We’re just getting back from our second stop on the BarCamp Tour: the 6th annual MinneBar held at the Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis. MinneBar is the largest BarCamp in the country, with about 1,000 people attending this year’s event.
The conference itself was great; lots of interesting sessions, fantastically smart and engaged attendees, and the Best Buy headquarters blew me away with how eco-friendly and employee-focused it was by design. Fellow BarCamp Tour busser and Shopify‘s Tech Ambassador Joey DeVilla wrote up a great post about the day’s event over on his blog Global Nerdy, and Stephanie Bullis from Grasshopper posted on 5 Ways to Make Your BarCamp the Next Minnebar.
The thing that impressed me the most from a sponsor’s perspective, though, was how the event organizers Ben Edwards, Luke Francl and Adrienne Pierce really took the time to make us feel welcomed, included and appreciated.
Sponsorship of events we believe in has always been a priority for BatchBlue, even though technically we are still in start-up mode ourselves. We’ve found the best way to reach folks is to get out there and meet them in person, so giving a bit of our money and a chunk of our time has been a core part of our strategy as we’ve grown our business. I’ve learned that sponsoring smaller events means making sure I always have a Sharpie and ideally some duct tape with me, as we’ve often had to hand-draw signs with our company name and affix them above the area where we’re giving away our t-shirts or whatever. Many organizers are so busy with the logistics of the conference, they don’t give much thought to that aspect of it.
Not true of MinneBar.
Granted, the five companies who have joined together on the BarCamp Tour represent a different kind of sponsorship. As we explain on the BarCamp Tour site:
We “sponsor” BarCamps, but we aren’t like a typical sponsor. We are active and enthusiastic participants in your conference. Our goal is to provide organizers with the resources they need to host ridiculously awesome events that empower attendees to share their passions.
BarCamp Tour founder Jonathan Kay of Grasshopper recently spoke about the BarCamp Tour with Howard Greenstein of Inc. Magazine, who referred to it as “sponsorship as participation“. I love this concept — it feels much more like BatchBlue, and it’s why we signed up to be a part of the Tour.
The MinneBar organizers did so much to make their sponsors feel welcome — theirs was a polished and well-organized affair. Here are a few examples to keep in mind as you plan your next event:
- Host a sponsor/organizer dinner the night before. This doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s a great way for sponsors to meet each other, the event organizers and even board members before the madness of the event kicks off. Nothing beats bonding over beers or noodles (ideally both!), which is great for future business opportunities be they sponsorships or something else.
- Display (appropriate) signage. The last thing an out-of-town sponsor wants to have to do the morning of the conference is run around taping signs on stuff. Not Fun and Not Cool – we’d rather be meeting folks and helping YOU out with whatever it is you need done. MinneBar had nice, tasteful table cards with a little information about each sponsor at the lunch tables, signs in each of the conference rooms, our logos on the print materials and in some of their slides. Nothing too over-the-top, but you knew who the sponsors were, which is nice from a sponsor’s perspective.
- Check in. We know you’re busy, but it’s great to have the conference organizers check in with sponsors periodically throughout the day. Ben and Luke attended and even participated in our session on branding, which I thought was very gracious and added a lot of value and perspective to the session.
- Make introductions. The point of going to conferences, hosting conferences and sponsoring conferences is to make connections with other folks. The MinneBar organizers were great about making sure we met with key folks in the Minneapolis tech scene (we even got an awesome dinner recommendation from Best Buy CTO Robert Stephens!)
- Thank your sponsors! This one is pretty obvious – say something nice about your sponsors to attendees and give some context as to why they are there. Ben and Luke spent a moment introducing us and explaining our mission during their opening remarks, then invited us up on stage at the close of the event to say our thanks for having us. Having spent time with these guys and gotten to know them during the weekend, we knew how much our being there really did mean to them.
We recognize that no one wants to go to an over-schwagged, cheesy event where even the toilet paper has a logo on it. The MinneBar folks have proven it’s possible to run an amazing event that provides tons of value both to attendees and sponsors even as we redefine what sponsorship means.