Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Challenge With Community Event Sponsorship

This actually seems to be a topic that bubbles up every year before, during, and after VMworld.  Nobody is going to argue that community events are valuable to many people who attend them and bring others to them.  There is however an inherent challenge that has yet to be overcome by the ask for sponsorships at these.  I know I have been shot down multiple times advocating for managers to sponsor them in past years in various roles I have had.  That being said, there was a tweet last night that seemed to set off a chain reaction that really didn’t address the actual challenge and ended up turning into a complete Whiskey Tango Foxtrot situation.

While I replied to this initially with a comment about ROI to sponsors, which then turned into branches of other conversations about how spouses influence IT purchasing decisions, and what seemed like attacked on community events.  I’m pretty sure at some point there may have been a MEME of Shrek with my face on him simply for trying to explain my point in 140 characters.  It went completely sideways from the original issue.  So, since twitter SUCKS for context to anything you type here is more clarification.

Sponsorships vs Donations

I have run into this as we built out the sponsorships for the non-profit theatre I am on the board for.  We realized that when people “Sponsor” something they unfortunately have expectations about some kind of ROI.  Take VMworld as an example.  Sponsorship levels come with tangible benefits

  • Booth Space
  • Paid Sessions
  • Advertising

All of these things are aimed to provide a way for that sponsor to obtain LEADS to increase their business.  Same with the theatre I am working with.  The “Sponsors” get “commercials” or mentions before during and after shows.  They get ad space in the programs and around the theatre and on the website.  Now one is a non-profit and VMworld is clearly aimed at increasing business.

Donations on the other hand are simply funds provided in kindness with no expectation of return on investment.  The theatre will accept those as I am sure so would VMworld, but again not the same model.  I realize it is apples and oranges for illustration.

VMworld Community Events

Okay so back to the original tweet at hand.  I know first hand having asked marketing well before previous VMworld events about sponsoring the community events the answer was “We did in the past and didn’t really see the value in it”.  The budget money was spent on the booths, customer events, etc.  I don’t think one can get upset with someone who said no to community sponsorships who then spends money elsewhere on customers.  One has nothing to do with the other.  One is most likely more of a marketing / trade show budget decision and the other was probably decided on ad-hoc.

I still go back to the number of times I heard “We don’t see the value in it” from companies that sponsored previously.  That has to be addressed.  If you want these companies to start-up again, then need to be shown the value.  They need to have something measurable they can report back on and say “This helped us do more business or reach more people”.  They need to prove to the decision makers that the SPEND is worth the RETURN and there is a way to tie new business to it.  I’m sorry to be the agent of truth on this, but it’s just a fact of life.  New start-up companies may throw money at everything to get their name known.  In fact some of the more stable companies probably did that in the past and now need to make different decisions than they did before.

Frankly, it seems like the sponsorships are actually more like donations depending on how you look at it if you compare the examples above.  You want more community events to be sponsored you are going to have to find ways to prove to them the value.  As for the mass amount of tweets about how people will remember those that did sponsor for taking care of them or their family, I don’t buy into that.  I also don’t think that’s a large enough perceived value to make an argument on.  Budgets are tight, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.

If you want more things to get sponsored, maybe something has to change to show those sponsors tangible value instead of “perceived” value.  I get it, nobody will provide attendee lists, then you have to come up with a different way of measurement.  It’s a corporate game you need to play and change the minds of those that think there is no value in it.  Maybe this puts some of my replies in context, maybe it doesn’t, frankly it doesn’t matter.  The issue seemed to be someone was upset that money was spent on something other than a community event, but I think the actual challenge is much deeper than that.

