Events? Community vs. Commercial

Love them or hate them, events are part of marketing. We organise and attend lots of different events: conferences, seminars, PR launches, networking dinners, customer lunches, hospitality events and everything else, from a sales kick off to a president’s club trip. So, when I attend an event that is a cut above all the others, it makes me stop and think.

I’ve just come back from three days at SQLBits in London. It’s not a commercial event, set up to make lots of money. Nor is it a huge trade show. It’s a community event. It is organised, funded and run by the SQL Server community. It has an event committee of dedicated SQL Server geeks (I hope they don’t mind me calling them that), and a massive team of ‘helpers’. Both committee members and helpers give their time for free, there is no financial incentive.

The committee members all have ‘day jobs’, so organising an event such as SQLBits takes up evenings and weekends. They have regular multi-hour conference calls to make decisions and get things done. And, for each of them, there are lots of sleepless nights to get everything organised. They are perfectionists and they care. They really care about the delegates, the speakers, the sponsors and that everyone gets ‘value’ from attending. The committee regularly reminds delegates to visit the exhibitors, if only to ask ‘what do you do?’ There’s emphasis placed on the importance of sponsors to support the running of the event.

Delegates, speakers and sponsors come to SQLBits events from all over the world. Attendees come to hear about use cases, problem solving, new developments and best practice with SQL Server and various tools that work with it.

Fifteen breakout rooms, an exhibition hall, a black tie event, a pub night and keynotes make up the (jam-packed) conference agenda. But that doesn’t tell you much about the atmosphere, the quality of the presentations, the speakers and their passion for what they do. Nor does it do justice for how well the event runs, or how well respected it is by the community. You only have to check #SQLBits on Twitter before, during and after the event to see that there’s a unique buzz about it and the people who participate in it.

For me as a marketer, what makes it particularly stand out is that the organisers work with the sponsors to make sure they are happy and that they are getting value for money. Year after year, sponsors keep coming back. The opportunity for them to network, be part of a community and to build relationships is what draws them in. It’s not about showing the number of leads collected at the event, nor about categorising them into A, B, or C leads. It is about relationships. Pure and simple.

There’s no event management company. There’s no head of marketing. There is a community of people dedicated to learning, problem solving, sharing and understanding as much as they can. And it works. It just works.

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