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12.0 The Unwritten Truth About Conferences

12.0 The Unwritten Truth About Conferences

Have you ever gone to a GovCon conference and left feeling a few dollars poorer and no closer to your next big contract? You're not alone.

This is not an indictment of GovCon conferences, they are what they are: an opportunity to hit a pile of meetings all at once.

BUT, not everyone knows that.

So, you won some contracts, you built a bridge across the Valley, good job.

Now start again.

For real.

AS SOON as you land that gold standard CPFF MAC IDIQ TO, you need to start working on the next one.

Actually, you should have started a while ago, but if you haven't, that contract award is a clock that is now ticking.

The end of your PoP is approaching fast, compliance rules change, budgets get cut, programs get cancelled *cough cough* FARA *cough cough*

So don't rest on your laurels.

If you're in GovCon more than a day you WILL see a sea of conferences.

The big ones like Sea Air Space, AUSA, SOF Week, AFCEA West, and Modern Day Marine are certainly the top block, but there's countless others.

But it's not like they deconflict dates and locations, you could crisscross the country going to conferences all year and still miss half of them.

For the uninitiated, you might feel FOMO, particularly if/when you see your peer (or competitor's) LinkedIn posts about jumping on a plane to such and such conference.

After all, you miss 100% of the pitches you don't swing at.

But...swinging at every pitch is a great way to strike out.

Further, these conferences can be REALLY overwhelming.

AUSA is like 5 football fields of vendors as far as the eye can see.

Not to mention days and days of sessions, breakfasts, dinners, coffees, one thing is sure: if you do it wrong your feet and GI tract will both be hurting.

Hot tip: those booths aren't for your industry shlubs.

They're honeypots for the govy's milling through the conference.

Oh the industry folks there will be friendly an courteous for sure, and some of them are interested in discussing partnerships, but you're not the target audience.

Keep in mind, every flat surface that holds a logo-bearing feature is paid for by "sponsors".

Prices may vary, but in general think in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The more prime the placement, i.e. a booth close to the entrance, a vinyl sign on an entry door, a decorative hedge carved in the shape of a logo, the more likely you are to see it, the more of a premium the sponsor paid.

But that's part of the benefit of having stacks of contracts: G&A wraps are a percentage, so if you have a Billion in contracts, you have 10s-100s of millions in advertising dollars, all paid by the U.S. government as "allowable costs".

Now, these events CAN be good places to talk to govy's, many of them even host sessions to share info about their organization.

Many attend conference, just like you, moving through, looking at booths, conducting FAR-mandated market research.

SOME want to talk to you, MANY don't. They didn't come to a conference to get hit up in-person as often and as unsolicited as they get hit up in their email inbox.

There are also a fair number of senior leaders (and end users) who move through the conference.

You'll be able to spot the seniors, they nearly always have a contrail of Aides de Camp, subordinates, and other officers.

Those folks have a job to do, they are fulfilling thier role as a senior leader, which is often to be present, to add legitimacy to the event, provide top cover for their subordinates being at the event, to meet with key strategic partners (vendors).

A few quick words about shwag:

1. The net quality of shwag has gone up over the past 10 years, it just has, I think we have the tech industry to thank for that. Silicon Valley got into the GovCon game and now everyone is giving away socks and stuff rather than cheap pens and post-it note pads

2. There is ALWAYS a secret shwag box of premium shwag behind the booth, saved for people who matter

3. The LAST day of the conference is the BEST day to get the BEST shwag, because the poor person at the booth has to pack that stuff up and ship it home if they don't give it away. Major pain in the neck.

Will the senior leaders talk to you?


But for heaven's sake, take it for what it is.

That GO/FO/SES talks to THOUSANDS of people, they life their life going from meeting to meeting, pre-brief to pre-brief, event to event.

The 30 seconds they spend talking to you is jsut that, 30 seconds in thier day that is scheduled 7am-7pm 7 day-per-week.

those 30 seconds may have mean the world to YOU

But, don't think it meant the world to THEM

And don't hold it against them, put yourself in their shoes.

Take the sessions for what they are too, usually there's a lot of them.

usually you can grab the cliff notes the next day from one of the industry news outlets.

They are SOMETIMES useful, but here's a litmus test:

Go into the session

Look around

Is it empty?

Is it full of people who look just as lost as you?

Are half the people working on thier laptop or napping?

There's your sign...

The topics discussed are almost never in sufficient to provide any great insights on how to win more work.


Because everything has to be clean enough to be published on the front page of the news paper, so it all gets washed and folded ahead of the event.

The questions.

The answers.

It's all very clean.

Sometimes you'll get a breakout govy or industry person who says something out of the ordinary, but for the most part you can pull all the talking points from something their office published in the last 6 months.

That's just how this works.

One thing conferences do is give awards to people, there's a reason for that, we'll get to it later, they don't really mean anything.

The big thing here is WHO gets to do WHAT.

The folks running the event, in most cases are affiliated with the industry association that is hosting the event.

Those folks work for...industry, typically one of the larger companies in the market segment.

Why? Because it costs time and money to volunteer and sponsor these associations, which the large companies do.


Because they get first dibs on things like moderating panel discussions.

Why do they do it?

Because it's worth it.

Those industry folks, wearing the mantle of the association get to have one-on-one time with the government folks, and they have legitimate pretense under which to talk with the government folks:

They need to set up, rehearse and conduct these panels, plenary sessions, podcasts, interviews, etc.

Happy hours are a typical part of the conference circuit, finger foods and mildly alcoholic beverages afford industry and government attendees the opportunity to let their hair down, typically for an hour or two.

Usually they're a pre-game for the after parties where all the real work gets done.

If you think the contacts you made at the conference are going to last past the conference, I have one word of advice for you: persistence.

Just because someone gave you a business card or email address does not necessarily mean they are eager to talk with you.


That means you have to ping them until you fill the black hole of their inbox or they mark you as spam, whichever comes first.

Here's the real secret: have a plan!

Thats right, if you just wander into a conference without a plan, you should expect to waste your money.

Do your homework, research who is planning to be at the conference, make calls ahead of time to those people, set up meetings AT THE CONFERENCE so that you can knock out a bunch of meetings at once.

Even better, arrange to have two people, like maybe your end-user and your middle layer folks meet TOGETHER with you, at the conference.

Finally, a few words about shwag and such:

"§ 2635.202 General prohibition on solicitation or acceptance of gifts. Except as provided in this subpart, an employee may not, directly or indirectly...Accept a gift from a prohibited source; or...Accept a gift given because of the employee's official position"


(a) Gifts of $20 or less

(b) Gifts based on a personal relationship

(c) Discounts and similar benefits

(d) Awards and honorary degrees

(e) Gifts based on outside business

(f) Gifts in connection with political activities

(g) Gifts of free attendance at widely attended gatherings

BLUF: you can't give govy's gifts over $20,

BUT YOU CAN give stuff away for free at conferences

YOU CAN also have a secret stash of stuff under a table at conferences that you don't give away to everyone...just certain people...

Those awesome socks, hat's t-shirts, hoodies, peripheral devices, etc that are hiding under the tablecloth that are worth WAY MORE than $20 They're totally cool. As are the free drinks, lunches, and finger foods at open happy hours

Also, it's totally legal to let the govy's in at a reduced cost and charge the industry attendees full freight.

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