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Throwing Events Under a BIG Moving Bus

September 4, 2012

As anyone who is familiar with the event industry knows, the recession has been tough on our business in more ways than one.
And, even with more people attending events recently, there still are pressures on the industry, especially in light of overspending by government agencies that has resulted in calls for travel to be severely restricted, the U.S. economy and unemployment rate is not exactly on sure footing and the global economy also has its problems.
So, it was with complete and utter shock that I started seeing a series of Tweets going out by a virtual event company called ON24 with messages such as:
94% of Americans believe ‘bad behaviors’ occur when travelling to attend conventions and trade shows  #GoVirtual
Business travel seen as bastion for unhealthy behavior @EBNmagazine  #GoVirtual
Business Travelers Gone Wild by @rUv for @Forbes  #GoVirtual
The link in all these Tweets leads to an article that was picked up in a slew of general and business publications that was about a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of ON24 called “Your Time, Your Life, Go Virtual”.
The survey was broken into three sections to examine attitudes on work/life balance and its impact on people’s lives. 
What the news outlets caught onto and spread far and wide was a statistic that 94% of the people said “bad behaviors” occur among people travelling away from home to attend business trade shows and conventions, with 71% believing people drink too much alcohol while away.
Additionally, cheating on a spouse (66%), spending too much money (54%), eating fatty foods (53%), not sticking to exercise routine (43%), going to bed late (42%) and taking illicit drugs (31%) also were answered on the survey.
There were a ton more stats all pointing to for the most part how the life/work balance is way off.
The headline in Forbes article was “Business Travelers Gone Wild: Does Business Travel Lead to Divorce and Alcoholism?”, a Huffington Post headline was “Cheating At Work? Survey Suggests 66 Percent Of Americans Fear Infidelity At Trade Shows”.

ON24 Chief Marketing Officer Denise Persson was quoted in a press release saying, “These results illustrate that Americans believe their work-life balance is out of whack and that fuels their growing dislike for business travel, their resentment and their desire for control of their own lives and how they spend their time. At ON24 we’re committed to providing virtual solutions that help travelers make the most out of their lives. Because it’s your time, your life. Go virtual!”

ON24 must have been in heaven with all of this press coverage. They hit the big time and their message was simply forget face-to-face events, lots of bad stuff happens there, #govirtual.

ON24 seemingly would like to work with event organizers on virtual events, after all, most people agree that in conjunction with a live event having virtual components before, during and after is a win-win for everyone.

But, I fail to see the logic of completely trying to paint a negative picture of business travel to face-to-face events in order to boost the idea that people are safer staying in their offices and going virtual.

Do I think ON24’s marketing blitz to urge people to consider virtual events was successful? In one sense, of course; they got the coverage they wanted.

But, in another, much bigger sense, I think throwing the entire event industry straight under a BIG moving bus wasn’t the right way to do it.

6 responses to ‘Throwing Events Under a BIG Moving Bus’

Our organization has an annual physical trade show and have also intergrated two virtual shows in our marketing campign to drive attendance to the physical show. Let's face it online is a growing communication platform and believe everyone (including events) must use more in our communications. We created our own home-grown virtual mainly using video clips with strong content marketing. So, I would say "we get it" in that we need to do both and they can both fertilize each other. What is interesting is that On24 does seem to want to work with physical shows to add a virtual or hybrid format. However, in this ON24 research as well as past ON24 statements they bash physical trade shows, which differentiates ON24 from some several good "partnering" virtual platforms like INXPO and others. Trade show producers - speak with your dollars. It seems clear that On24 is discouraging companies from travelling for business and suggesting not exhibiting nor attending physical trade shows. That is why we did not select the ON24 platform in the past and will not in the future.

Great little bit of research!
Once the peak of interest has quickly died away, this could back-fire badly on virtual events.

Virtual events are failing to integrate into the wider events industry by pitching themselves as a straight alternative. Virtual event technologies are struggling because of this "us or them" attitude.

Virtual event platforms should be doing the opposite: working hard to demonstrate how they can integrate and enhance the reach of f2f.

Hybrid event organisers (f2f with a virtual component) who have been successfully bridging this gap will now be cringing.

I can't speak for the survey methodology, audience selected, and results out of Harris/On24.

I can however speak for the fact that in my view business at its highest level of performance is and always will be most assuredly face-to face. There are ways in which we can extend those experiences online and ON24 delivers some of those experiences for its customers. I am confident their intention was not to alienate a $ 263 billion industry.

We are not in a zero sum game between digital and physical events. Digital events do not need to win, nor will they win, at the expense of face to face.

There is value to be created by extending face to face events online. Tide of increasingly converged events will raise all boats, including those of physical event owners and technology platforms like ON24.

I guess I have been going to the wrong trade shows! You have to consider the source - they are promoting virtual business. Of course they are going to paint any business travel as bad - it makes them look good. Not the marketing tactic I would have used. And why only survey 2,000 people, unless you are being selective for a reason? Something smells fishy all the way around.

Good for you for calling this out on Rachel! I had seen one of these stories as well but just skimmed it and rolled my eyes with here we go again. I never checked where it was coming from...I would have been livid instead of just annoyed.

I'm with you, Rachel - It really bothered me when I first saw one of these articles surface last week! I'm wondering where they found these people for the survey? It seems many of the statistics are out of line with reality, at least among people I know in the trade show industry. And what really breaks my heart is how many major news organizations ran the press release. After the past few years when even the White House was telling people to stop going to meetings and conventions, haven't we had enough bashing of our industry? Now it's coming from a company who supposedly wants to work with conference organizers? Seems like a strange way to score points with your target audience ...

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