About Chris Colotti

Chris is currently a Sr. Cloud Solutions Architect for Tintri. Previously to this he spent close to a decade working for VMware as a Principal Architect. Previous to his nine plus years at VMware, Chris was a System Administrator that evolved his career into a data center architect. Chris spends a lot of time mentoring co-workers and friends on the benefits of personal growth and professional development. Chris is also amongst the first VMware Certified Design Experts (VCDX#37), and author of multiple white papers. In his spare time he helps his wife Julie run her decorated apparel business as the accountant, book keeper, and IT Support. Chris also believes in both a healthy body and healthy mind, and has become heavily involved with fitness as a Diamond Team Beachbody Coach using P90X and other Beachbody Programs. Although Technology is his day job, Chris is passionate about fitness after losing 60 pounds himself in the last few years. Now he spreads both the word of technology and fitness along with the Team Beachbody Business through his blogs.


  1. In an email from you, dated May 13, 2016 when I asked how buying apparel from your wife helped community based programs…

    “Not sure what you mean by “benefits the community” other than it helps the wife of a community member with her business.”

    What am I missing besides support of Spousetivities helps improve the conference experience AND helps the wife of a community member with her business as well as many community members wives in many ways?

    • First of all, you’ve missed the point of the post with your reply. I did not call out any events specifically and I am not sure why your event has any special or specific bearing to the issue. I was only trying to provide input as someone who has tried to gain funding for sponsorship this year and got denied. Instead however I was given money to get some very nice vExpert gifts that went directly to people that may have had interest in what my employer does.

      Secondly, you want to open up this pandora’s box, fine. As far as I know you are not a non profit, so you earn a living from this same as my wife. Difference is she is not trying to get donations or sponsors for her work, she has a regular business that provides tangible items for a fair price. How does her business growing help the community? I will tell you exactly how so it’s perfectly clear. She herself DOES in fact sponsor events that she can based on the business’s income and capabilities to do so. Last year and this year she sponsored the CXI party and provided some branded items at no cost. She sponsored $5000 worth of new network hardware to the local non profit theatre, the list goes on. In each case she has gotten something for her sponsorships to help boost her exposure not just a name on a wall.

      A business can not sponsor anything without making money themselves. It’s simple accounting really. If she can make some extra money by people purchasing from her, she also uses that income to do things for MULTIPLE communities, not just the technical ones or event parties. So looking back my initial comment was incorrect. Supporting her is not just about helping her grow her business, by growing her business it does in fact help support communities. My ask in that E-Mail was simply to ask that more people look to give her a shot to quote stuff they were looking for for these events, be it shirts, or otherwise. She has also cut costs on many occasions for “sponsorship” to be listed as a sponsor for that discount.

      Now you want me to be really direct? In my opinion while Spousetivities has a ton of value to those that attend your events and their significant other, it has in my opinion ZERO measureable value to a tech company being asked to sponsor it. One cannot confuse the value to the attendee of your event to the value of the people asked to foot the bill. The fact that in recent years it has been combined into the overall sponsorship with the other events, I also feel have detracted from those specifically focussed events targeted at the actual conference attendees. I also know I am not alone in this opinion, just as usual I am the one to say it out loud. The value to the sponsor of the more technical focussed events is more aligned at least. I even made the suggestion in one of my tweets last night that possibly you need to find all new sponsors that align with your audience better.

      Now if you want to get back to the original topic of my post which is why sponsorships have dropped off due to the lack of measurable value and how to fix that problem, that’s fine, but you will not drag my wife’s good name and company into a discussion that has nothing to do with her.

  2. Chris, thanks for your reply. First, I’ll point out that I’m pretty sure Crystal was not trying to “drag [your] wife’s good name” anywhere, but was rather trying to understand your perspective given earlier interactions that seem somewhat contradictory on the surface. Rather than assuming the intent or motive behind your perspective, she was seeking to understand it. (This is also why she’s reached out to you on Twitter with a request for a direct conversation.)

    Second, I’ll just say that Spousetivities has “special bearing” because it was my tweet about Spousetivities that instigated your blog post.

