Three Reasons to Cut Your Trade Show Marketing Budget

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

For most of my career in B2B/B2G marketing, trade shows have been an integral part of the marketing mix (for lead generation and branding/awareness). This was particularly true in the defense world, where large shows and face-to-face meetings were staples of the annual marketing strategy. Often, your absence from a show would be as notable as your presence, and that alone became a justification for investing marketing resources and budget.

I think it’s safe to say those days are behind us. Recent scandals, budget pressures, and political posturing have taken their toll on everything from attendance to activities at large conferences and shows. While I think these events may still play a role, smart federal marketers need to re-evaluate how much they’re spending and what they’re doing at these events, and they need to reset their expectations accordingly. I see three primary reasons to find other places to put at least some of your federal marketing funds:

  1. Trade Show Attendance is Down – We knew this was likely to happen as travel restrictions kicked in and spending scrutiny increased. AFCEA’s TechNet Land Forces South show, one of three regional shows that spun out of the former LandWarNet event, was held in Tampa last month with roughly 225 government attendees for a three-day show (compared to 600+ exhibit personnel).
  2. Off-the-Floor Events are at Risk – Looking to host a big party or fancy dinner to engage with your prospects? Don’t bother. Camera-shy attendees don’t want to answer questions about why they were partying it up on the taxpayer’s tab. We’ve learned at least one agency has forbidden its employees to attend vendor parties at an upcoming show and is encouraging exhibitors to keep things low-key to avoid negative publicity for the event. I’m sure they are not alone.
  3. Driving Traffic is Getting Tougher – FAR rules already restrict your promotions and giveaways intended to draw people to your booth. But expect attendees to be wary of accepting anything with any perceived value whatsoever. Don’t forget — any negative publicity for a show could lead to cancellation in this hyper-sensitive climate…a fate that has already befallen AFITC and threatened shows like GFIRST 2012. We’ve heard some show organizers may prohibit swag at future federal shows, making it even harder for you to get the attention of a limited number of visitors (although many of us would welcome a reduction in treasure hunters with overflowing goodie bags). Already, organizers at GFIRST have banned catering on the exhibit hall floor, so attendees will have to leave the hall (or hit the concession stands) to get their coffee, smoothie, or popcorn fix.

Our advice: if you need to be at a trade show, scale back your investment and/or put on your negotiating hat. Many exhibitors are pulling out and leaving empty booth spaces on the floor, so you can probably super-size your booth at little to no extra space cost. Don’t forget to remind your sales team to call on prospects in advance to schedule meetings. No matter what the environment is, those who put very little effort into a show usually get very little out of it.

If you’re looking for new ideas on how to re-direct those federal trade show funds, contact your immixGroup account manager or our marketing team to see what we’re cooking up.

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