Conference Travel Under the Microscope

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

The fallout from the recent GSA conference scandal (has “ClownGate” been coined as a name yet?) has spawned resignations, YouTube videos, criminal investigations, and lots of articles. And what election-year story would be complete without Congressional hearings? We’ve got those too.

A story on Federal News Radio’s Web site today provides a glimpse of where this may go next. According to the article, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is investigating GSA’s 2010 Las Vegas event on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee,  has written to the heads of 23 departments and agencies to request conference records for the past seven years, to be delivered by April 23.

Specifically, Rep. Issa wants to know about all overnight conferences funded by the government and attended by more than 50 employees since the start of 2005, including the dates, locations, costs, funding sources, and number of attendees for each. He also wants to know which government employees planned those events, and how much money they make.

So far the inquiries and finger-pointing seem to be limited to events and conferences that are hosted by agencies themselves, with or without the support of contractors. However, I think it’s a short leap from there to greater scrutiny of travel and spending on other industry events, such as the trade shows, conferences, seminars, training sessions, and other vehicles through which many government contractors gain face time, generate leads, and build both awareness and legitimate relationships with customers and prospects.

All of this comes on top of the recent restrictions on travel spending that will likely have an even larger impact on event attendance. Our event marketing team just returned from two trade shows and reported mixed results: the DoDIIS event had strong attendance, while the  AFCEA TechNet Southwest (a smaller, newly regionalized version of LandWarNet) did not.

An article in Friday’s Washington Business Journal FedBiz Daily highlighted how sensitive things have become. According to ACT-IAC Executive Director Ken Allen, registrations for the organization’s annual Management of Change (MOC) event are in line with those of past years. He acknowledged, however, that they are “not using the word ‘conference'” but instead are referring to MOC as an education and training event. And for its Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) in October, ACT-IAC “plans to invest in Web technologies…which will enable virtual participation for those that can’t attend in person.”

My takeaway: recognize that your government customers may be somewhat reluctant to travel to industry events in the coming months, and find other ways to engage with them, including over the Web or through local events hosted by third parties such as media companies. If trade show exhibits are in your future, prepare for the possibility of smaller audiences, and make sure your sales teams are working the phones to schedule meetings in advance. If possible, join with complementary vendors to share co-branded booth space to lower costs without skipping the event entirely.

If you’re hosting your own events or spending a lot on trade shows, pay close attention to your cost-per-attendee and ROI metrics, and make sure you set appropriate expectations.

One Response to Conference Travel Under the Microscope

  1. Pingback: New Study on How to Reach Government Buyers « Government Sales Insider

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