How the Internet Connects Knowledge
After you have a rough vision for your event (including at least a third of your speakers confirmed), you can start approaching businesses for sponsorships. Target those businesses that should be represented at your event, and target the ones that are useful to your delegates. For example, in my second year, my Premier Sponsor was Everus Communications, a wireless line-of-sight Internet Service Provider.
Local businesses support local efforts. Paying for advertising in a community newspaper resulted in a registration. Buying a computer from a small business resulted in a conference sponsorship. Think about where you shop – if you tend to buy local, you have already started to develop the relationships you need to run a successful conference. Also, ask for in-kind sponsorships. HICK Tech has received in-kind sponsorships for venue rental, newspaper advertising, and food from local producers.
Don't forget that magazines, newspapers, and radio stations are also in the business of sharing news. Write a summary of your event and send it to all the local news purveyors – from the weekly free publication at the grocery store, to the largest media organization that distributes to your region – and send your media release to relevant trade magazines, too.
Be aware of your timing. Print magazines generally go to press up to two months before they are released on newsstands, whereas daily radio, news, and print media can often respond to a short lead time.
Find those people who are interested in being champions for your event, and ask them what tools they need to convince others to come too. Tools could include brochures or an email people can forward to their personal network. Listen to them talking about your conference and learn the sound bites to use when talking to others. Encourage your marketing champions to personalize the message they send to others. By including their endorsement, you are more likely to get buy-in from the people they contact.
Be aware of things happening in your community, and offer tickets to your event as a prize. In my second year, I gave away 10 free tickets at local events. Even though none were redeemed (therefore costing me nothing), the promotional exposure resulted in additional advertising for HICK Tech.
You can offer your own registrants perks for doing promotion for you. For example, ask one of your sponsors to donate a prize to the person who refers the most registrants. The sponsor will be happy to get additional exposure for their own business, you get free word-of-mouth marketing. Everyone loves a freebie – people are naturally competitive and many will spend more time promoting your conference than it would have taken to earn the money required to buy the prize.
Make Registration Easy
Make the registration process easy, and then make it easier again. In the first year, I had an online registration process that included PayPal payments. Some corporations insisted they could not use a credit card to register online. Payment mattered to me more than the process, so I opted to issue invoices and accept checks. In my second year, I adapted the registration process – I allowed people to register online without paying. Payments could be remitted by credit card via PayPal or via a paper-based check. When attending conferences, I have used some exceptional online conference registration systems that include airport shuttle bus and hotel bookings (DrupalCon 2008), and I know you can only pay for DEFCON with cash. Make it easy for your delegates to say yes to your conference in whatever way is most convenient for them.
Do charge at least a small amount to attend your event. Charging a fee forces people to commit their time. Be clear in what you want from your participants, and in what they will receive for participating. From its participants, HICK Tech wanted a day of time and US$ 150. In return, the event gave attendees a sense of community and the confidence to explore technology.
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