Market Connections released their seventh annual Federal Media and Marketing Study earlier this month and it has great news for the federal event community. The survey of over 3,400 federal employees showed a significant jump in event attendance. In 2015, 55% of respondents reported attending 1-3 events. That is up from 42% in 2014. Federal event attendance numbers had been declining for the past four years, making this year's jump even more notable.
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The numbers back up what we have been hearing from our GovEvents members. Budgets and rules around travel and training have been easing up. Panelists at the event agreed that the tightening down of budgets and approval for events and training was an overcorrection in response to the GSA scandal and now we're finally seeing the pendulum shift back to a more rational place. But it was not just the GSA scandal that led to the decline in event participation. Panelists report there was a perfect storm of scandal, sequestration, and OMB guidance that left people confused as to what was "right" in terms of event attendance.
Panelist Patrica Davis-Muffett, Senior Leader for Global Public Sector Marketing at Amazon Web Services said, during the event downturn, she pushed back on the commercial marketing team asking if they could look at venues other than Las Vegas to hold their annual users conference. She knew the location alone was a roadblock to getting federal customers there. In the end, the event stayed in Vegas as it was the only destination with venues large and affordable enough to hold their 18,000 attendees. Muffett says she and her team held back a block of tickets from the registration pool knowing it would take their federal customers more time to get approval. As approvals came in, the federal attendees were assured they would have a spot at the show.
The panelists also talked about ways their organizations have been adapting to the new normal in event and travel restrictions.[Tweet "Organizations have adapted to new normal in government event/travel restrictions. #GovEventsBlog"] Tim Letzkus, Senior Business Advisor from the Office of Personnel Management said he's seeing more creative sponsorships being offered at federal events like putting logos on hotel room keys. While he admitted it's not a revolutionary or new idea, seeing it offered at a federal show told him that event planners were looking to give their sponsors more bang for their buck knowing that event expenditures were under the ROI microscope.
Even with all of this good news for events, we are still operating under a temporary budget. Sequestration is a real threat and the spending and approval pendulum could swing back to more conservative at any moment. For that reason, panelist Kim Urbanchuck, Director of Ethics and Compliance for Airbus Defense and Space said it is critical for marketing teams to find a way to stay in front of customers even when they are not buying. She suggested smaller gatherings as an affordable way to keep dialogues open.[Tweet "It is critical for marketing teams to stay in front of customers. #GovEventsBlog"]
In a future post we'll talk about the report findings around how the federal market uses webinars. In the meantime, if you want to take a look at the full study, you can download an overview here.