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.

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.

House Committee Approves Bills to Lock in Travel Spending Cuts

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

Yesterday Government Executive reported that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved, and sent to the House, two bills targeting excessive government spending. The actions aim to cut agency travel spending by 30 percent with a particular focus on travel to conferences.

An amendment added more teeth to this request. The amendment would restrict agencies from paying travel expenses for more than 50 employees to attend a single international conference (unless they are approved in advance by the Secretary of State). Further, it requires each agency to post on its public Web site each quarter the details of any travel expenses paid for conferences during the previous quarter.

Personally I think the Secretary of State has more important things to do than sign off on travel requests. But my larger concern is with the increased scrutiny around individual travel details and the chilling impact it will have on demand among prospective attendees of government conferences and events. Since the details emerged from the GSA conference scandal, it seems that any government employee who wants (or needs) to attend an event in another city has to sign away his or her life and risk public humiliation, not to mention career growth, just to get approval.

Is the government over-reacting here? More importantly, will anyone in government have the appetite to go through the approval process (or face the risk) to attend any of the events at which we promote our products and services? Will they be discouraged from attending local events too? Or have those become an even more important tool for marketing professionals?

We’ll be following this bill as it winds its way through the House. And as always, we’re watching our attendance rates to see if our marketing ROI has been (or will be) impacted by these continuing changes. I urge you to do the same.

DoD Freezes Conference & Travel Spending

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

Last week I wrote about the cancellation of the Air Force Information Technology Conference (AFITC) which was slated for August 2012. Today I was greeted with news that the Defense Department has ordered an immediate freeze on all conferences and related travel (see related articles on Defense Systems and USA Today).

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has ordered military service chiefs to review all upcoming conferences costing more than $100,000, which will require approval from top Pentagon officials.

Events have always been an important part of most federal marketers’ lead generation and brand awareness plans. IT companies targeting the DoD in particular tend to rely heavily on defense-related conferences and trade shows. Is that reliance about to change? Are we going to see much larger crowds at the local AFCEA breakfasts or other events that do not tax the travel budget? What role will social media, webinars, and virtual events play in picking up the slack?

We’re developing some new ideas to help our clients deal with these changes in the market. Let me know what you’re doing!

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.

Are Your Sales and Marketing Messages Aligned to the Times?

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

The federal government is a popular punching bag these days. I’m not talking about the poor judgment shown by a relative handful of Secret Service and GSA employees, in scandals that are keeping the journalists, pundits, and special interest groups extremely busy. (Apparently, what happens in Columbia doesn’t stay in Columbia any more than what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas).

No, I’m talking about the budget cuts that are forcing hard-working government employees to do more with less every single day. According to last week’s Commerce Department report on first quarter economic growth, as reported in the Washington Post, federal government spending dropped by 5.6 percent, with defense spending down 8.1 percent, and “those cuts are likely to continue.”

Thankfully, the IT community continues to do pretty well in the face of budget cuts. We know that technology, particularly commercial off-the-shelf products, can often be used effectively to increase productivity and lower costs. The government needs these solutions more than ever before if it hopes to continue doing things like protecting the borders, repairing bridges, fighting wars, and treating wounded veterans with fewer human and financial resources.

We’re urging our clients and reseller partners to keep these realities in mind as they roll out sales and marketing campaigns, whether for lead generation, branding, or awareness. Spend time with your internal product experts to make sure you have a compelling story to tell about how your solutions can increase efficiency and reduce time-to-market for more agile, immediate implementations. Lean heavily on past performance stories within the government. If you’re finding it difficult to get those (not surprising given the recent scrutiny of government/contractor relationships), look for parallels within your commercial business to demonstrate your product’s value in solving challenges that mirror those of your federal customers.

Remember, many of the large, customized, multi-year programs that have dominated in recent years are falling out of favor due to unacceptable cost and schedule overruns. Make sure your sales pitch, collateral, and awareness campaigns reinforce your ability to help a bruised, over-worked, and under-funded customer reduce time, money, and risk. It’s all about doing more with less.

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