Item #23 in the Speaker Contract for the PASS Summit this year is shown in the image above. There’s been some discussion about concerns this item raises. At least one company that has delivered PASS precons in the past made a decision to not submit a precon for the PASS Summit 2016 due to the potential ramifications mentioned in the last sentence above.
I’m pretty sure I understand the logic behind such a clause: It makes sense that PASS should protect the investment of sponsors and exhibitors. It makes some sense that if every speaker shows up with marketing swag, that will dilute the impact of the swag provided by exhibitors and sponsors (or will it? Please read on). So I understand some of the thinking behind the move.
Is this the best way to achieve that goal, though?
I have some experience with how Technical Communities and business communities interact. I wrote a series of posts about my experiences. A good summary may be found here. That link includes links to the previous articles in the series.
My thoughts on this issue:
1. Is This Really a Problem?
The first rule of troubleshooting is, “Is something broken?” It’s a fair question to ask because sometimes people identify a symptom that’s really not an issue, it’s merely a misunderstanding or (anti-) preference. I don’t know the answer to this question. It’s possible that one or some or all of the exhibitors at the PASS Summit complained that their swag value was being impacted by those pesky speakers who were handing out free stuff. I imagine it was that or something like that that triggered the language in the speaker contract.
If I was the organizer and a company made that complaint to me, I’d ask, “Is your plan to shut down all competition by any means necessary?” I believe competition is healthy. Coopetition is even healthier. The PASS Summit is the largest SQL Server conference on the planet. Are they really going to lose sponsorships over speakers sharing videos or giving away t-shirts? Where else are the sponsors going to go to reach such a large audience? The answer is, “nowhere.”
2. What is the Problem We’re Trying to Solve?
Does PASS exist to maximize the value of each sponsor / exhibitor dollar? I don’t see that written down anywhere (except, perhaps, in item #23 above). In the past, I’ve received criticism when I’ve pointed out PASS is a business and not a community. Am I against PASS being a business? Nope. Not at all. I’m against PASS representing itself as a community (or The SQL Community) and then pulling stunts like this.
My chief complaint is this is bad business. I’m all about win-win scenarios. This is a lose-lose decision. Please allow me to explain.
3. Technical Communities and Business Participate in a Cycle
In the case of user groups, as I blogged years ago, businesses benefit by sponsoring user group meetings, code camps, and SQL Saturdays because they get immediate access to people willing to give up some of their personal time to improve their skills. That’s a prime audience if you are a company looking for enthusiastic technical employees.
UG meetings, code camps, and SQL events are also great places for people who are ready to share what they’ve learned with others. As speakers mature their presentations and presentation skills, they begin to attract a wider and broader audience. Some of those speakers will leverage that experience to join or form businesses. And some, not all, of those businesses will grow to the point that they sponsor these very Community events where they got their start.
How does this happen? It’s different for everyone. Being able to share “company educational videos” is probably a good way to build one’s brand to the level where an individual can start or join a business. I know that has helped my career.
Speaking of my career, I know from experience that it’s possible for people to share swag – links to videos, free tools and scripts, etc. – at Community presentations to grow a brand –business or personal. It’s possible for that brand to reach a level where an individual or company is able to begin sponsoring Community events – including the PASS Summit.
Ask me how I know.
Because of this, I find the policy of item #23 to be… shortsighted (that’s the nicest word I could come up with). I’d really like to see PASS revisit this issue and reconsider. I’m beginning to hear about SQL Saturday’s adopting similar policies, and that’s just disappointing.
4. (Bonus) Stick. No Carrot.
Peeves make lousy pets. I know that and yet I cannot seem to take this one to the pound: It bothers me immensely when an organization shows up with demands and threats (stick) and no upside (carrot).
Other professional conferences pay presenters and offer some recompense for travel and lodging. The PASS Summit allows speakers to attend for free. To be fair, admission includes a couple meals per day with access to more meals some evenings. So speakers get free admission and food. Some presenters at the PASS Summit are paying their own way – there’s no company behind them buying flight tickets and reimbursing hotel and per diem expenses. Some of these folks are consultants, and they are
losing investing a week of otherwise billable hours to attend and present… in exchange for free admission (again, ask me how I know…).
Is PASS going to begrudge them providing a link to an educational video or giving away a t-shirt? All the while calling PASS a (or even The) SQL Server community? All because they didn’t pay up (yet)? As I wrote, shortsighted.