How To Be A Brand At A Conference

by Jason Falls |

Having organized a fair number of events and spoken at a fair number more over the years, I’ve become quite observant when it comes to how sponsors get involved. At a panel discussion for a Social Media Club chapter event last year (the location and topic will remain confidential), I was rather disturbed at the regional sales manager for a big brand. He was on the panel, which was talking about the industry that his company was in. Yet when the discussion turned to him with a legitimate question about how his company was dealing with issue X or Y, it took him about five seconds to flip the answer to a pitch for a new product line.

Sponsor money is necessary to offset the costs of events and sponsors need to get something out of the experience or it’s not a good investment for them. But the last the crowd at any learning or professional development event wants is to be sold something.

Liz Strauss SHowing Off Mark Horvath's New GMC...
Image by Geoff Livingston via Flickr

While I was not able to attend SOBCon this year, Liz Strauss’s phenomenal blogging for business event held this time of year in Chicago, I saw the updates via Twitter and several caught my attention.

GMC, a SOBCon sponsor, showed up and took the stage, but did something ridiculously cool and uncharacteristic for a big brand. They gave a GMC Terrain to Mark Horvath, a homeless advocate who travels the country chronicling the plight of those less fortunate that all of us through his Invisible People web TV series.

Geoff Livingston was there and has some pictures and more on his blog.

There was no suit on hand to bask in the pseudo-altruistic applause. There was no corporate press release (that I know of). The brand folks let SOBCon roll out a neat outdoors presentation to Mark, but it was about him and his efforts, not GMC. They provided value to the audience by showing they get it, that they’re one of them (SOBCon attendees) and they too admire Mark for his work.

I’m sure someone in a board room somewhere asked why the unveil wasn’t on Oprah or why the 6 o’clock news wasn’t there to cover the thing. I’ll answer them: Because it wasn’t about GMC. It was about Mark and SOBCon and the essence of why everyone was there. They were there to be a contributing member of Liz Strauss’s event and community. GMC is going to reap benefits from the act for yeas to come from very influential people.

I wasn’t even there and it makes me proud to know GM gets it. Will it make me go out and buy a GMC tomorrow? No. I don’t need a new car right now. But will it put them closer to my consideration set when I do? Damn right it will.

Good on ya GMC. Thanks for being a part of something more than hocking your wares. We do appreciate it. Even if the Chicago Tribune didn’t deem it worthy of coverage.

Disclosure: General Motors once hired me to speak to their corporate marketing team. I have no current relationship with the company, however.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).