Setting Up A Conference: Part 2 - Speakers...no, no, Sponsors!
Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog
I know that I promised to talk about speaker selection next, but before that I should talk about sponsors.
Since you know the theme of the event, the target audience, the estimated size, scope (local, regional, national or world-wide) and with a rough budget, you can start to develop your sponsor strategy.
First realize that large companies (IBM, HP, Oracle, etc.) usually have multiple marketing groups and multiple marketing budgets. They budget for large, recurring events at least a year in advance from a “corporate marketing group”.
Then there are typically “product marketing groups” that have additional funds for marketing their particular product or service. These product marketing groups may also budget a year in advance, but usually have a small “slush fund” of money for new projects. Depending on company practices, the corporate marketing group may handle the “really big shows” and the product marketing groups may handle the small to medium events.
Finally there may be regional and local marketing dollars which are at the discretion of the local marketing people.
For a small to medium size conference this last group is the one which you should initially present your event. The local or regional audience that it attracts affects them the most, and they get the most “bang for the buck” out of the marketing dollars. That is not to say they will immediately hand you lots of money, but they may commit to giving you funds as the planning for the event goes forward. They may even be willing to put someone from their marketing team on your own planning team. Let these local people help you reach into their company's larger organizations to help you find additional resources you may need for your event.
Other “sponsors” often overlooked are local governments. Several successful small conferences (and even large ones) engage the local, state and regional governments. After all, FOSS brings jobs and your conference will be attracting business to their area. The Chamber of Commerce, Tourist Commission or Better Business Bureau are all agencies that you should at least inform that your conference is happening.
Finally, think about local businesses. Contact your local bookstore, particularly if they have a technical section, and let them have a stand at your event. People appreciate the ability to scan through a book before they purchase it, and a “show discount” is always appreciated. Let the local bookstore know what type of audience and books that would be appreciated at the event. “Windows for Dummies” will really not sell huge numbers of copies.
Local consulting firms, Human Resources (“Headhunters” to most of us) Firms, Training Firms (as well as local colleges and universities that use FOSS) are all potential vendor/sponsors for the event.
Sponsorship is not always in the form of money. Local companies can offer equipment, expertise, marketing materials, graphic design, hosting and a variety of other things that both cut your costs and make your life easier.
If you have attended even one event, or looked at the web pages of an event, you know the drill. For the most part the more money the sponsor invests in the event, the move visibility the sponsor expects to have at the event. This is the mantra of marketing.
However, good marketing people also match the speakers and the marketing materials to the audience, so if your event prospective is clear in saying “technical”, or “educational” or “government” audience, the marketing people will often (but not always) try to match the sponsorship and materials sent to the audience. Believe it or not, there can be “good marketing”.
There are always levels of sponsorship, all the way from a “general sponsorship” (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Brass, Lead) to targeted sponsorships (sponsoring a dinner or evening reception) and even speaker sponsorships (sponsoring travel for a particular speaker). Every level should generate some type of relevant visibility for the sponsor.
Create a marketing prospectus and be honest about it. Tell them the theme, audience, venue and estimated size. Put in the prospectus the plans for advertising your event, and the scope of the advertising. Please do not think that creating a web page is “enough” in the way of advertising. Web pages are passive advertising, you have to know about the page before you go to it. Newspaper and magazine advertising, radio community calendars, mailings to companies and schools are active advertising.
Being honest with your sponsors about potential size is important. It is better to have more people at an event, and have the sponsors say “wow, this is more than I expected”, then to have the sponsors invest in brochures, sending people, equipment, etc and have few people show up.
Be sure to thank your sponsors, both on printed material that the attendees would take home, on signage around the conference, and on stage.
If a sponsor comes to you with a reasonable problem, try to address it in a reasonable way. They will appreciate it. On the other hand the sponsors should not dominate the event. The event is a partnership between the event organizers, the attendees and the sponsors.
Now that you have a sponsor strategy, start to line up potential sponsors and see what types of investment you might be able to attract. Test the waters, and this will help you finalize your budget.
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