Issue #22

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Today’s Topic: Sponsors. While the info below applies to any conference, it’s targeted at WordCamps and non-profit/volunteer conferences. Let’s go!

Organizers 😊

While usually I do more positive bullets, I wanted to do a “don’t” series of tips involving sponsors. I’ve seen many organizers of various WordCamps and conferences spend majority of early planning times focused on obtaining sponsorships. This is normal, although when it comes to not devoting or balancing the time with the attendee experience is when this becomes a danger.

In any case, I see some common patterns and I thought I would share them. Perhaps you have seen some of this before as well.

  • Don’t “call out” or put potential sponsors on the spot on social media. I cringe whenever I see WordCamps or small/novice tech companies @ someone on Twitter or Facebook mention asking if they would like to sponsor. Even if they WOULD shining a spotlight on them would be a bad call. If they do not respond (which is likely something I would do as the company, at least publicly) then you have some potential embarrassment there or at the very least it makes you look less professional. Find a way to reach out to them more privately (email is still professional I hear).
  • Don’t promote sponsorships to organizations or individuals unlikely able to pay it. I’ve seen WordCamps try to suggest first or even gently push $2000+ sponsorships on small businesses or individuals. This makes WordCamps look very out of touch (especially since they themselves are low cost and volunteer based events). If you are communicating with a website, individual, etc. feel free to let them know “if they know anyone” able to invest in larger sponsorships… great. But let them know that “every little bit helps” and you appreciate the small donations as much as the large ones.
  • Don’t communicate the value of sponsorships at just “hey, sponsor because it’s good to give back”. It can be difficult to communicate value of sponsorships, but it’s likely the one area that WordCamps and smaller conferences simply don’t put enough time into. Of course sponsorships are the way “to give back to WordPress and the local community” but try not to stop there. With larger sponsorhips, perhaps communicate where that money (at least in theory) is going and why. For example, maybe your conference is using live captioning: ask for testimonials from those attending the conference that would find this accessibility feature VITAL to them enjoying the conference. Sponsors typically are flexible if they know their funds are going to specific needs and how needs are appreciated by the attendees. Or at least this is a start in a direction of thought.
  • Don’t Ignore Sponsors After They’ve Paid. When I say “ignore” I don’t mean literally pretend they don’t exist, don’t shake their hands or even never respond to their emails. I mean don’t get into the “we have your money and now we need to focus on getting other sponsors” type of attitude. Sadly I’ve seen this happen. For WordCamps, this means making sure you have dedicated people greeting and doing regular checkups of sponsors (especially those who have tables) during the event. Before, during, and even after the event make sure you have someone dedicated to taking care of sponsor promotion (including social media). Invite sponsors to perhaps an exclusive networking event, dinner, or some way to show your appreciation.
  • Don’t Speed By Sponsors At Opening/Closing Remarks. This is very common – you have maybe a dozen sponsors (let’s say) that have earned or have been promised mention at opening or closing remarks when an organizer is up on stage. Don’t read off sponsors on a list or as you see their logos on a slide – spend a moment on each one complimenting them or showing appreciation. Example: “Thanks to Liquid Web… they have been one of the friendliest people to work with on this conference.” It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence. Have a note card for the speaker if you have to. Quickly listing sponsors (in my opinion) shows you either being rushed or not showing a large enough appreciation. Consider using multiple slides for sponsor logos.
  • Don’t Avoid Feedback. Just like you would ask for feedback from attendees and others after a conference, craft a feedback survey form for sponsors as well (just the sponsors that had a physical presence at the event is fine). Specific feedback about this from them helps make future events more appealing to sponsors. Don’t be afraid to hear honest opinions and ideas.

Speakers 🎀

  • Looking for ideas? Reach out to sponsors. Some sponsors, especially hosting companies, have a vast base of knowledge simply by the variety of customers they service. I’ve seen new talk ideas come from casual conversations between speakers (and attendees looking to speak) and those manning a sponsor booth.

Attendees πŸ™‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ

  • The two best times for sponsor swag. As much as I respect those who are cutting down on swag (environmental and “keeping life simple” reasons being the key reasons) sometimes you do need another t-shirt or curious about what sponsors have. If you can be there early one day one, that’s a good time. But also when the sponsors are starting to shut down and pack their items for travel (usually this starts to happen after lunch on the last day of an event), you can usually obtain more items simply because sponsors don’t want to take it home.
  • Speaking of swag – it doesn’t have to be for you. I gave the above tip I know still with people rolling eyes, but remember some useful swag you can grab doesn’t have to be all for you. I’ve seen t-shirts taken from sponsors and donated to local charities, classrooms, and similar organizations.
  • Thank Sponsors. Regardless of your stand on swag, if you want to be helpful to a conference sincerely thank sponsors for being involved. If there was a particular aspect of the conference that you enjoyed (the food, live captioning, even the venue itself) let the sponsor know that in part thanks to them things like that were possible for you to enjoy.

Misc. Stuff πŸ€·β€β™‚️

These tips were written and/or gathered by David Bisset, someone who’s been helping organizing conferences (such as WordCamp Miami, but others too) and meetups for over a decade. He’s still learning so share any of your tips and it might be included in a future newsletter.