The downturn in event revenue has been brutal for publishers who counted on their tradeshows and conferences to pick up the slide in print in 2009. Tradeshow revenue fell 18.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 and is down about 10 percent through the first four months of 2009, according to American Business Media’s 2009 Media Financial Survey, conducted by ABM and the Jordan, Edmiston Group.

Publishers are betting the downturn is temporary and attendance will bounce back once travel and training budgets are restored. But some event managers are finding that the biggest obstacle to drawing attendees isn’t budgetary at all. It’s the fear that the brass will start to think employees are expendable if they spend any time out of the office at a show.

“We’ve got telemarketers pounding the phone and we’re offering deep discounts but people still aren’t coming,” one event manager told FOLIO:. “And it’s not about the money—they’re saying they worry that they’ll be considered for the next round of layoffs if they aren’t seen in the office every day.”

Others are seeing former attendees grounded due to other fears. “We had one group tell us no one in their office is allowed to travel for fear of swine flu,” says another event manager.

Much of the downturn in print may be blamed on false perceptions and hysteria over “old media,” rather than reality. Now the event side is learning just how costly this hysteria can be.