – which makes our data and analysis more valuable.


Interestingly, government agencies can actually be the most tricky competitors we face. Some Singapore departments fancy themselves as events organisers and actively try to stymie our own conferences.

Other, more friendly, government agencies may actually be very supportive of our business – and yet still organise their own activities which have the potential to undercut what we do. OGCIO is a case in point – they support FutureGov Forum Hong Kong, pay us for training and research, but still organise seminars with vendors.

Who: IDA, MOE, MHA (Singapore), OGCIO (Hong Kong)

Why we’re better than these turkeys: Because we’re a commercial organisation, we understand the needs of IT vendors better, and are a much better partner for them in order to achieve their commercial goals. Our events have evolved since the first one in 2005 to create very high-quality outcomes for our sponsors. Furthermore, because we’re an international business with global reach, we’re able to attract the world’s most interesting public sector officials to speak on a particular topic. This contrasts with government which only really has relationships in its own country.


Whether you’re a journalist, telemarketer, conference researcher, analyst, designer, marketer or salesman – make sure you share information on any competitor events, publications, training providers and research houses. If it’s an event – please put it under ‘Competitor Events’ in GovNet, and then let people know by reposting the link in the ‘Competitor Intelligence’ group. If it’s a publication, a research report, or anything else you think relevant – put the details in the ‘Competitor Intelligence’ group, and then let people know by reposting to one or more of the FutureGov Asia Pacific / India / China / FutureGov Research groups.


Alphabet Media is a world beater in our areas of expertise:

 We have more offices in Asia Pacific than any of our competitors.

 We have a bigger database of contacts than any of our competitors.

 We have more journalists in more countries than any of our competitors.

 We’ve been focused on public sector IT longer than any of our competitors.

 We’re better known by the region’s public sector than any of our competitors.

 We create more unique content than any of our competitors.

 We have more SMEG fridges than any of our competitors.

Not only were we the original public sector IT specialists in Asia Pacific – we’re still the only company to combine award-winning publishing, high quality conferences, in house training, custom and subscription research, and consultancy.

A few companies combine a couple of the above – but only we can leverage each of these individual areas to support the rest of our activities. Our conferences and research make our magazines better.

Our research and magazines make our conferences better. Our magazines and conferences make our research better. This is what makes the FutureGov world go round; this is how we roll.

If there’s anything missing that you’d like to see covered – or anything you want more details on – let me know.

– James Smith


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