ROI and WordCamps: Getting the most for your Money

My recent trip to Italy was one of the best I have ever taken. Newly wed, in a country I’ve always wanted to visit, and one that has a deep history for both the country and my family. It was incredible. We saw amazing landmarks, ate delicious food, and shopped – it was sensory overload in the best way! But I also saw something else: street vendors, peddling goods, trying to grab the attention of anyone who walks by. On hot days, they will have water; when it rains, the umbrellas and ponchos come out.

On face value, it doesn’t seem so bad, right? They are possibly fulfilling a need for people on the street; I bought an umbrella from one of them when it was raining. But the problem isn’t that they are selling the items. The problem is two-fold: there are lots of people selling, and they are vying for the attention of lots of distracted people. It reminded me of something else: vendor booths at WordCamps.

WordCamp Needs Sponsors

Don’t get me wrong! Sponsors are so important to WordCamps. As the organizer of one in 2015, I can say that it would not have happened without the financial support of my sponsors. I also understand that many sponsors don’t do it for the direct Return on Investment (ROI). They do it to give back to the community. I have nothing but respect for that. Between conversations and other observations, however, I get the idea that some are disappointed with their ROI.

Here’s what I’m driving at: sponsoring every WordCamp reminds me a bit of the street vendors from Italy. Many sell the same thing, trying to attract folks who may or may not have a need. Through swag, giveaways, and catchy signage, you make impersonal connections that have a low chance of becoming a sale. But much like my recent trip, attendees are excited and very distracted by all of the great stuff WordCamps have to offer.

Get Better ROI of a Sponsorship

I’m not saying this doesn’t work. It does to some extent; I learned about SiteGround from a WordCamp. But sponsoring a large amount of WordCamps, sending people there, and having swag created gets really expensive. The question you need to ask yourself is: Why am I sponsoring WordCamps? If it’s to support the community more than anything else, I salute you. The most important part of WordPress is the community and these events wouldn’t happen without you.

You may be disappointed in your numbers if you want to convert new customers. Over the last couple of months I’ve heard sponsoring WordCamps don’t have the best ROI. Here’s what I would recommend:

  1. Scope out the Global Community Sponsors first. They sponsor every WordCamp, so you can see what you’re up against.
  2. Sponsor the ones most local to you. You’re helping your own community, not spending a fortune to travel, and can connect with people that you will continue to see.
  3. Do more than just give out swag and collect email addresses. In my experience, most take the free stuff and run.
    1. Make business-to-business connections. Talk to other sponsors and network with everyone.
    2. Offer in-person support. Work on cultivating a good relationship with the customers you already have. Your current customers are your best sales people.
    3. Pull back the curtain. Show attendees what you’re working on. Betas and Demos can leave an impression and can get people talking.
    4. Offer a discount equal to the price of their ticket. Make the direct connection to what they’ve already spent.

Seek other Avenues for Supporting the Community

WordCamps are either single events that are over quickly or cost thousands of dollars to support several per year. Sponsoring WordPress resources like online learning sites, free webinars, podcasts, or even blogs can be a nice addition to supporting WordCamps. The evergreen content on these sites continue to deliver a ROI well after you pay. Some recommendations:

*Full Disclosure – these are mine.

WordCamps are absolutely amazing events. I go to a lot throughout the year because they are the best place to connect with other people in local communities. I deeply appreciate those who sponsor the events because without sponsors, WordCamps wouldn’t happen. But the reality is there are multiple ways to support a community, and if you’re looking for direct ROI from sponsoring a WordCamp, you may be disappointed with the results. I’d hate to see sponsors pull away because the expectations didn’t match the results. It’s important to think about why you want to sponsor the events, how you want to reach potential customers, and what you are going to do to convert those potential customers.

featured photo by Found Art Photography