Mark Amtower

OPINION

Can you answer the attend or not attend question?

6 questions to ask before deciding what events to attend

Events of all sorts have been part of the DNA of the government market since day one: conferences, seminars, briefings, summits, award ceremonies, meals, – you name it, we’ve had them.

Thanks to a variety of issues and egos, major conferences and many other events will have much lower federal attendance over the next few years. With the fallout from the General Services Administration’s Public Building Service Las Vegas conference and others, coupled with government-wide travel restrictions, feds at most levels will have a difficult time justifying attending multi-day events that require a significant fee and/or travel. This will include the GSA Expo, where we can safely assume non-GSA government attendance will be down, probably by as much as 50 percent.

Events held in resort areas, events with a history of providing attendees with gifts, events from marginal or lesser known providers will fall by the wayside.

I have had conversations with senior several feds over the past few months and in each case, they have said that the justification to attend any event has become very difficult. If the event involves travel, especially travel to any venue with “resort” in the name, many don’t even bother to go through the process. Rumor has it agencies have been told Las Vegas and Orlando should be avoided.

Even before the “over the top events”, travel restrictions were more common for feds. This does not mean that feds are restricted from travelling when it is part of their respective jobs, but it does mean that travel for non-essential purposes, like conferences, will not be granted to nearly as many who have attended in the past. There is a somewhat better chance to attend events that offer a professional education component (CEUs, etc), but again, probably not in the same numbers as in previous years.

With the potential for much lower participation by feds at major events, how and where are you going to develop the relationships contractors need to succeed?

One repercussion from this will be the increasing importance of smaller, local events, those involving little or no travel except public transportation or using a personal vehicle.

These events can be briefings on a specific topic or technology (like cloud or improper payments), in-agency table tops, educational forums, breakfast or other meal briefings and more.

Single vendor events used to work. Oracle built significant mindshare in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s by hosting 2-hour breakfast briefings around the country. Getting approval to attend a single-vendor event today would be more difficult, as it is often viewed as a sales pitch. It is much better to participate in an event focused on a problem area or technology. Oracle, for example, is a natural for “big data”.

As a contractor, how do you decide which events to support or simply attend?

Some basic event selection criteria include:

  • Who is producing this event and what is their background? Most event producers in our market have visible histories that you can easily research. Think pedigree.
  • What is the history of this particular event? Does it have a history? If it is new, the pedigree of the producer becomes more important.
  • Will it involve a significant fee for Feds to attend? The higher the fee, the lower the attendance.
  • Will it involve travel on part of the feds? If it is a drive-able event, and there are no significant travel costs, there could be fair-to-good attendance.
  • Overnight involved? The venue must offer federal per diem rates.
  • Factoring ROI? Events are not a numbers game, they are a quality game If the right people actually attend, ROI can occur.

Make no mistake, the bottom-feeders will figure this out and try to establish events predicated on adjectives, not substance. One such company tried to exploit the 9/11 tragedy and the establishment of Homeland Security Department. They would announce events to be held at major venues in DC with key agency personnel. When I called the hotels, the events were not booked. When I called the key feds, they had no clue about the event or the producer.

Yet some major players signed up, and lost money when the event failed to occur. While the producing company is no longer with us, there are others with similar modus operandi. And there are other event producers with some credentials in other markets that visit the federal market on occasion, especially when there is a big issue at hand.

The problem, of course, is they know little about the big issue and tend not to add any value.

Reader Comments

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 Mustaffa

Certainly, any event where Mark opines or pitches is well worth the expense and potential reputational risk Make sense?

Tue, Jan 29, 2013

Agile Government Summit, February 13, at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. is another local alternative and free for Government attendees. www.fedscoop.com/agile

Tue, Jan 29, 2013

I believe the annual OSDBU (small business) conference on April 19 at the Convention Center in D.C. will still be well attended as usual. All Federal employees attend for FREE, and its a short Metro ride or walk or drive for all agencies with a presence in the immediate Metro area.

Mon, Jan 28, 2013

I think this is right on point

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