    Finally, I’ll merely point out that you might want to learn more about the Spousetivities business model before assuming that you understand all the dynamics here. Unless you are of the opinion that social media has “ZERO measurable value” (your words) to tech companies, then there is value that Spousetivities can (and does) offer sponsors. I’m sure that Crystal would welcome a respectful conversation about the ways that perhaps Spousetivities can do even more to provide a return on investment for those companies seeking to sponsor these events.


    • Scott, you know I think you are a smart guy. A lot of people do and thus you have been put up on a pedestal by many. With that comes some level of responsibility to those people. To be honest in the past you have more than once tweeted similar passive/aggressive statements and when someone (like me), who admittedly does not always have a filter, speaks up it turns into a “thing”. Take a step back and look at those 140 characters. It could have also been interpreted like this:

      “Wow Scott is really upset someone didn’t spend money on his wife’s business but dropped money on getting customer’s drunk”

      Now, is that really the case? Who really knows because the tweet has no context. Additionally if you really were peeved about it, I for one say skip the passive/aggressive and just call the bloke out by name. Better yet, craft a blog post about how the sponsors are not funding events anymore, why you think that is the case, the aspects around it, and provide us all some data to support it. While direct conversations may be the case, if I had a dime or tweeted out every time Julie didn’t get a deal from someone, we’d actually be rich!

      You know this is business, and you also know there are budgets and shit happens all the time ad-hoc. Does social media metrics mean something? Of course, but are all those provided to the intended sponsor when asked about what others have seen before? I don’t have the original ask letter from this year but I am not sure it did include any of that, maybe it did so I can’t say for sure. Do those people get additional access to the audience they want. As I have mentioned to Crystal, maybe the business model is flawed going after the same sponsors that already sponsor the overall conference. Maybe it needs more of a donation approach, I don’t know it’s not my business to figure out.

      I think I have provided plenty of context and specific examples of answers I have gotten when asking various groups I’ve worked with to sponsor the ANY of the community events to provide context to the problem. All the community event managers (not just Spousetivities) need to understand that is a real thing and yes unfortunately ROI is something those people need to show. This is not anything you don’t know so I am not sure why me saying it out loud makes me an Ogre. It may not even be solvable, it may become $0 in sponsorships and rely on group discounts and other things. Maybe this is not a business model that can rely on sponsorships and needs to rely on donations or something else. I don’t know, like I said it’s not my business to figure out.

      I respect you and your thoughts but we are clearly on two different sides of this issue and we just have to agree to disagree.

  3. Chris,

    I wasn’t trying to attack as I consider your wife a friend and have since back when she participated in Spousetivities. Wasn’t expecting you to “approve” and post the comment, but had hoped you’d contact me directly. I would prefer to discuss directly so you can see my passion for the community. It was an honest question and I do apologize it didn’t come through as intended. That’s why direct conversations are a better forum for resolving differences of opinion. I’d love the opportunity to discuss how Spousetivities operates after 10 years and the value I offer the tech community via Spousetivities. I’m not sure you understand the business model of the company as it currently stands. Having a business degree, I do understand the need for a company to gain something from any event to which they contribute money. It’s also clear that you aren’t aware of how Spousetivities gets its funding for events. If given the chance, I’d be happy to show you that the “overall sponsorship” only funded about 10% of my budget for this last event, whereas the remaining funding was what I secured outside of the overall sponsorship program.
    I am really glad to hear all Julie has done and will no doubt continue to do for the community, for non-profits and other programs. We clearly share the passion for giving back to the community. I’m not technically a non-profit, but I don’t do this to make money, but rather to make the conference experience better for everyone attending. Thus, if I give away the little profit that may come from an event, it’s worth it to have enhanced the experience for others. For example, through my work with Spousetivities, I was able to be a small part of helping a family in the tech community when one of our own passed away suddenly. Helping raise funds to support his family meant a lot and the fact that the community came together to help reminded me of what community really means. Again, I’d love to share with you what Spousetivities is doing now, in 2017 and moving forward. It’s pretty exciting and perhaps it would bring a new perspective for you and for others. I look forward to hearing from you.

