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.