Shrinking budgets and policy crackdowns are changing the landscape for federal decision makers and influencers who gather information and stay abreast of new technology via industry events. Government contractors have always seen events and trade shows as valuable opportunities to connect with federal customers, but this is poised to change in 2013.

According to a recent poll conducted by Market Connections, Inc., 38% of federal employees plan to attend fewer educational and trade events in 2013 compared to last year. Meanwhile, 29% of the 400 respondents reflect the ongoing uncertainty within government agencies about the state of budgets and priorities, saying they don’t know their event attendance plans, even as the federal fiscal year enters its second quarter.

Respondents to the poll cite budget and travel restrictions as major factors in the decrease in event attendance, at 78% and 53% respectively, while just over one-third of respondents report that management will not allow them to attend events in 2013.

“As we expected, the current budget environment will have a major impact on event attendance by government employees and decision makers in 2013,” said Lisa Dezzutti, President and CEO of Market Connections. “As such, government contractors should consider alternative methods for reaching these decision makers, whether through thought leadership, traditional marketing communications, social media or other channels.”

The outlook is not entirely bleak. Just over a quarter of respondents plan to attend about the same number of events (27%) and a few plan to attend more (5%).

Market Connections also asked federal workers about their event preferences. A majority (58%) say they prefer smaller, content-specific events over large trade shows with multiple vendors (40%). Many of the respondents are thinking local, with seven in ten more likely to attend events that are close to home (69%) or hosted by a trade association (72%), as opposed to traveling to events that require a hotel (29%) or are hosted by a corporate entity (25%).

Overwhelmingly, federal workers still prefer live events to webinars and online trade shows (80% vs. 18%), and attend industry, educational and trade events to both stay abreast of new technologies (61%) and learn about emerging technologies (47%). Just over a third (27%) attend events to network with government peers, but only 16% attend events to network with industry peers or see product and service demonstrations.

“Content remains king with events as well as with other marketing communications,” said Dezzutti. “Government workers are looking for relevant, valuable content that will inform their decision-making and investments in new technology. There is still a viable market for targeted, content-rich events that reach government employees close to home.”