The dubiously interpreted data suggests that our industry precipitates infidelity, drug use, and obesity.
arlier this year, a bizarre report was released from virtual-event firm On24 Inc. A treasure trove of spurious statistics, the report found that 22 percent of respondents would give up shaving forever in exchange for an extra year of life.

What does that have to do with virtual events? A press release from On24 offers a roundabout explanation by suggesting that if you attend a trio of three-day conferences annually, those conferences will account for an entire year when extrapolated over a four-decade career. The takeaway is that if you want to milk another 12 months out of your mortal life, you can either stop attending trade shows or start growing a beard.

But the portion of the report that generated the most buzz seemed like an anti-industry campaign that positioned trade shows and events as modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah suburbs. The dubiously interpreted data suggests that our industry precipitates infidelity, drug use, and obesity. Among the highlights are claims that 94 percent of Americans say “bad behaviors” occur among people traveling to attend business trade shows, and implications that business travelers cheat on their spouses, eat fatty foods, go to bed late, and take illicit drugs.

According to On24, “These results illustrate that Americans believe their work-life balance is out of whack, and that fuels their growing dislike for business travel and their desire for control of their own lives and how they spend their time.”

But do the results really say anything about work-life balance as it relates to business travel? The survey found 85 percent of people believe work infringes on personal time, but respondents didn’t attribute that to traveling or trade shows. Rather, they cited employers demanding more in a poor economy, long hours at the office, and their own too-easy access via smartphones and tablets.

Furthermore, the data relating shows and events to drug use and infidelity is an offensive and irresponsible claim. What the survey actually determined was not that people feel motivated to have affairs at trade shows, but rather that 66 percent of respondents believe some people cheat on their spouses while “traveling away from home” (as opposed to traveling at home?). Had they asked whether some people cheat during their lunch breaks, that percentage would have likely been even higher.

On24’s chief marketing officer asserts that the firm can save you from a life of debauchery by “providing virtual solutions that help travelers make the most out of their lives. Because it’s your time, your life. Go virtual!” Seriously? Is On24 waging an ethics war against face-to-face marketing? Has the sales pitch for virtual really devolved into fear mongering? The survey claims 71 percent of respondents believe some people drink too much alcohol while attending trade shows. An informal survey of my co-workers found 100 percent believe “some people” drink too much at wedding dances. But that is not sufficient justification for virtual nuptials.

Recent research indicates that less than 6 percent of marketers are currently using virtual events to enhance or replace their trade shows. And our 2011 Virtual Events Survey found that only 11 percent of marketers who had hosted virtual events felt the leads gathered were equally as likely to result in a sale as leads gathered via live trade shows and events. I’m not dredging up that data to launch an offensive against On24, but to shift the dialogue away from alleged “bad behaviors.” Virtual has its place, and I believe hybrid models are likely the future of our industry. But if you opt to host an online event, I hope your decision has more to do with sales potential, demographics, and lead acquisition than it does with how many of your staffers stayed up past midnight at last year’s conference.e
Travis Stanton, editor;

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