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Organizing a DrupalCamp – a short how-to

Monday, April 4, 2011 - 16:34

Organizing a DrupalCamp conference is a big undertaking. Having organized two camps so far, we’ve gathered a lot of experience. Our first DrupalCamp was in May of 2009, followed by the second one in November the same year. Right now, we are in the making of our third DrupalCamp planned for May 6 and 7.

For whom, why and when

The first step is to decide on a focus and an audience. In our case the general focus, i.e. “what it’s about”, is Drupal. But there are many aspects to Drupal and these have differed from camp to camp. This time we decided to go with a focus on media for day one as well as community-oriented content and technology for day two. The focus determines your audience. We had decided to target existing Drupal community members with an interest in online media as well as decision makers in the media business curious about Drupal. This audience expects an event to take place on a business day and need to it be in a central location, which put restrictions on potential venues as well as the speaker list.

Next comes the date of event. Dates are tricky. There are always other events that may coincide with yours. Luckily there are websites that list fairs, trade shows and conventions and are useful for finding a date that doesn’t offer any competition for your selected audience.'

Budgeting for a DrupalCamp

The most important part of planning is making a budget. A budget will give you an overview of the costs incurred and will be indispensable as you decide on ticket pricing, sponsorship and so forth.

You should at this point be able to make projections regarding the number of visitors, speakers and the costs associated. That will help you decide on how much you can afford to pay for the venue, how much money you must raise from sponsors and the ticket price, among other things. In our case we had to budget for a good venue and high costs to bring speakers to meet the expectations of the intended audience.

The simplest budget is a spreadsheet with a row for each item and columns for item name, unit price, quantity, income, expense and remarks. Here's a fictional example of what a budget could look like:

Item	Unit 		Price	Quantity	Income	Expense

Venue	(per day)	€4000	2	  		€8000
Ticket	(1 day)		€25	50		€1250
Ticket	(2 days)	€45	150		€6750

Sum:
Income:€8000; Expense€8000

Venue

Now you know enough to go looking for a venue. It’s very important you secure one early as venues are often booked up to a year in advance. Having three-four months of margin is usually enough though. Go visit venues, get a feel for them. Try and picture how you can use rooms and spaces to lay out your conference. Where should sponsor tables go? Where can we serve coffee? Are there rooms suitable for BoFs and codesprints? The venue will determine what your event can offer.

Don’t forget practical aspects like whether there’s WiFi and if it’s good enough to handle hundreds of connections. Also look for power outlets and think about whether you need power strips. We all know how annoying running out of battery at a conference is!

The meat of the event

An event without a schedule is like a restaurant without a menu. Unless your conference has a very open format, like open space, or barcamp, a schedule is the key to making people interested in attending. The schedule tells your potential attendees what they can expect and why they should attend.

A schedule requires booking speakers and making decisions on tracks and session order. Getting speakers to your event takes boils down to talking, emailing and networking and staying on top of what happens in the world of Drupal.

Expect booking of speakers to take time. Booking and planning trips are time-consuming work and be prepared for it. The schedule is a massive puzzle that needs to be laid.

Sponsors

Conference sponsors are more than a source of income for your event. They will also lend credibility. Sponsoring an event is an investment and a bet that the money put down will warrant the exposure and marketing gained from it. That someone is willing to sponsor your event shows that they believe in it and your ability to deliver on it.

Don’t stare blindly for sponsor among top tier international companies. Sure, it’s always fun to have a major company on the list of sponsors but local Drupal shops are usually way easier to get on board.

But don’t stop there, there are different levels of sponsorships. Beyond the usual three or four tiers for companies, ranging from bronze to platinum, each offering more exposure and perks, individuals are also potential sponsors. Offer your visitors the chance to sponsor €50 or around that to be individual sponsors. They’ll get recognition by being listed as individual sponsor on the event site, on their ticket and having a badge to show on their own website or blog.

Website

A DrupalCamp needs a website. Without a website it doesn’t exist. The website is where you market your event, receive registrations show potential attendees what’s being offered, provide practical information and updates or news.

The Drupal Association has sponsored the development of a Drupal distribution known as COD: Conference Organizing Distribution. COD was developed by Growing Venture Solutions, a US based Drupal shop. COD is freely available from http://drupal.org/project/cod and has built-in functions like signup, session proposal, session voting/judging, session selection/scheduling, and social networking prior to events.

Pricing policy

The ticket price can be hard to set. It needs to take several factors into account, and ticket sales may make up a significant portion of the income in your event’s budget. Don’t forget that ticket pricing can be differentiated through discounts and by offering tickets that are only valid a specific day or time of the day. Take into account how sensitive your audience is to price.

In our case we’re aiming at an audience that expects a semi-professional event and for whom the time required to attend is more of an issue than the actual ticket price. This let us offset the substantial costs with income from ticket sales.

Since day two of the event is dedicated the community it was important to us to keep a low barrier why we’ve offered a substantial directed discount to members of the Drupal community. In effect this means that ticket sales for day one funds speaker sessions are costs that are incurred by the first day as well as the second day. The effect being those with a purely commercial interest in Drupal sponsor event attendance for those who are contributors and generate value for everyone else.

The ticket prices we’ve set have let us balance income with costs in order to achieve an event at the level of professionalism required by the audience.

Surplus

If you’ve done everything right and the turnout is good your event should generate some surplus. It’s wise to already at the planning stage consider how surplus will be used. We’ve decided we will use any surplus to fund future DrupalCamps in Sweden.