Conferences From the Sponsor Table
I have been pretty fortunate to have the ability to attend several conferences a year for the past several years. My time at conferences have evolved from an attendee to a face behind the booth to now sometimes even a speaker/organizer. My current and last two previous gigs, I had the opportunity to help strategize and plan where we would spend money. There is part art and science to where we pick events. Before our first FedEx box arrives at a conference, there has been a good deal of planning which we go through.
Taking a look at your marketing organization, the discipline of how and what to target usually falls on the field marketing team. The team might go by many names such as a “trade show team” but the gist of the field marketing team is to get your company messaging across in the wild aka the field. Depending on how large your organization is, the more full service the field marketing team could be. The logistics behind an event also can be taxing such as finding folks to staff the booth and getting all of the materials to/from an event. When I am deciding where to spend money at, let’s take a look at that decision process.
All about the Benjamins (and his MQLs)
There is a certainly a business aspect to sponsoring a trade show, conference, or even a meetup. There needs to be a return-on-investment to the company because each event takes away sunk costs such as the staff which most likely has to travel and this is ontop the sponsorship fee itself. Because I work at a larger firm now, our budgeting process is slightly more formal. In the smaller shops I worked at, we would get budget and discretionary budget quarter to quarter. Usually was a slight fire drill to burn through the discretionary budget before the end of the quarter; we bought a lot of pizza and cup cakes for meetups towards the end of the quarters. At my current firm, we get budget for the year and go about planning and voting on what we would like to sponsor at the beginning of the fiscal year. When looking to sponsor we need to build a case for why we are sponsoring. Previous events we have been to and had strong Marketing Qualified Leads [MQLs] makes our case very easy.
Build a List and Check it Twice
Conferences are certainly getting more competitive to even sponsor. The economy is firing on all cylinders thus more organizations have budget to gain mindshare. On my team we have a good set of autocracy in how we build the list; we are all pretty senior folks on my team. We would look at our product roadmap a few horizons out and decide which industry vertical and conferences would be best suited to get our capabilities out there and also building brand recognition and more so thought leadership. When building the list we comb through conference prospectuses and look at sponsorship cost, projected attendees, speaker caliber, and previous sponsors. If the events are more regional or international we look at the impact at sponsoring a particular region or geography vs if the event is national or global. For example I made a strong case to sponsor DevOps Days Rio in 2018 since we were not well represented in Brazil vs some of our competitors. Unfortunately I was speaking and staffing the booth at DevOps Days Chattanooga at the same time; oh well there was Sugar’s Ribs. Once we build the list, it is time for brass tax.
Soon we get to brass tax and we roll down our list and decide if giving $2k, $5k, $10k, $20k, or $50k+ to an event is worth the investment to the business. The science part of the equation is lead or MQL goals for the event. The more expensive the event, the leads we are supposed to collect and the quality of those leads increase. We keep track of cost per lead aka part of our client acquisition cost. The decision is easier if we were at an event and our goals were meet, we would certainly be happy to return the following year. The harder part is the art part of the equation if we are going to sponsor something for the first time or the previous year was not so positive. There is a lot to be said if we are at an event or if we are not at an event. Our customers and prospects would build an opinion either positive or negative based on our presence or lack of presence. A good win for us is to be at an event that our competitors are not at and that event turns out to be a success in the lead department. These unicorn events on our list happen for time to time; we are fortunate because we are industry experts on our team who can use our knowledge to steer which events to go to. After we compile our list on my team which currently we use Asana, the yay or nay decisions happen. A lot has to go on before the very first FedEx box gets to a convention center.
Ready the Boxes
Once we decided we want to sponsor an event/conference, the clock is on. Because the economy is so good, we run the risk of conferences selling out of sponsorship space before we can commit money. After we go through the financials at our firm, we start to plan for the event. The first is deciding how ornate our space is going to be. Are we getting a table or table top at a space vs a large custom area where we need to get something built. At DevOps Days Rio, we realized we did not have any banners in Portuguese, etc and had to get those all printed in Brazil. Not long after, we look to get a local presence at the event. A lot of events that my team directly sponsors are regional events. Because of the connection to the area, we would prefer someone who covers the area e.g from a sales or marketing side to attend and staff the booth. The larger and more national or global the event is, a lot more folks get on an airplane. At the smaller firms I was at, we did not have regional presences everywhere so that meant a lot of airplane and hotel time. The field marketing machine takes over though and soon, we are at a conference unpacking our boxes and excited to talk and educate attendees.
Excited to Talk to You!
I personally love talking to people. This is the best part of my job getting to talk and learn from so many folks with different prospectives. Before we start talking to you, we have to set up our booth or table. Usually we arrive at the conference the day before [or worst super early in the AM at smaller ones] and wade through the maze of boxes to set up our banners and screens. We tend to lug every thing around which can be a workout in itself. If we fly into for an event, we can’t carry anything sharp or tools to set stuff up so rely on the conference organizers for some essentials. After we get our table looking pristine and lay out the swag e.g shirts, books, and pens, we are ready for the masses.
A Scan Here, a Scan There
The reason why we are so uppity about scanning you at an event is that we need to prove that we had some sort of impact at the event. Marketing Qualified Leads [MQLs] are the main currency we look at to justify cost to an event. That $5k sponsorship can rack up to be a good amount more. Including sunk costs like salary, benefits, and travel, we typically look at $1k a day per person. Like those late night TV informercials, shipping and handling costs can be ridiculous that if someone at a convention center touches anything, can be $100’s or $1000’s of dollars. Our shipping costs even though they are negotiated are not much cheaper than what you can get if you walk into a FedEx store; shipping a monitor can be few $100 easy and the total shipping to/from can touch $1000 for a small event. Swag also has costs; printing and shipping those “free” O’riely Books cost money and shirts are not cheap also. Long story short, if we don’t come back with the scans or a conversion/sale which we could tie to the event, we might not be coming back the following year. That has happened this year during our planning already.
Can’t Put a Price on the Human Element (we do)
I truly enjoy going to conferences and talking to folks. In the blog picture, my colleague when I was at Mesosphere, Nathan Rea, were running the booth at DevOps Days ATL in 2018. With my current role, I usually get an attendee pass so I can leave the booth and check out sessions. I tend to gravitate back to the booth because similar to when I would be in school, university, and even church I have the gift of gab. Getting out an evangelizing your stack or your prospective is excellent. Unfortunately I am really lax about scanning folks so if I run into you at an event, please remind me to give you a scan!