Event Selection Criteria for Exhibitors/Sponsors

In a relationship-driven market, where you spend your time and money is critical. Add the pandemic to that for a radical new twist. Events of all kinds have always been a cornerstone of the GovCon market: briefings, seminars, conferences. You name it; we have them.

Over the years I have had numerous discussions with both event producers and those sponsoring or exhibiting events. I have produced many of my own as well.

When I get a call or email from someone asking me if they should participate in (pick an event), my first question is always, "What do you want to accomplish?"

Then we dive into details.

First, what is the pedigree of the event producer? There are several excellent organizations producing GovCon events: event companies, trade media, associations and even contractors who produce their own, like Amazon and Carahsoft. There are also the "occasional visitors" to our market who are not what I think of as properly pedigreed, as well as those with no background in events. Opt for those who are pedigreed - those who are here day in and day out.

Next, what is the potential ROI vs expense (total of time, money and personnel)? My first lesson goes back to FOSE over two decades ago when Compaq decided to forgo FOSE and the mid six-figure total expense they incurred each year. They always had one of the larger, more prominent booths each year and attracted lots of attention by having a basketball foul shot (full size) challenge, a putting green, a Starbucks-like coffee kiosk (they trained booth staff to make the coffee), and more.  It was a fun booth to visit. Compaq left FOSE, spent their money elsewhere, and grew market share that year. The ROI goes back to "what do you want to accomplish?"

Third, is this an annual or recurring event? If yes, what is the attendance history? We have seen a decline in attendance in larger industry events, but there are exceptions. There are also key events in each GovCon niche, a prime example being the DIA sponsored DoDIIS conference for the intel community.

Fourth, who attends? Is your core audience there?

The fifth factor is less tangible: the Visibility Factor. Will you be one of 10, 50, 100+ exhibitors and sponsors? And if so, how will you stand out?

Sixth, is this an "ego" event? Did your CEO succumb to the "keynote" pitch for a peripheral event? Don't laugh. I've seen it happen many times.

If you opt to participate in any event, are you exploiting all of the right opportunities? Don't skimp on attracting attention. Again, going back several years, Juniper was the "bag sponsor" at an AFCEA event in Hawaii. They went all out and got a good-sized canvas bag with a draw-string top which each attendee received at registration. An Admiral doing a keynote gave them kudos from the podium for the bag.

I still have mine.

Finally, post event debriefing is key to understanding what really happened. Do your debrief ASAP and base the questions on your original goals? Tangential positive outcomes are great, but you participated for specific reasons.

Driving this home, I received an email earlier today before I started writing from one friend (former client) who was asking if I knew if "x" event producer had adapted to the virtual event world. The company in question is an experienced live event producer but still new to producing virtual events.  I offered my best advice but also said I would ask around...I suggest you tap into your network for answers, too.

We are now in the midst of a massive "stay-at-home" pandemic, but the same basic rules apply to virtual events. Set your own goals up front, and make certain you get the ROI you define.

Mark Amtower

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