On Sponsorship- Initial reflections from ECTC11
As once famously written by mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal to a friend, "I have made this a long letter because I haven't the time to make it shorter." Sorry about that. You might want to get a snack…
I intended to push this post off until after Event Camp Europe, and then to compare and contrast how that event and Event Camp Twin Cities 2011 each chose to deal with the complexities of hybrid meetings. What worked, what didn't work. I intended to be working on my presentation that I'm giving at ECEU last night, but instead found myself immersed in a whirlwind of comments, criticisms, reflections, and suggestions for the future of Event Camp. Some kind, some a bit harsh. "Did you see this?" asked one sponsor in an email to me. "Here's a podcast," in another email from someone else. Suddenly I have my laptop, iPad, and phone, all actively engaged and I'm listening to Mike McAllen at 250% speed so I can get through the podcast faster.
I still want to do the tech comparison, and will try to this week. First, though, I want to take a moment to talk about sponsorship.
I feel a very strong need to defend the sponsors. Sonic Foundry, Martin Bastian, BeEvents, BizBash, eventMobi, Active Network, Heroic Productions, and others. None of these companies had anything to do with the content or organization of the event, yet already I’m seeing some of their names associated with the negatives of the event. A pit forms in my stomach when I think that by sponsoring this event, my, my company's, or my fellow sponsor's names might be tarnished in any way. It makes me feel physically ill.
Sonic Foundry’s feed was rock-fracking-solid as usual. I recommend and use Medisite on our own events for our own clients. BeEvents brought beauty and functionality to the in room experience, and I say that knowing full well that we are at least peripheral competitors. Martin Bastian, another competitor in some arenas, produced two very nice, very high quality videos for the game. As for metroConnections, my employer, we provided the name badges and staff, the white lounge furniture and chairs, and lended production support in the forms of myself and one other guy, who wound up running audio in the Johnson Room due to cost concerns. In that production role, I brought in Heroic Productions, my most trusted AV provider and the one of the best damn crews in town. They sponsored what we thought was going to be overkill in the equipment department, and we still pushed both the gear and the crew well past the red line on this one.
I'm pretty sure Pink's fabric structures didn't have anything to do with the "problem with the pods". All of these sponsors that I worked directly with executed their portions with near perfection in all the areas that they controlled.
Aye, there’s the rub…
“The areas that we controlled.” And so my friends, I get to lesson #1 learned from ECTC11, and one you might not have been expecting from me: Do Not Lend Your Name to That Which You Do Not Control.
Problem is, that's an unrealistic lesson. There is, and always will be, an inherent risk in sponsoring an event. If you could control everything, it would be your event, not someone else's. What happens when the NASCAR car you're sponsoring breaks down? You can only hope that in the long run there's enough room for error and enough positive to outweigh the negative. What happens when the plan for how to handle a 7 way Skype call fails in spectacular fashion? You write a blog post doing your best to explain it so that others can learn from the mistakes, and hopefully keep the good names of your fellow sponsors out of the mud in the process.
Event Camp is about innovation and experimentation. The guys tried a lot of things, and an unfortunate amount of them failed. They took on too much, tried to do too many things at once, and it came off as a jumbled mess in parts. They could have just as easily gone off without a hitch, and we could all be standing around now going, "By Jove, they've got it!" Maybe Mike McAllen is right- maybe it needs to go back to more of an unconference style. By making it seem more like a traditional event, has the tolerance for failure gone down?
Perhaps then, the lesson should be: Do Not Lend Your Name to That Which You Do Not Control, Unless You Are Prepared to Deal with the Consequences, Positive or Negative.
You want to be on the bleeding edge? Be prepared to fall off sometimes. And to bleed. I can only hope that when we do get that "By Jove" moment all the companies and sponsors involved get the credit they deserve.
To That End
I cannot speak for metroConnections or any of the other sponsors, and I don’t. I speak for me, Brandt Krueger. And I will say here and now that I will be volunteering my time next year should it be decided to have another Event Camp Twin Cities.
I welcome your criticisms, I welcome your thoughts, I welcome your ideas on how to make it better, and I'll do whatever I can to try and implement them if it's within my power to do so. I wouldn’t be hurt or surprised if metro or Heroic have nothing to do with it or another Event Camp ever again, and I wouldn’t blame them one bit. But I’m in. Why? Because lately I’m obsessed with trying to figure this hybrid event thing out. Sam and Ray tried something new on the Pods. It failed on many levels and for a variety of “perfect storm” reasons which I will go into soon. I learned at least three things I didn’t know last week about how to do it and five on how not to do it. The Event Camp Europe crew is going to try something different. I’m going to learn from that too.
I believe in a cheap, scalable method for bringing in remote audiences for a near in room experience. I believe we’re very close to that. But how do you know if you can’t test it full scale? And if you’re going to test it full scale, you better be ready to fail and fail spectacularly. As for me, I’m going to keep attaching myself to these things. I’m going to keep striving for perfection within the confines of experimentation. Either I’m going to figure this thing out, or I’m going to be close to the person that does. And I want my company to be on the inside track of how it should be done when we figure it out. Do you?
As I said, I was supposed to be working on my presentation for Event Camp Europe last night. In a weird sort of way, I think I have been…