DrupalCon on a shoestring budget

Last year’s announcement that DrupalCon would come right in front of our doorstep made it clear that a special marketing budget and a lot of preparation lay ahead of us. Sure enough, DrupalCon Dublin was quite a challenge for me as the only freistiler wearing a marketing hat. In this post, I’m going to tell you how I managed to create quite a buzz about freistilbox at minimal cost.

Jochen arriving at DrupalCon Dublin

Drupal Frugal

Like many bootstrapped companies, we don’t have a big marketing budget. How could we make the best of the most important Drupal conference in Europe without breaking the bank?

We’re also a tiny team. Putting our daily business on hold during a conference isn’t really an option because our daily business is taking great care of our customers.

Well, constraints are the mother of creativity!

Representin’

One of the best ways of keeping DrupalCon expenses low is to give a talk. (It’s also a great way of showcasing your expertise and giving back to the community.) I made the mistake of not putting enough effort into my talk proposals, so I didn’t get a session slot. (Building Resilience in IT Teams got added to the DevOps Summit, which unfortunately had to be canceled.) That left me with the option of a sponsorship that comes with a stand in the Exhibit Hall.

How does such a stand even work? Many times at expos and tradeshows over the last two decades, I witnessed how people would arrive at a vendor’s stand to be greeted by a well-dressed sales person who’d accompany them to a VIP area where they would discuss a common future. Well, for the reasons mentioned above, I couldn’t see us pull this off any time soon. But reading through the sponsorship prospectus for the third time, the Drupal Village plan caught my eye, offering us an affordable option to support the Drupal community and have a small presence for a single day. I decided to use DrupalCon Dublin for an experiment and got us a stand for Tuesday.

When the Irish Drupal Association approached us if we would sponsor their Welcome Party on Tuesday, I made a spontaneous decision to stretch our marketing budget a bit. It seemed like a win-win deal — more financial security for the Irish community team, more exposure for freistilbox.

Taking a stand

With regard to stand decoration, we already had a pop-up banner but I also wanted to have a digital display. With hundreds of servers at my fingertips every day, I never felt inclined to get my hands on a Raspberry Pi, so this was the perfect opportunity to try these tiny Linux machines. Add a cheap TV and a set of slides — project digital signage sorted!

The freistilbox stand at DrupalCon Dublin 2016

Thinking outside the conference

Compared to our competition, this was still less than par for the course. How could we create a bit of a buzz for freistilbox within all the noise? Remembering the fun I had throwing a party at the Drupal Developer Days in Szeged, I decided to give that another go. With the advantage of knowing the local pub scene, I reserved the top floor at JW Sweetman Craft Beer Brewery. I got free drink vouchers printed and started spreading the word. Keeping the venue a secret until right before the event also proved to be an effective tactic.

Having the craic at the freistilbox Happy Hour

What did we get out of it?

Up until this DrupalCon, I thought that having a stand only made sense for bigger companies. I could not have been more wrong. First of all, it was a great way to raise brand awareness for freistilbox. While growing our customer base mainly by word of mouth creates a lot of trust up front, it lets us reach only a fraction of our market. After DrupalCon, there are now a lot more people in the world who know of a great alternative for managed Drupal hosting. Dublin also was the perfect place for me to learn that exhibiting is just about having the craic — talking about whatever topic comes up.

Final tally:

  • I got to attend a great conference!
  • We had a stand!
  • We supported a party!
  • We threw our very own party!

And all this cost us about 3000€.

DrupalCon Dublin was an experiment and I enjoyed every single bit of it. The experience actually has shaped my decision to hop on my first transatlantic flight in April next year. Watch out, Baltimore!