Addressing Disruptions to Tradeshow & Event Marketing Plans Due to COVID-19

by Christy Ferguson  |  March 3, 2020  |  Gartner Blog Network

Respondents to Gartner’s 2019 Tech Marketing Benchmarks Survey indicate that technology and service providers spend an average of 11% of marketing programs budget on third party tradeshows and hosted event spend averages 6% of the programs budget. As a critical element of the marketing mix, cancellations and postponements of these events can be highly disruptive, regardless of the reason. As the number of tradeshow cancellations increases daily to the coronavirus outbreak, marketers must implement contingency plans to ensure awareness and demand generation objectives tied to events are able to continue.


Teams must be prepared to quickly pivot marketing strategy and build campaigns to address this shift. Examples include:

  • Activate your SDRs and sales teams to reach buyers who have scheduled meetings in advance with you and offer to travel to meet them in their offices. If travel is a concern, conduct web meetings. Keep in mind that other exhibitors will be doing so as well, timing is crucial, ensure that this outreach happens within 24 hours  of cancellation.
  • Shift or increase spend in digital advertising to promote product launches that were planned as part of the event. Use paid social to directly target buyers who had meetings or are on your account-based marketing lists.
  • Develop a direct mail campaign that targets attendees  to encourage engagement via webinar or virtual meeting. Direct mail performance has increased in recent years, but must be creative to reach buyers. In light of the current climate, be sensitive to the nature of the creative, you don’t need negative publicity.
  • Direct your PR firm to expand media engagement strategies, especially when product launches were planned during the event. If necessary, shift budget to PR to accommodate this effort.
  • Work with show hosts to understand promotional opportunities you may have with buyers that registered for the event. Are there opportunities to reach the audience through the host’s digital channels? For example, a tradeshow host or association may have a website and regular communications with attendees, is there an opportunity to co-market through these channels? Are there plans to reach the audience via streaming the event?
  • Develop webinar content that conveys the key messages you planned to share at the tradeshow, including speaking sessions and in-booth presentations.
  • To extend reach and optimize investments of contingency plans, join forces with exhibitors that offer complementary products and services to co-market a digital event series.


If your marketing plans include a hosted event, such as user conferences, customer roundtables, or field marketing events, ensure your teams have developed contingency plans, such as:

  • Conduct early outreach to attendees and exhibitors to understand their plans. Have their companies implemented travel restrictions? Are there discussions about restricting travel? Are they still planning on attending/exhibiting?
  • Develop ad creative and email campaigns to announce the cancellation or postponement to registrants now, and be prepared to quickly swap these messages into campaigns when/if necessary.
  • For large events or user conferences, establish a virtual event in place of the physical event. Virtual event platforms offer the ability to build exhibit “floors” with virtual booths for attendees to download relevant content and engage in online chats with booth staff.  These platforms also enable you to deliver virtual experiences, including general session keynotes and breakout presentations.
  • For smaller, or regional events, quickly pivot to a webinar approach to deliver your content.
  • Prioritize and personalize communication with key accounts.

Due to the fluid nature of the current environment, it’s necessary to build contingency plans for the foreseeable future. Marketers that have these contingency plans in place are less likely to experience disruptions to their awareness, demand generation and product launch efforts.

By Christy Ferguson at Gartner Blog Network

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