If you’ve ever worked a trade show, you already know the dirty little secret… ROI is hard to come by. For those who haven’t, you can do the math in your head - travel, hotels, the cost of the booth, swag and the tickets themselves. It’s such a large expense that to get that return on investment, you need to start putting value on non-monetary returns for any of it to make sense. That leads to something like “exposure” being worth $10,000 in your report to the VP of Marketing. “Surely the leads make up for it!,” you say to yourself in the mirror over and over while the panic sweats begin to make your hair itch.
But deep down in your soul, you know those leads aren’t going to get back to you. And that’s because they rarely do. Not to throw Glengary Glen Ross references at you, but the leads aren’t bad. The circumstances are. From an attendees perspective, they are meeting dozens of organizations just like you at these shows. When they get back to the office, they’re going to get dozens of emails and calls from people following up on the show. It’s too much. And in most cases, all you are is noise. Yes, you can be the one they follow up with, but to put yourself in that position is a whole other topic. I’m just laying out the common narrative after a trade show - you’re coming home with not much to show for it from a KPI perspective. Many companies have a booth at trade shows just to keep their name out there: What would people think if they didn’t show?
Booth at DrupalCon Pittsburgh 2023
Reflecting on DrupalCon 2022
All that to say, Specbee has never had a booth at anything, but we’d always considered it. It wouldn’t be fair to our budget to try it without getting at least a little experience, so we decided to attend a DrupalCon in some capacity. The ROI plan was half an experiment in branding and the other half a bit of a “lay of the land” exercise. The big question being, what outcome is possible at this event? We knew education-wise, there’s a ton of value - the courses and topics are well planned and executed. This event is focused on users and growth of Drupal, so that’s the expectation. But is a booth worth it? Is the sponsorship worth it? We booked our hotels and flights to dip our toe in the water at DrupalCon 2022 in Portland to find out. But we couldn’t just show up. We had to do something to make some sort of mark. That’s where the DrupalCon Happy Meal was born.
Snack break sponsors at DrupalCon Portland 2022
The sponsorship we landed on was for the snack table. Every few hours the trade show floor gets busy with folks between sessions and almost everyone stops to see what’s available food-wise. Now the key was to make this sponsorship more meaningful than a “Sponsored By Specbee” sign. As we thought about how people might approach the table we landed on the usability of a box they could put their snack in - what if it was an adult happy meal box? And the idea was born. We found a printer, designed a box that included games, jokes and trivia… Here’s the design itself (designed by: Gagana Girish)!
The Happy Meal Box
Not only was it fun and different, but it helped us create a memory for people. The feedback was fantastic. So mission #1 accomplished. We can make a mark at this conference. The only thing we found lacking in this premise was that we couldn’t spend much time with folks. I did see, however, that the booths were very often busy. So much so that it was clear that we should give a booth a chance for 2023.
Unboxing Happy Meals and Fun
SWAGging Our Way to Success at DrupalCon 2023
Cut to just before DrupalCon 2023. We are signed up for a booth. We have tickets for three staff members. The only thing we need is the guiding light of all booths: SWAG. Now, I don’t know if it’s like this everywhere these days, but at least 60% of the booths at DrupalCon 2022 were giving away T-shirts. So, yeah, we could have done that, but it didn’t feel like we’d be able to distinguish ourselves in our first DrupalCon. Instead, we had gym bags made with DrupalCon 2023 Free T-Shirt Holder printed on them. Stylish, stupid and practical - my favorite combo.
Flaunting our Free T-shirt Holder
But the bags weren’t the star of the show. Sure, you get folks coming up just to get their SWAG. I have no problem with that. That’s what it’s for. What we ended up with, however, was a connection with SO MANY new people. Fellow booth folks, Drupal users from all over the world, and, yes, leads. Good leads. The kind that we’re still in conversations with. Time will tell if we’ll get our official financial ROI, but I can tell you this: it was the best “trade show” I’ve ever attended. We’ll be back next year with a booth for sure. I really should get thinking about SWAG…