Shutdown Shuts Down Defense Conferences

Photo of Allan Rubinby Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

I wish I’d seen this story before I submitted a blog post yesterday about the impact of the shutdown on government marketers. If the topic interests you, check out this article in Defense News:

US Government Shutdown Hampers Attendance at Defense Conferences

The article includes a discussion of the likely impact on the upcoming AUSA Conference:

“If the shutdown continues in the coming weeks, it could affect attendance at a number of major trade shows.

 The Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington — an event that typically attracts more than 25,000 people — is less than two weeks away. The conference is boasting more than 700 Army and industry exhibitors “using 500,000 square feet of exhibit space.”

The Army continues to plan for the annual meeting pending a final decision from service Secretary John McHugh on whether soldiers stationed outside the Washington-area will be allowed to attend.

Most temporary-duty travel has been canceled or suspended since the government shut down Oct. 1, and a number of soldiers, including some who are scheduled to speak, have expressed to Army Times uncertainty and confusion about whether they will be able to travel to the meeting.”

A Tale of Two Subject Lines

photo_Allan-Rubin_65x85by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

I noticed an interesting juxtaposition of subject lines in my (overflowing) email in-box today.

Early in the day, I saw this message from Defense Systems:

DISA collaboration tool doubling its capacity

The top story was summarized as follows: “The enterprise collaboration tool known as Defense Connect Online is about to double in capacity as users seek less expensive ways to conduct meetings and training in austere budget times, reports DISA.” The piece caught my attention as it signaled recognition of the inevitable: government employees are finding new ways to communicate and collaborate since they can’t travel in person.

Not long after, I received a message with this subject line:

Latest Conference Cancellations & Postponements on GovEvents

 This email from GovEvents.com led with the following summary, which serves as a continuation of my last blog post on a similar topic:

I think GovEvents.com is a great tool that provides a valuable service to the community (if you don’t use it, you should). It just struck me as significant that a company which promotes government events led its outreach effort with a message about…the cancellation of government events!

We all know travel budgets and other restrictions are hammering the marketing media mix. We see today that our DoD customers are doubling their capacity to host their meetings, training sessions, and other communications virtually to cut costs and minimize scrutiny from ethics officials and their superiors.

What does this mean for government marketers? Should we be investing more in online media, virtual events, webinars, and the like? Face to face communication will never be replaced, but what will place a close second?

The more important question is: where are you placing your bets?

We’re continually looking into new avenues to help our manufacturers and channel partners reach their government customers. I’d love to hear from you about how your plans are changing.

More Cancellations for Government Events

photo_Allan-Rubin_65x85by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

My wife may disagree with this, but I take no great joy in saying “I told you so.”

It’s no secret that events targeting government employees have fallen on tough times. We’ve used this space repeatedly to encourage immixGroup clients and channel partners to re-evaluate their event marketing plans. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more examples to prove this re-evaluation is necessary.

We learned today that the DoD Cybercrime Conference has been “postponed” with the following message as an explanation:

“Based on DoD’s budgetary uncertainty, The Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3) has been given direction to reduce the government expenditure rate. Therefore, DC3 and Technology Forums have reluctantly come to the decision that we will not be holding our annual DoD Cyber Crime Conference in 2013. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate everyone’s efforts and support.”

This came on the heels of this message which we received on January 15:

“In response to DoD and DON guidance, the DON IT Conference, West Coast 2013 has been cancelled. The conference was scheduled for Jan. 28-30, 2013, at the San Diego Convention Center.”

In mid-December we received this notification of an event postponement. Is this a precursor to another shutdown?

“As a result of much deliberation, as well as guidance from the Army, AFCEA International has reached the decision to move TechNet Tucson to Augusta/Fort Gordon, GA.  The event will be renamed TechNet Augusta, and take place September 10-12, 2013 at the Marriott at the Convention Center.”

While I can’t yet confirm this, we’ve heard rumors that many of the AFCEA conferences may be cancelled this year. We hope that’s not the case but it’s worth watching.

The drop in demand for government event attendance was clear in the recent data put out by Market Connections. This confirmed what most of us already feared:

“With shrinking budgets and fewer resources to support mission goals, federal government decision makers and influencers plan on attending fewer events this year. According to a recent poll by Market Connections, Inc., a leading government market research firm, 38% of government employees plan to attend fewer educational and trade events in FY2013 compared to FY2012.

The main reasons for the expected decrease in event attendance are budget and travel restrictions (78% and 58%, respectively). Just over one-third (36%) of respondents also report management will not allow them to attend events in FY2013. However, some government workers plan to attend about the same number of events (27%), and a few plan to attend more (5%).”

Market Connections notes a few silver linings in the data (summarized here). Most federal workers still prefer live events to webinars. They still see value in attending events to learn about new technologies in addition to networking. The key is to make sure your events align with the preferences of your target audience:

“Of the 400 government workers we polled, 58% prefer smaller, content-specific events over large trade shows with multiple vendors. Many of the respondents are thinking local, with seven in ten more likely to attend events that are close to home (69%) or hosted by a trade association (72%), as opposed to traveling to events that require a hotel (29%) or are hosted by a corporate entity (25%).”

