PyCon 2012 Sponsorship - Making the case for sponsorship.

by jesse in , , ,

PyCon 2012 already has a record-breaking 52 sponsors! I can not thank every one of them enough (but I will give my thanks again at the end of this post individually), and we are always looking for more sponsors to join the ones we have.

I wanted to take a moment to explain what makes sponsorship good for the community, and a sound investment for sponsors new and old, prospective and future.

This year, as chair, I've taken it upon myself to push and manage PyCon sponsorship (corporate, non profit, media, etc) for a variety of reasons. First, as someone who has been a sponsor in the past (and present) and as someone who spends a lot of time "selling" the Python Software Foundation, and the community to others - I feel very closely tied to PyCon and sponsorship.

Not to mention - corporate sponsorship is what allows us to keep this probably one of the least expensive international technical conferences you could possibly attend this upcoming year. Without sponsorship - and the array of sponsors we have right now for PyCon 2012, the conference could simply not happen at the size it has reached, or have a robust financial aid program, keep tickets and tutorials cheap, etc. We have, once again intentionally capped attendance at a level to allow for this, and to help keep PyCon's community feel and closeness.

Running a conference is, frankly, a dangerous game. As I noted in my blog post several months ago discussing some of the financial workings of PyCon and its financial philosophy. It is very easy to lose a lot of money, very quickly. PyCon is held / financed / backed by the Python Software Foundation. This means lack of sponsorship, low attendance, etc could - with a simple misstep - bankrupt the foundation. Sponsorship helps shore up the gamble you make signing contracts on catering, room bookings, rental of the space where the conference is held, audio/video costs, etc. Although, if you make a big enough mistake - nothing will prevent things from going south. This means careful planning, budgeting and negotiation.

Also, while PyCon has always been, and will continue to be a community focused and therefore, low cost and inclusive conference, not really focused on profiting from attendees, any revenue that comes out of PyCon (profit, if you will) goes directly to the Python Software Foundation. This money, in turn, is used to improve infrastructure of Python resources, provide developer grants for programming work, provide grants to conferences all over the world and many other community projects.

In the last few months alone the PSF has issued grants to PyTexas, EuroPython, Python Ireland, PyCon India, and many, many others. We have issued grants for porting modules to Python 3, service such as Read The Docs, etc. Any revenue/profit is flipped back into funding PyCon, and the community as a whole.

PyCon provides a very tangible entity for corporate sponsors - it's an easier "sell" than direct PSF sponsorship, and therefore is a fundamentally better conduit for funds into the PSF.

That's all fine you say: those are great things for the community, and conference - but why would a company want to sponsor PyCon? Sponsors receive tangible benefits such as recruiting at the conference, advertising and marketing, getting community involvement known (call it community karma), etc. Sponsorship isn't just a matter of asking a company to fund the conference because "it's good for the community" - it's a matter of showing them that not only is it good for the community - it's good for their goals and needs.

PyCon is an excellent recruitment tool.

If you're looking for Python programmers, a venue filled with 1500 Python hackers of all types - from web developers, to designers, to distributed systems engineers and operations people is an excellent place for you and your company to find "that special someone". I know a lot of Python hackers out there who have been hired by companies they "met" at PyCon. I also know a lot of speakers and tutorial teachers who have received jobs or job offers after speaking/teaching at PyCon.

Just as PyCon is an excellent venue for companies looking to hire, robust sponsorship allows people at the conference know what companies out there could be hiring Python hackers. Companies like Walt Disney Animation Studios, Google, Dropbox, and others as well as companies that aren't well known for being Python shops. It's a great venue for job seekers to find employers.

The Jobs Fair page we added this year for sponsors, and those looking for jobs is a logical extension of this. Anything we can do to connect people and companies is great.

PyCon is an excellent marketing tool.

If you are looking to sell something - an editor, hosting, a service, etc - PyCon's 1500 attendee pool provides an amazing cross section of people. Not just hard core developers - entrepreneurs and startup founders, IT business people and leaders. Python is a language that as time goes by - I am less and less surprised where it pops up - and more surprised when it isn't being used somewhere within a company.

It is literally everywhere - a frequently unsung hero for many companies. Sometimes, companies use it without even knowing it.

Python - and it's community - and therefore PyCon is amazingly diverse. This means when you sponsor PyCon, you are advertising to an amazingly diverse group of people. Skill sets from all walks of technology - and a surprising number of people to whom Python is a tool they use prolifically to get some other job done (like say, video rendering or controlling robots). PyCon's attendees reflect the stunning makeup of it's community. You can't go wrong getting your companies names on attendee's lips.

PyCon is a great way to raise visibility.

