In the past couple years it feels like Camps have been getting kindof out of control. Started by Foo Camp, then Bar Camp, there are now X Camps going on seemingly every weekend in cities all around the world. And now there are camps for almost everything you can think of. Transit Camp. Change Camp. Science Camp. WordPress Camp. Cupcake Camp for Christ’s sake!
And with all these Camps come organizing committees asking for all kinds of sponsorships to facilitate these great meetings of minds. Since when were free drinks a necessary component to gather some smart, interesting people together to do some extraordinary things over a day or two?
This has recently come to a head with some debates over sponsorships for events in the local blogging & social media realm – what kind of sponsors should and should not be allowed and expected to participate in these events?
If you didn’t click on the links above, the latest debate in my particular area of interest and locale is whether or not it’s kosher for a political party to sponsor a portion of the event. There’s a good debate going, focusing mostly on whether or not the event organizers are selling themselves out.
But that’s not quite the right argument. They are not selling themselves out – they are selling out the attendees. Whatever the sponsorship agreement, no sponsor will start dishing out dollars without a return of some size. It could be as insignificant as their name printed on the napkins, or as hefty as banners in every room, a keynote with materials that align with their message (even if their “product” isn’t overtly mentioned) and access to the entire attendee contact database.
In any case, something of the attendees is being sold – from metadata down to a bit of mindshare.
(And as an aside – in case you’re unfamiliar with the cost of sponsorships in general, these sponsors are getting a screaming hot deal for the coverage they end up with out of these events. They’re banking on Camp organizers being unfamiliar with the going rate of selling out an audience.)
And this is when Conference and Camp organizers need to check themselves and really ask “how much of our people are we willing to sell out for a party?”
The more parties one wants to host, the sparser those sponsorships will become with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie.
And the more sparse the pool of available funds becomes, the less savory the pool of available sponsors will become, and the more the organizers may be asked to give up for a share of the dollars.
Frankly I think it’s all getting a bit out of control.
Has the community turned into a group that won’t gather without free drinks on someone else’s dime?
So I just want to put my $0.02 out to the Unconference organizers: Next time you have an idea for a Camp, please start with the “Low Rent: High Minds” theory (hat tip to Raincoaster for that phrase). If you truly have great work to do, brilliant people will come out anyway, in spite of (and perhaps because of) a lack of free drinks by Advertiser X.
Then perhaps the organizers of those large-scale events where sponsorships really are a necessity to facilitate obtaining access to the logistics required to have hundreds of people in one place, or to secure a really great keynote speaker, will have the luxury of choosing the best possible sponsors. Ones their audience and attendees would feel best (if not actually good) about being sold to.
And for the organizers of any camps or conferences: You, as the organizers, are the ones in control. I will not fault you for putting together a more modest affair if it means you aren’t blindly accepting, or talking yourself into sponsor choices that don’t honour the spirit and intelligence of your attendees. I accept that you’re selling us out, but please help us to still respect ourselves the morning after.