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Jul 09 2015

VMUG leaders – don’t screw your sponsors

cdqpcqzgVMUGs are great events for VMware professionals to interact and learn and the MyVMUG team has done an excellent job executing the UserCon events but I wanted to comment on something that I have seen this year at the VMUG events. I’ve been a VMUG Leader in the past and am currently with a partner who sponsors VMUG events so I have perspective on both sides of the fence.

The only way VMUG UserCon’s can happen is through sponsor funding from partners which ranges from $3,500 to have a booth at the event up to $9,000 for a platinum sponsorship that gets you a speaking session and some other perks. Depending on the size of the event which varies by city there can be anywhere from 25-75 partners sponsoring a single UserCon event. As these events are at larger venues such as hotels and convention centers they get pretty expensive to execute for everything such as signage, travel, giveaways, food, drink and more. The sponsor funding is what makes these events possible and covers all those expenses.

The VMUG UserCons have multiple session tracks throughout the day where anywhere from 3 – 8 sessions are going on simultaneously that users can choose from. The sessions at VMUGs are encouraged to be technical and educational and partners have to submit an abstract that must be approved by the local VMUG leaders. A lot of sponsor sessions focus on the sponsor’s products and many sponsors do a good job of making them technical and educational but sometimes they can turn in to sales/marketing pitches. Depending on the attendee they may or may not be interested in hearing that but they have multiple sessions to choose from.

Gold and Platinum sponsors all get a 45-min speaking session at the event. In addition to sponsor sessions, VMware is brought in to spice up the event and make it more educational and interesting so you can hear VMware employees talk about VMware technology subjects. This is good as it makes it more attractive for attendees to come and also entice them to stick around throughout the day. However the problem comes when you start mixing together sponsor and VMware sessions in the same time slots.

If an attendee has a choice of hearing VMware talk about what’s new in VSAN or a deep dive on vCenter or vCloud Air or hear a sponsor talk about storage or backups, 8 times out of 10 they will choose the VMware session. As a result this screws over the sponsor which has paid over $5,000 to have a speaking session and ends up having a mostly empty room as everyone is in a VMware session instead. There is a simple fix to this that was implemented years ago by separating the VMware sessions from the sponsor sessions so they are not mixed together in the same time slots. However the discretion to schedule sessions is up to the local VMUG leaders and despite the MyVMUG staff highly recommending it be done this way the ultimate decision is up to the VMUG leaders.

I can point to two events this year that prove the impact that this has on sponsor session attendance. I was at the KC VMUG a few weeks ago and did a very technical deep dive on VVols that I thought would be well attended. However the KC VMUG leaders chose to mix together VMware sessions with sponsor sessions as shown below and as a result I had maybe 20 people in the room as everyone else was in VMware sessions.

KC-VMUG-editFast forward to the Seattle VMUG today, the VMUG leaders there chose to keep the VMware and sponsor sessions in separate tracks as shown below and as a result the same session that we did on KC was completely full with standing room only.

Seattle-VMUG-editThis clearly illustrates the impact of mixing VMware and sponsor session in the same time slots and the negative impact it has on sponsor sessions that pay a lot of money for the opportunity to speak to attendees. I have getting screwed at the upcoming Indy VMUG to look forward to as the VMUG leaders there have also chosen to mix sessions together. As the sponsors are the only ones that make the event even possible, it’s a shame that they get screwed over like this as it kills the value of sponsoring the event for us.

So if you’re a VMUG leader I encourage you to carefully consider this and schedule accordingly. I personally will be asking ahead of time now and may choose not to sponsor an event if the sessions are going to be mixed together. I’m sure other sponsors have recognized this as well and may re-consider sponsoring these events. As a VMUG leader your budget for the event is dictated by the number of sponsors you get so its advantageous to you to make the experience for your sponsors as good as possible so they will come back next year.

If you’re a partner and want to express your concerns send the MyVMUG staff an email as I have already done at sponsors at vmug.com.

VMUGs are excellent events that bring together the VMware community and I’d like to see them continue to have value for both the attendees and the sponsors. Hopefully VMUG leaders will help improve session scheduling to give us sponsors a fighting chance and have the opportunity to have bigger audiences at our sessions.

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