So when your sales team or corporate office asks you to set up that glitzy product demo at the Ritz to attract 100 federal CIOs, you may have some bubbles to burst.

We’ve been proactive over the past 18 months to re-align our marketing programs to stay in front of these changes. If you’re an immixGroup client, contact your senior account manager or email me at allan_rubin@immixgroup.com to learn more.

UPDATE: As if on cue, I just got this message only a few hours after this blog post went live:

“Due to U.S. Department of Defense evolving budget directives and its current fiscal constraints, DISA has notified AFCEA International that DISA has cancelled its “Expanded Forecast to Industry” conference scheduled for 14-15 August 2013.  Senior DISA leaders are hopeful they will be able to resume the conference with AFCEA in FY14.”

Air Force IT Conference is Dead

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

R.I.P., AFITC.

As many of you know, the Air Force IT Conference held each August in Montgomery, Alabama was cancelled this past year. It had been held annually since 1983 and was the largest IT conference within the Department of Defense.

Now it looks like it’s not coming back.

According to an announcement on Friday by Montgomery AFCEA President Joe Besselman, “the Air Force has no plans to ever restart an Air Force-led conference like AFITC.” Besselman continued: “…the earliest one could expect a conference similar in nature is 2014. AFCEA International is working with the Air Force to gauge the need, content, and potentially the location.”

This provides further evidence that DoD in particular is looking to consolidate trade shows and conferences to eliminate duplication and save taxpayer money. I’m all for that, but this takes a great marketing vehicle off the table for those looking to pitch their offerings to the Air Force IT community. This show was always a source of qualified leads and great relationship-building opportunities for us.

For those immixGroup clients who need to find a way to stay in front of this community, please contact us and we’ll see what we can do. The Montgomery AFCEA chapter hosts a number of other events, including MITS 2013 in June. There’s a tentative Air Force Industry Day event planned for the same time.

As I said in a previous post, keep your marketing plans and budgets fluid this year to accommodate changes like this. More are coming.

Air Force Cancels AFITC Conference

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

Restaurateurs, travel agents, and hoteliers in Montgomery, Alabama must have a collective headache today. The Montgomery Advertiser just reported that the Air Force has cancelled its 2012 Information Technology Conference (otherwise known as AFITC). The event was scheduled to take place from August 27 to 29. It has been held annually in Montgomery since 1983 and is the largest IT conference within the Department of Defense.

It was only two weeks ago that we learned of another victim of recent scrutiny over travel to events: the National Guard’s 2012 NGB JC4I Conference, which was cancelled due to government cutbacks. There’s no question that a trend is emerging, especially when you add this news to recent headlines about other conference and event cancellations.

It’s not clear yet how these cutbacks will impact the information-gathering habits of government employees who already had made reservations to attend AFITC or any of the other now-cancelled conferences (who doesn’t want to visit beautiful downtown Montgomery in mid-August?). But the news is certainly forcing us to adjust some of our 2012 marketing plans, and I’m sure we are not alone.

We’re currently exploring other options to help our clients reach qualified prospects within the Air Force and National Guard IT communities. What marketing media are you considering? We’d love to hear your ideas.

Smaller Event Audiences are on the Way

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

We’re starting to hear how the recent GSA event scandals will impact the ability of government employees to attend our marketing events. If you rely on trade shows, conferences, seminars, and other in-person events to interact with your federal customers and prospects, you might want to take another look at your marketing mix.

I’d start by reading the article Jason Miller posted today on FederalNewsRadio.com. The good news, if you can call it that, is GSA employees will still be able to travel to staples like GSA Expo, ACT/IAC’s Management of Change Conference, and other events over the next four months (albeit with specific rules and restrictions). Even with this allowance, approvals will be harder to get, and GSA workers will be encouraged to use other means to communicate.

Miller cites an April memo in which acting GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini announced the suspension of travel to various events unless certain criteria, justifications, and budget restrictions are met. That’s understandable on both practical and political grounds.

More ominous for federal marketers is the specter of GSA’s top-down review of agency operations, which will include a close look at the travel policy. Miller’s sources speculate that “GSA participation in vendor dinners or events will be much lower, maybe by more than half.” So much for marketing ROI.

So far, I’ve only heard specifics about how this will impact GSA employees; the agency has “cancelled more than 35 conferences” already. But I don’t think it will stop there. DoD killed its annual procurement conference. NOAA solicited, and then stopped, a bid solicitation for a magician for its June leadership conference, earning more negative press at a time when government events didn’t really need it. Early reports from this week’s DISA conference indicate lower attendance numbers. We’ve seen this at other recent shows that are not connected to GSA.

We continue to recommend that IT companies take another look at virtual marketing activities and look for teaming opportunities to sponsor conferences, trade shows, and hosted seminars with complementary vendors. We have several programs in place to support these types of initiatives and make it easy (and cost-effective) for our clients and partners to pull them off. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re worried about how these changes will impact your marketing spend or lead generation activities.

%d bloggers like this: