Tips for Conference Sponsors

With conference season upon us, I want to share some tips for conference sponsors. I’ve gotten some questions about this lately, so I’d like to share some of the approaches I’ve seen over the years.

All sponsors

  • Above all else: attend the conference, meet new friends, and have fun. Conferences are unique gatherings of community-focused programmers. I can’t stress enough how great they’ve been for me. I’ve met some of my closest friends and coworkers at conferences, and those relationships last. If you’re looking to meet or hire the kind of folks that participate in tech communities, conferences are a great place to do it.

  • Talk with people. Conference-goers are a friendly group (especially at Python conferences), and there are bound to be plenty of folks around who share your interests.

  • If you’re hiring, be realistic about timelines. It’s rare to make hires on the spot. Aim to make connections at a conference, keep those relationships active, and hire when the time is right. Maintaining a brand in the tech community pays off over time, especially among developers who value community support from their employers. Conference sponsorship can have a great ROI compared to other external recruiting options.

  • Submit a talk! If anyone on your team is interested in getting more involved in the community, speaking at conferences is a great way to do it. In addition to the recognition that comes with being a speaker, it’s also a great approach to learning new topics, and plenty of speakers use it as a way to dive deep into a particular technology or tool. Never given a tech talk before? No problem! Many conferences have speaker mentor programs, and Jesse Davis and Hynek Schlawack have written some excellent advice for you.

Getting a booth?

  • Be sure to staff your booth throughout the conference. Try to keep at least one person at your booth at all times, and increase that number to two or three at peak times like meals and breaks. (These numbers are meant for small to mid-size regional conferences; scale up appropriately.)

  • Make it interactive. Demo your product, have a fun programming game, etc. Your booth should be a conversation starter. (Note: don’t go overboard, and please don’t interfere with other sponsors’ booths.)

Swag (stuff we all get)

  • Be practical. Notebooks are great. Screen / lens cleaners are great. I still have some nice branded pens that I picked up at a conference years ago. Skip the fidget spinners and other generic trinkets; if it’s plastic or not genuinely useful, think twice.

  • T-Shirts are always popular. You want people to wear them, so make sure that they’re nice, comfortable t-shirts (read: not the cheapest option you can find). Also make sure that they’re properly sized (read: people come in all different shapes and sizes, so don’t just get “unisex” shirts). An ill-fitting or uncomfortable shirt won’t get worn. Ask your conference organizers for a breakdown of attendees’ sizes; they’ll probably be happy to help you plan your stock appropriately.

  • Bonus points: event-specific swag is great. When designed well, a one-time-only swag item can be really popular. (If you’re going to use conference artwork, make sure you follow any branding guidelines and clear your use with the conference organizers before you send anything to print.)

This list of tips is by no means exhaustive, but it should help you have a successful sponsorship experience. Sponsorships are important to events that offer it, and organizers want to make sure that you get value out of the conference. If you have questions or custom requirements, just ask. We’ll do our best to accommodate your needs when possible.

Finally, if you’re looking for an event to sponsor, I’m happy to make introductions. See my about page for contact info.

Thanks to @laceynwilliams, @webology, @lakatialira, and @lazlofruvous for reviewing and providing input on this post.