    • I have not once argued that there is value of all the community events to the various attendees. The value of your’s specifically is to the wives of the attendees to make sure they have something to do while we are working. the concept of such nobody will argue with. I am not wavering from my position that all community events are losing sponsorship for the specific reason that I have been told more than once, “[insert vendor] did not see the value/return and decided to put the money into other things”. In order to change that those asks for sponsorships have to come with clear cut benefit to the investor.

      I don’t have a business degree, I have a lot of common sense and real world experience. I’ve seen these things take a hit for a few years now and I’ve heard companies say they don’t see the value in it. I’m not hosting these events, so frankly it’s not my problem to solve. Essentially I am acting as a consultant pointing out what I think are the flaws in the business model. Like any consulting gig people can choose to listen or ignore the information. it’s not up to me to implement any changes unless it’s something I am actually directly involved in. I am just stating once more ALL the community events need to clearly explain the value and prove that that value if they want to continue to gain sponsorship. If that is not going to happen simply call it a donation and move on.

      I respect you and your thoughts but we are clearly on two different sides of this issue and we just have to agree to disagree. I hope you figure out a way to re-gain sponsorship if that’s the direction you decide to keep shooting for.

  4. You seem to miss Scott’s point in the tweet but almost make the same point when you say “Now you want me to be really direct? In my opinion while Spousetivities has a ton of value to those that attend your events and their significant other, it has in my opinion ZERO measureable value to a tech company being asked to sponsor it.” What measurable value does spending $$$ on drinks have to a tech company? It seems the value is in making customers feel appreciated. Not sure how a company measures that. I would not have attended the VMworld Tintri customer appreciation event without my wife. My local Tintri team knows this. I will be thanking Veeam for their sponsorship of spousetivities too. Every company decides where to put their money and if it provided the value they were seeking. I will decide what makes me feel appreciated and share that including with relevant spousetivity sponsors.

    • The difference is that traditionally appreciation events are directly targeted at existing, new, or potential customers. There is no context in the original tweet, mostly because Twitter sucks for context in 140 characters. I hate to be the one to say this but the responsibility of the marketing and entertainment dollars is aimed at the buyers, not their families and spouses. This is not to say that many us are thankful and have been thankful when our spouse is with us and is allowed to attend as a +1 to most of the things at these events. My wife Julie has never been denied access to anything when she was with me. Someone actually pointed that out on twitter that most events are a +1 without question.

      The overall debate here is not the company sponsored parties and events, which for all we know was the actual case in context in the original message. Maybe it wasn’t but that’s the assumption I have to make to make my points. The issue has and will always be that those same companies that hold their own events and most honorably allow +1 already have spent money to appreciate customers or partners. These community events are separate spend asks, and to my point will always struggle with showing value. The customer events are in most cases are initially invite of existing business partners first then opened up to additional people as they pass through the booths and are scanned. That value goes back to their original event sponsorship and the return is meeting existing customers and finding potential new clients. I think the two cases are significantly different from the perspective of the marketing people that are spending the money. They are directly held accountable for showing some kind of value/return/etc for the spend. We are not going to change that other events need to work within that constraint.

      One thing I can say having done a sponsorship program for the local theatre and Julie having done one for another organization is that the sponsor levels list tangible benefits to the purchaser. In some cases it is up to them to measure that, but that’s not hard to do to ask “where did you hear about us” and track the response of “Heard your commercial at the show last night”. The bottom line is that is trackable and can be tied to a specific deal. My feeling is if none of that is provided you are simply asking for a donation. That is also perfectly fine. As I pointed out in the article you just have to call it what it is if that’s the case.

  5. My last comments seems to be stuck waiting for moderation.

    • I’ve been on vacation and have not been reading emails. There is actually nothing in the WordPress Comment Moderation queue I can see that. Checked spam folder as well.

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