This is as much a sub-point of my previous note on marketing as anything else but it deserves some attention. If you're a company who is trying to get the word out, trying to spread the news about your new product or service, people notice PyCon sponsors. Not only are you listed on the website, you get signs, booths and entries in the program guide at the conference. It can be en excellent tool for buzz and discussion about and launching a new product or service.

Even if you're not selling something - and you just want to get the word out about your company's open source efforts, opinion and ideas and use of Python - PyCon is a fantastic platform to do so. It can literally be a platform you use to launch you name and brand into the community's shared mind.

PyCon sponsorship breeds good will.

I wish I had studies to show it, but people within the community and at the conference itself see companies sponsoring PyCon and understand that while those companies might be selling, marketing or recruiting - are still doing the community a huge favor by acting as sponsors. As I said before - the community benefits are many, just as the sponsor benefits are. I can not stress this point enough - the companies that help PyCon via sponsorship or attendance do it for many reasons - some of them financial, but the social aspects are something all of our sponsor from the past can attest to. Python is an open source language, with a strong open source ethos running through its community - and seeing companies give back both through code and financially means a lot to everyone in the community - even other sponsors.

PyCon sponsors help set an example for the community in terms of involvement and support.

PyCon sponsorship is a good, simple and cost-effective investment.

wish all conference had sponsorship packages as cheap and as robust as the ones PyCon has outlined in it's prospectus. Heck - a good recruiter to find talent can cost a company $30,000 or more alone - by comparison, the sponsorship levels and prices PyCon has are fantastic deals (especially when you factor in that companies under 25 people can get a 50% off discount on two of those levels). For less than a price of a good computer and monitor - you can be a Silver sponsor. For less than the price if you include the desk and furniture or software licenses? A Gold sponsor. For less than the price of a good recruiter, or Google Ad campaign? You can be a Platinum or Diamond sponsor and reach out to not just PyCon attendees but to the entire Python community.

PyCon is a professional event.

I swell with pride standing in the shoes of the conference chairs that have come before me. PyCon, while focused on the community, the language, learning, teaching, being a ton of fun for all of its attendees, and excellent location to hack and network is one of the most friendly-yet-professional conferences I have ever had the privilege to attend.

PyCon is backed by the Python Software Foundation - but it is run by volunteers - even I, as chair, am not paid. For all of us involved, it's a labor of love. It is a way for us to give back to the community, ecosystem and companies and sponsors attending or sponsoring. And while it may be volunteer based - it's 100% professional. From the website, to the program guide, from talk selection and booth assignment - everything is treated with sincerity, respect and trust.

Sponsors can look at PyCon not just as a good investment, or platform - but as a safe one - and if they can not, I have failed as chair of the conference. The same applies to every single attendee.

But too much of a good thing?

As with all things, there is a flip side to this. Sponsorship is great for sponsors, and the community - but PyCon is fundamentally community focused, and hence we must walk a line between having robust sponsorship packages, and going the "full sponsorship monty" so to speak. This means that to this day, I hold firm on the policy that sponsorship does not guarantee or provide tutorial or speaking slots to any sponsor.

At PyCon, we are all equals, especially when it comes to talks. Joe developer from nowhere, Antarctica can submit a talk, tutorial or poster session as can Bob the developer from a Diamond sponsor and they have equal chances of being accepted. If the talk is good, if the speaker is known to be a good speaker, if the content and subject are compelling, a proposal will be accepted on its merits (but even then we can not accept all the deserving ones).

Other conferences guarantee speaking slots for sponsors - I feel this runs counter to the PyCon ethos and community philosophy. Not only are we open in our source, we treat each other as equals and with respect. Ours is the meritocracy of ideas and work - and this point can not get lost or forgotten in our - my - work on our sponsors' behalf to increase the value and return on investment they see.

We also try to keep the advertising and visibility at the conference tasteful - limiting banner sizes and locations, focusing on the vendor area experience while also giving sponsors free admissions to the entire conference so they too can partake in the learning, hacking and networking. We find this to be a good balance between the needs of the attendees and the needs and desires of the sponsors.

Trust me, if I thought walking around in a NASCAR-like track suit covered in logos would help our sponsors, I just might - ask the other staff! But that's just me.

In closing - I want to encourage you and companies you know or work for, to take part in PyCon and get involved. Even if you can not, or do not want to be sponsors, I encourage you to submit proposals, lightning talks when the conference comes, attend the sprints, and recruit on the "down-low" by just talking and hacking with everyone.

I encourage you, and will work with you day and night to join us as sponsors - but I value your involvement in the community, and the conference more. Even by just attending, you are enriching us all. If you have suggestions on how to make sponsorship better for sponsors - or general comments or concerns, feel free to email me.

Giving thanks

Finally, I'd like to thank all of our current sponsors - and an a yet-to-be-named mystery sponsor:

And of course, if you want more information on sponsorship - visit the PyCon 2012 Sponsorship page.