Calling All The Heroes

Posted on 16th August 2010

YAPC::Europe 2010 - Thoughts Pt 2/3 - Promoting A YAPC

This year, YAPC::Europe was reasonably well attended, with roughly 240 people. However, a few weeks prior to the event, the officially registered attendees for YAPC::Europe 2010 was considerably lower. Although every year it seems that many register in the last 2 weeks, there is usually a higher number registered before then. So why did we have such low numbers registering, until just before the conference this year? I'm sure there are several factors involved, but 2 strike me as significant.

The first is the current dates for the event. As mentioned in my previous post, the Perl community attending YAPCs is getting older, and many of us now have young families. August is notoriously bad for anyone with a family, as the school holidays govern a lot of what you're able to do. Those that can take time out to attend the conferences also have to juggle that with family holidays. Employers are often reluctant to have staff away during August, as too easily they can become short-staffed due to others taking holiday. Having said that, the attendances haven't fluctuated that much in recent times, regardless of whether early/mid-August is chosen or late-August/early-September. Although, the exception does seem to be Vienna in 2007 which attracted 340 attendees. As such, when deciding dates for a YAPC, bear in mind that some of your potential attendees may find it difficult to attend, or only be able to decide almost at the last moment.

The second factor was a pitfall that this year's organisers fell into too. Lack of communication. Immediately prior to the conference and during it, there was lots of news and promotion. However, 6 months ago there was largely nothing. Although, we finally had about 240 attendees, it is possible that there could have been many more. Big splashes across the Perl community with significant updates (website launch, call for papers, opening registration and unveiling the schedule) are a great way to make people aware of what is happening and can generate a buzz about the event long before it begins.

This year I noticed that a twitter search for 'yapc' in the weeks before YAPC::Europe, featured mostly posts about YAPC::Brasil, and I'm currently seeing several posts for YAPC::Asia. Last year, José and Alberto kept a constant feed of news, snippets, and talk link posts onto twitter and other social network micro-blogging services, which helped to generate posts from others attending or thinking of attending. This year that potential audience attracted via the marketing efforts, seems to have been lower than in previous years. The results of the Conference Surveys will hopefully give a better picture of this.

In recent times the Perl community has talked about marketing Perl in various ways. However, promoting our own events seems largely left to the organisers. While the organisers can certainly add fuel for the fire, it's the rest of the community that are needed to fan the flames. In the past YAPCs and Workshops have been promoted across various Perl sites, and in various Linux and OpenSource channels, which in turn generated a lot of interest from attendees and sponsors. The latter target audience are just as important as the former. While we want more people to attend the events, the sponsors are the people who fund them to make the happen. But not marketing the events to get maximum exposure likely means there are potential sponsors who either never get to hear of our events, or are turned off by the lack of exposure the event is generating.

Although the events do manage to get sponsors, for the organisers it can often be a very traumatic process getting sponsors involved. Once you've made initial contact, you'll need to persuade them that sponsoring the event is a good way to market their company. If they're able to see photos online of the events (possibly including sponsor branding), or read blog posts that direct people to the conference website (with all the event sponsors listed), it gives potential sponsors a feeling that it may be a worthwhile investment. Some sponsors are strong supporters of OpenSource and want to give back, but a large number are looking to promote their own brand. They're looking to make maximum revenue for a minimum outlay. They want to see that funding events is going to generate further interest and brand recognition to their target audience. Exposure through blogs and other online sources all helps.

As I've implied, much of this exposure is down to the community. If you attended YAPC::Europe (or YAPC::NA or any other Perl event, including Workshops) have you written a blog post about it? Did you tweet about the event before you went, during or even after? Have you posted photos online and tagged them with the event, in a way that others can find them? YAPC::Brasil and YAPC::Asia attendees seem to be doing this rather well, and there is a lot we can learn from them. In the last week, there have been several posts by attendees of YAPC::Europe 2010, but of the 240 people attending, it really is a small percentage. And likewise I saw a similar kind of percentage posting about YAPC::NA this year too. Several years ago use.perl and personal blogs were full of reports of the event. What did you learn at the event, who did you meet, what aspects of Perl are you going to take away with you from the event? There is a lot you can talk about, even if it was to mention one specific talk that you felt deserved comment.

With aggregators, such as Iron Man, Planet Perl and Perlsphere, whether you post via use.perl, Perl Blogs or your own personal site, you can get the message out. Next year, anyone wondering whether attending a YAPC is worthwhile is likely to search for blog posts about it. Are they going to find enough reasons to attend, or persuade their manager that they should attend? I hope so. YAPCs and Workshops are a great way to promote what is happening in Perl, and by talking about them we can keep that interest going long after the event itself.

In Gabor's lightning talk, looking at Perl::Staff and events group, he highlighted the differences in attendances between the conferences. Typically a YAPC::Europe has 200-300 attendees, YAPC::NA has 300-400 and YAPC::Asia has around 500 attendees. However, FOSDEM (5,000), LinuxTag (10,000) and CeBit (400,000) all attract much higher numbers. It's a fair point that we should try and provide a presence at these other OpenSource events, but a dedicated language interest event is unlikely to attain those attendances. The hope though is that we may have a knock-on effect, with people seeing Perl talks and a good Perl presence at those other events, might just take more of an interest in Perl, the community and the various Perl specific events.

I'd be very interested to see attendance figures for other dedicated language conferences, particularly for Europe, as I think Perl is probably about average. The EuroPython guys certainly attract similar numbers to Birmingham. In the past I've done a fair amount of pitching Perl at Linux, OpenSource and Security Conferences in Europe and to Linux User Groups around the UK. Birmingham Perl Mongers undertook 3 "world" tours in 2006, 2007 & 2008 doing exactly that. It was great fun, and we got to meet a lot of great people. If you have a local non-Perl group, such as a LUG, would they be interested in a Perl topic? Are you able to promote Perl, the Perl community or Perl events to them? Sometimes even just attending is enough, as you'll get to talk to plenty of other interesting people. The initial 2006 tour was primarily used to promote YAPC::Europe 2006, which Birmingham Perl Mongers were hosting that year, and it did help to raise the profile of the event, and eventually got sponsors interested too.

One thing that the Pisa organisers did, specifically osfameron, was to broadcast Radio YAPC podcasts (Episodes 0, 1, 2 & 3). Genius. I got to listen to them after each day, but I can imagine many haven't been able to hear until they returned home. It would have been great to have something before the conference too, even just the news updates and some of the highlights to look forward. Interviews with the organisers and any registered attendees would have been great too. It was a nice touch to the event, and it's promotion, to be able to feature interviews with speakers and attendees to get their experiences. I hope future organisers can try something similar too.

There are several people trying to raise the profile of Perl at the moment, but it takes the whole community to support their efforts by blogging, talking beyond our community and promoting events to those who might not have considered treating the conference as part of their training. We have a great community, and one that I'm pleased to be a part of. I want the community and the events to continue for many years to come, and talking about them can only help that. It's why Matt Trout shouted at many of us to blog about Perl and promoted the Iron Man aggregation competition.

The Perl community and events are very healthy at the moment, we just don't seem to be talking about them enough. As the business cards state, we do suck at marketing. If we want to avoid the mistakes of O'Reilly at OSCON last month, and the badly named tags, then promoting YAPCs and your experiences at them, are a good way to show how it can be done right.

In my next post I'll be looking more at the YAPC event itself.

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