Conference Spending Cuts Continue: Six Tips for Marketers

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

I predicted in a previous post that recent concerns with government conferences and travel would spill outside the responsible agencies and impact spending overall, making it more difficult for federal marketers to leverage events in their marketing programs. Those who thought the restrictions would be limited to events hosted by the government itself, or to specific recent offenders like GSA, should follow this topic closely and consider the potential impact on their marketing plans.

On Friday, the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients, released a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies (not just GSA) regarding the efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Highlights include:

  • In FY 2013, each agency must spend at least 30 percent less on travel than in FY 2010 and maintain this level through FY 2016; savings will be used to increase transparency and investigate abuses, a detail that will likely make federal employees less eager to leave the office. Agencies have 90 days to report on proposed travel reductions and also must specify how they will make these reductions sustainable in their FY 2014 budget submissions.
  • Agencies are being directed to focus on expenses related to attendance of Federal employees at conferences sponsored or hosted by non-federal entities. Many of the new rules require approval for high-dollar spending and increased transparency of expenses.

This comes on top of the House’s approval of the DATA Act in late April, which includes a provision that would cap spending on nonmilitary travel to attend a conference at 80 percent of fiscal 2010 levels. And let’s not forget about proposed changes to ethics rules that could force contractors to face many of the same limitations previously intended for lobbyists.

If lead generation events are important to your marketing mix, here are six recommendations to consider based on our reading of these evolving situations:

  1. Stay Local – Federal employees are going to be less inclined to hop on a plane in this highly charged environment.
  2. Go On-Site – Give agency tabletop events another look. They’re cost-effective for everyone, and there’s no risk for an employee to attend an event held in his/her own building. immixGroup’s Agency Expo program can help you here.
  3. Keep it Simple – If you host your own events, avoid flashy venues or anything that looks or sounds over-the-top. Be conservative and stay on the right side of the lines or you can expect low registration and attendance numbers.
  4. Stick Together – Your prospects will be more comfortable attending events sponsored by multiple vendors to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Find one or more complementary vendors with whom you can co-brand your events and share costs. immixGroup frequently creates multi-vendor events and trade show kiosks to make this easier for our clients.
  5. Go Virtual – Targeted Webinars should play a larger role in your programs as agencies are explicitly instructing employees to turn to the Web to reduce travel costs. immixGroup offers several flavors of turn-key webinar programs for clients. The key is to make them relevant to your intended audience.
  6. Go with a Chaperone – Ethics rules favor events hosted by third-parties such as media companies and non-profits. We have seen tremendous success with these and can find or create events that fit your marketing plans and objectives.

To learn about any of these programs, contact your immixGroup account team or email me at allan_rubin@immixgroup.com.

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.

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