The Time for Experimentation is Over (for now). Let’s Focus on Events That Work.
6 minutes

The Time for Experimentation is Over (for now). Let’s Focus on Events That Work.

Written by George Jackson, VP of Events at GovExec

Jan. 5, 2023

When the world shut down in March of 2020, the time of great experimentation began. I was still working for ABC7 in Washington D.C. as managing director for the Government Matters program. I was terrified. My twin daughters were in daycare, my job required me to be in-person, and my 10-person team looked to me for leadership. 

We pivoted our operation quickly and with purpose. Government Matters prioritized its nightly newscast and maintained a business-as-usual approach to execution despite the constant drumbeat of “teachable moments” tied to bringing guests on remotely, in our case, via Skype (“Can you hear me? Are you connected through VPN? Is your camera on?”). We also fostered deeper ties to the public sector marketplace than ever before, partnering with non-profit organizations to bring their shuttered conferences to the local airwaves. We offered more workplace flexibility so my aforementioned team could still do their jobs but also manage their lives during an incredibly difficult time period. 

“We were so creative and benefited from a reprieve in the normal planning and justification process for proposed innovations.”

The pivot worked, enabled by a still-powerful platform in broadcast television, a temporary increase in appointment viewing for traditional news programs, and a great team. Sure, it was scary, but it was also a lot of fun. We were so creative and benefited from a reprieve in the normal planning and justification process for proposed innovations. We could grab a handful of spaghetti, throw it at the wall, and work like dogs to make sure those ideas stuck. After all, what other choice did we have?

I realize my story here is not unique. I’m proud of what we accomplished, but my transition away from Government Matters to the Events Team at GovExec in October of 2020 really drove that point home. I joined a team that had taken a business model heavily reliant on in-person programming and flipped it to be entirely digital. I can’t possibly capture the full list of required changes tied to that pivot – fundamentally new approaches to people, process, and technology – but I can say the culture of experimentation continued for years as the events business adjusted to a fickle COVID-19 landscape (“Will government speakers show up in person? Will attendees feel safe? Will this digital program deliver what our audience and partners are looking for?”). 

“It’s been an era of great experimentation, but now it’s time to perfect what we’ve learned from this transformation and simplify things for a public sector marketing community burned out by the constant churn of perpetual innovation.”

The GovExec Events Team has pressure-tested a variety of new products, programs, and approaches during the past few years. It’s been an era of great experimentation, but now it’s time to perfect what we’ve learned from this transformation and simplify things for a public sector marketing community burned out by the constant churn of perpetual innovation. Why? Because we know what’s working, what isn’t, and how to craft impactful events for the audience we serve. 

It’s no secret or surprise that in-person networking opportunities and experiences have been in short supply during the past few years. While digital programs have been very effective at delivering contextual leads, thought leadership, great content, branding opportunities, and face-to-face interactions are invaluable to the public sector marketplace. They build relationships and trust. 

I’ve heard the following phrase time and time again during the past few years: “You can’t replicate the hotel bar.” While true, it’s also a lot harder to get people out of their PJs and into rush hour traffic to participate in a run-of-the-mill event (even if the bar is open). Our collective innovations these past few years have allowed us to broaden our horizons. Now that we're here, let's not pigeonhole ourselves back into the same four walls. The fact is that digital programs work and, in some cases, are even preferred by our audience. But results vary from week to week so it pays to maintain a balanced portfolio that drives in-person networking, idea sharing, and hands-on learning in a smarter and more intentional way. 

“Our portfolio features a variety of highly-impactful, experiential, and networking-focused events designed to deliver great value to our partners and keep their costs to a minimum.”

The GovExec Events Team is being very thoughtful here. Our approach to, and balance of, in-person and digital programming is based on research (see “Trend 7”). It’s designed to meet people at their comfort levels. We’ll offer more in-person opportunities in 2023 than ever before, but (with a few exceptions) those programs will go beyond the events of old. 

Our portfolio features a variety of highly-impactful, experiential, and networking-focused events designed to deliver great value to our partners and keep their costs to a minimum. We call them Forums, Workshops, Roundtables, Breakfast Brainstorms, Cocktails & Conversations, Trivia Night, and GovExec TV Episodes. 

Our portfolio also features multi-day Summits that ride a crescendo of digital programming to an in-person “peak” or “chorus.” They’re designed to harness the wider power of these digital communities we’ve created and bring part of that group together in three dimensions. 

Some of our partners have built communities of their own in the public sector marketplace and use large-scale, in-person events to showcase custom content. They rely on GovExec to scope, build, and execute those events from scratch or to amplify the work of their internal events professionals across GovExec’s massive database.  

We hope to deepen our ties with private sector partners and with the non-profit community in 2023 – guided by GovExec’s spirit of generosity. Organizations like AFCEA, AUSA, ACT-IAC, and others play a vital role in areas like education, networking, and leadership development. GovExec wants to be part of these whole-of-government efforts and meet those critical communities where they live. 

November’s Washington Technology's CMMC 2.0 Ecosystem Summit serves as a great example of how we want to create more communities of our own in 2023. It also illustrates how we build sophisticated life cycles for our larger programs in order to extend their values beyond a single day. The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program is an important Department of Defense initiative. It matters a great deal to organizations working to secure the DoD supply chain. So, we partnered with The Cyber AB to explore what the revised CMMC means to all stakeholders. It was a heck of an event and included elements like a preview episode of GovExec TV, a 30-second spot broadcast on NBC4 in Washington D.C., a robust digital campaign, podcast advertisements, and more. The campaign peaked in November with an all-day, in-person event that gave attendees a chance to get in the weeds about navigating the certification process, avoiding conflicts of interest, taking advantage of training opportunities, and more. The results were staggering – 815 total registrants (421 in-person, 394 digital), 652 attendees (350 in-person, 302 virtual), and an overall show rate of 80-percent. 

This year, the CMMC Summit and other “market moments” like our Evening of Honors, Defense One 10th Anniversary, and Route Fifty Tech Summit will benefit from similarly long runways, high-quality video add-ons, and the power of GovExec’s unrivaled reach to a contextual audience – incredibly diverse campaigns designed to drive great in-person results.

“The fact is that digital programs work and, in some cases, are even preferred by our audience. But results vary from week to week so it pays to maintain a balanced portfolio that drives in-person networking, idea sharing, and hands-on learning in a smarter and more intentional way."

As GovExec works to make that happen, please keep the lines of communication open with us regarding how we can streamline things for you. Our “simplified” approach to events in 2023 belies an emerging challenge – for our Events Team and partners alike – having one foot in both worlds, in-person and digital. GovExec wants to make straddling that divide easier for you and your teams so that, together, we can build best-in-class programs for the public sector marketplace.

For information on how you can partner with GovExec, contact Solutions@GovExec.com