Paris in Winter – or: Why We Sponsor WordCamps


WordCamps are events that are all about community in the sense of Open Source; and of course WordPress. WordCamps are organized by unpaid volunteers, and would not be possible at all if it weren’t for the generous financial support of many sponsors.

Using the WordCamp Paris 2015 as an example, this post talks about why we are committed to supporting WordCamps.

People Like You and I

January is probably not the most wonderful month in the city of love. Paris is freezing cold, but at least the sun is shining in Bercy Village.

Against the backdrop of our hotel tower, the small French village has not much to offer outside hospitality. The view is faintly reminiscent of Christmas markets, but the smells are much less intrusive; plus – well, what can we say: the French simply have style.

Bercy Village
Bercy Village. Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I am meeting Jenny later on to finalize preparations for our Multilingual Dialogue. Jenny, a resident of Normandy, is a self-employed web developer with American roots. She agreed to help put together a multilingual WordPress workshop. And that on top of her duties as WordCamp organizer.

With the help of her native French husband Olivier, we finalize our demo sites for MultilingualPress PRO and WPML – and by then it is time to get ready for the Speaker’s Dinner.

WordCamps offer low-cost entrance tickets in their bid to primarily and very consciously attract a non-business audience. Creative minds and PHP gurus rub shoulders with “regular Joes” from industry sectors far removed from the digital world at these WordCamps wherever possible.

Agencies and larger businesses are welcome as well – of course – particularly welcome, in fact, in the mantle of sponsors, who use part of their marketing budgets to help cover the costs for the venue, catering, T-shirts, technical equipment, and the Speaker’s Dinner, thus ensuring that ticket prices can stay affordable.

Business on a Short Leash

Robert and I are taking the Metro to get to WordCamp. Haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet, mon dieu! Thankfully there is plenty of it and lots of delicious croissants at the MAS, probably the only event center in the world with a full-size giraffe in the lobby.

WorldCamp breakfast time, and everyone is talking to everybody else:

–”Hi there!”
–”Ça va trés bien, merci!”
–”How are you?”
–”Good to see you again!”

The official camp language is French, but – thank you GOD – nobody seems too shy about using English as the lingua fracta. Everyone can understand each other perfectly if they just want it badly enough. The ambiance is more like a large scale flat-share breakfast than a software convention.

In contrast with similar events, the opportunities for sponsors doing business and networking with each other is subject to strict rules and limitations at WordCamps. And there is good reason for that:

WordPress Foundation (WPF), guardian of the brands WordPress and WordCamp, takes on the role or organizer at many WordCamps, provides the necessary legal and administrative frame for the events, and – should sponsoring at any time not cover all the costs – uses surplus funds from other WordCamps to bolster the budget.

In the US, WordPress Foundation has the status of a non-profit organization. It is therefore under the supervision of the US tax authorities. Those authorities don’t look kindly on non-profit events being used to initiate business relationships, carry out discount promotions, or to get customers with product comparisons.

That is why it is obligatory for WordCamp sponsors to do without any comparative advertising, voucher giveaways, raffles, etc. during these events – if they would not comply with these restrictions, WordPress Foundation would be in danger of losing its non-profit status at some point.

One to One Dialog

We do a lot of talking with other people. The direct dialog with colleagues and with the users of our products (specifically MultilingualPress PRO) is the main reason for our being here.

Eye contact, gestures, a laugh here and there – basically all the non-verbal communication features we have to do without in digital dialog of social media and forums – they transform conversations here at WordCamp into useful contacts going forward.

To suddenly discover people just like you and I behind the unforgiving virtual entity of a specific software or a WordPress plugin, can drastically change attitudes; and vice versa: we want to hear as much feedback as possible directly from the source to take home with us.

WordCamp sponsoring is a great opportunity for companies, who earn good money with the free WordPress software, to give something back to the community of volunteers who created that software in the first place. And that without any feeling of a moral obligation, but also without any immediate return on their sponsoring investment.

Aside from “good karma”, there is another incentive for sponsors to invest in WordCamps: the rare chance to meet face to face with the users of their products or services.

In the otherwise primarily digital market environment, where the flow of communication transforms today’s news into yesterday’s old hat in a flash, one-to-one dialog and non-verbal communication exchanged face to face cannot be valued in conventional currency – and cannot be measured.

Beignets & Beta Testing

On Day 2, the sponsor kitty had to spring for a spur of the moment round of beignets (donuts) to go with the obligatory WordCamp coffee. With everyone’s blood sugar replenished and full of new energy, we all get down to our last discussion round and live demos of our WooCommerce Multisite plugin, which is currently in development. We collected the email addresses of interested beta testers, so that we can fill our test installation with real life use cases for the free tool we will be publishing soon.

When evening comes we are all exhausted, but very happy. WordCamp Paris was great, we tip our beret in thanks. A relaxed dinner with friends followed by an early night, as we all have to catch the bus to the airport bright and early.

On the plane home, we summarize our experiences, take notes of ideas, feedback, and impressions while they are still fresh in our minds. And we think about all the priceless personal contacts we made – much too valuable to simply switch off and get back into travel mode!

So that’s what it was like: our fist WordCamp this year. Paris in winter, complete with cupcakes, croissants, and donuts, new friends and old acquaintances, and a great big load of brilliant user feedback for a hopeful WordPress plugin.

Inpsyde has sponsored four WordCamps in London, Leiden/NL, Hamburg , and Sofia/BG over the past three years, as well as the two WP Camps in Berlin (easy to find on relevant sites featuring the brands Inpsyde, MarketPress, or MultilingualPress PRO). 2015 sees Inpsyde once again as sponsor for WordCamps; Paris just passed; Prague, London, probably also Vienna, and definitely Cologne are yet to come.

Being a WordPress agency with many customers from the enterprise sector and an own eCommerce platform in our portfolio, it makes sense for Inpsyde to seek contacts in the business environment of trade fairs and conferences. And yes, we do that sometimes.

We feel, however, that it is just as important to keep in regular contact with the people, who form the global community from which our company emerged nine years ago: the WordPress community in Germany, Europe, and everywhere else, where WordPress connects people.

What do you think about the sponsoring topic?

If you have attended a WordCamp – in what way did you perceive the sponsors of the event? Did anything in particular stand out to you – be it positive or negative?

What would you like to find at a WordCamp held near you, and in what way do you think a sponsor could contribute?

Post image: Thierry Pigot (All rights reserved.)

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Caspar has contributed to customer happiness at MarketPress. When he’s not providing plugin and theme support, he can be found at WordCamps and other community events.

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