But why won’t you sponsor at my event?

Being a vendor/exhibitor at a few conferences has been an eye-opening experience for sure. Sadly exhibitors can’t sponsor at all the events that are available. It used to be the case that vendors could sponsor at them all, but back then there were just a few conferences that would be related to the vendor so it was “affordable”. Today with SQL Saturday events. Code Camps, User Group meetings as well as the large conferences like Build, Ignite, etc. fighting for those marketing dollars is a lot harder than it used to be.

What’s it worth?

Vendors, both small and big, have to get someone out of the event. With most of these events, the name of the game is email addresses to add to their mailing lists (you didn’t think booth swag was free did you?) and if the vendor already has sponsored an event in the past, especially over a couple of years, then that vendor probably has the contact information for most of the attendees at the event. If there’s a large percentage of attendees that are new to the event each year, I’d recommend highlighting that on your sponsor prospectus that you send out to vendors to get them to sponsor.

Speakers are not sponsors

The other major thing that events have going against them is treating speakers like sponsors. Now I’ve been a speaker at events for a decade, and I’ve always drawn a clear line between being a speaker and making myself an exhibitor for free (or getting paid for being an exhibitor when I have a precon). Some speakers haven’t always done this, and some have gotten rather blatant about it, with the events that they are presenting at doing nothing to curb those speakers from getting the benefits of being an exhibitor without paying for the privilege. Recently a speaker was collecting contact information from attendees during their precon to give those attendees a recording or the session. Those attendees that gave over their information were leads to the speaker, the same kind of leads that an exhibitor would be paying a large amount of money for on the exhibit hall floor.

People are going to say that events are welcome to allow speakers to act like exhibitors. And they absolutely are, those events should also not be shocked when sponsor money dries up. As a vendor, there’s nothing that says that I must sponsor some events and if as a sponsor I don’t like how myself and the other sponsors are being treated then I’m free to take my sponsor dollars elsewhere. This is one of those things that events only get to do once. Once an event has a reputation with the various sponsors and exhibitors that reputation is going to stay for a while, even once the speakers are no longer being treated like sponsors.

Sometimes speakers need to draw that line between speaker and sponsor themselves. That line is swag and selling/giving away goodies to attendees. Now I know that people love getting SWAG, and I know that people love giving SWAG, but people who aren’t paying the event to give away SWAG, and yes that’s basically what vendors are doing, shouldn’t be. Events cost money to run, usually a lot of money. How events get that money is from their sponsors. If sponsors don’t feel like they are getting their money’s worth from the event, then the money will go away along with the sponsor and the event may not have the cash on hand to run the event again. Suddenly that’s a lose, lose proposition for everyone.


The post But why won’t you sponsor at my event? appeared first on SQL Server with Mr. Denny.


5 Responses

  1. “Events cost money to run, usually a lot of money. How events get that money is from their sponsors.”

    Not even close – check the PASS annual budget. The vast majority of the revenue comes from the attendees themselves to pay registration fees to be there.

  2. It’s just a sign of the times changing. Today’s audiences are increasingly more focussed on who is endorsing something, including their own products, rather than evaluating a range of equally positioned products themselves. It’s been happening for decades but whereas before people used to buy review magazines, today the likes of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook mean who is endorsing or Like’ing something is far more valuable than raw advertising. It’s more visible in B2C but is also happening in B2B. Time to adapt and change to a new world of marketing.

  3. I have been running user groups for over 15 years and pride myself on having done so with no money 🙂

    I currently run the Nashville Microsoft Azure Users Group the same way. We meet at Microsoft so the facility is free and we have had the same refreshments sponsor (a local contract consulting house) for the past 5 years. With over 800 members in the group they do find sponsoring us worthwhile.

    We are currently running a Global Azure Bootcamp event on Saturday April 21st and have been able to get sponsors to provide raffle prizes that people can sign up for. (Yes the vendor does get their contact information that way.) Otherwise we don’t allow them to have the full attendee list. You do need to set a policy in dealing with sponsors and adhere to it.

    Thanks for this post
    Bill Zack

  4. I think there’s a cycle involved – one which begins when presenters show up (for free) because they are motivated (mostly) to give back to and enthusiastically participate in the Community. Over time, some of these presenters enjoy a growing audience, which leads to more opportunities to present. Perhaps they graduate to paid precons. In time, some of these presenters grow their brand to the point where they become full-time consultants. As business grows, their brand continues to grow. Eventually, some of these businesses reach a level where they can afford to take the next step – sponsoring Community events. (I wrote about this here: https://andyleonard.blog/2016/05/a-couple-three-thoughts-and-questions-about-swag-at-community-events/).

    The process can be short-circuited anywhere along the way – it’s easy to do for all the right-sounding reasons. Any event – be it a PASS Summit, SQL Saturday, Code Camp, what have you – is certainly free to bias the process towards those with the money to sponsor and against those who are in the early stages of becoming those with money to sponsor… just don’t confuse this behavior with anything related to the word (or concept) of “community,” because it’s not.

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