Behind the Booth: Our First WCEU Sponsorship Experience

Studio Wombat sponsorship at WCEU 2024

In June 2024, Wombat Plugins sponsored WordCamp Europe (WCEU) for the first time. Having previously enjoyed the vibrant WordCamp events as attendees, we decided it was time to take our involvement to the next level by sponsoring the 2024 event in Torino, Italy.

Me (Maarten, the founder) and our head of content, Ine, set out to represent Wombat Plugins and man the booth together.

In this post, we share financial numbers, insights, and tips about our experience. You’ll find out if it was worth it and if we’d do it again!

Too long to read? Use the table of contents on the right to skip to the important bits!

Maarten standing behind Wombat Plugin's booth at WCEU 2024

Why we decided to sponsor WordCamp Europe

Over the past few years, Wombat Plugins has grown steadily, but we’ve always been focused on plugin development first. It’s what we enjoy doing, and what we’re good at.

Since 2023, we’ve been shifting our mindset to make room for marketing, branding, and other aspects of the business that a typical WordPress developer likes to leave at the bottom of their to-do list (guilty!).

We quickly found that, while our software is well received, not many people know who we are. By sponsoring WCEU, we wanted to raise awareness and spread the word a bit more.

Even though there are probably more effective ways to get the word out about Wombat Plugins, we really love and appreciate the WordPress community. Sponsoring isn’t just about putting ourselves out there; it’s also a fantastic way to connect with others in the community and to help make the event possible.

For someone like me, who’s on the introverted side of the spectrum, having people come to me (rather than approaching them myself) made things a lot easier!

Showcasing our work to interested visitors at WCEU
Showcasing our work to interested visitors.

Preparing for the conference

I was told preparing for WCEU would be a lot of work. While it wasn’t always a walk in the park, I found the time spent manageable! Here’s what various stages of the planning process looked like:

Payment & contract

Once you’ve been accepted as a sponsor by the WCEU Sponsor Team, it’s time for the formal part: you’ll have to sign a contract and pay the invoice.

The contract is there to stipulate the agreement and confirms the code of conduct, the payment amount, and what’s included in your package. Here’s what’s included within the Small Business Sponsor package, which is the cheapest option available for sponsors:

  • A booth (4 m2 of space), with printed logo, access to power outlets, and a flatscreen TV.
  • The brand will be featured in a shared blog post.
  • Dedicated page on the WCEU site. Here’s ours.
  • 3 tailored posts from the WCEU X account.
  • 2 entrance tickets to the WordCamp event.
  • 2 invites to a dinner event for sponsors, speakers, and volunteers.

Choosing a location for the booth

A few weeks after we signed the contract, the WordCamp sponsor team sent us a floor plan and asked us to select 3 preferred spots for our booth.

The selection is on a “first come, first serve” basis so those that saw the email quickly, got the best choices! Luckily, you can let the team know if there are direct competitors you don’t want to be next to and they will make sure you’re not neighbors.

We got our 2nd choice:

Floorplan of the WCEU 2024 venue

From my experience, WordCamp always places small sponsors in a hallway that leads to the main talks or bigger sponsors. This means everyone has to walk by you, and you get plenty of foot traffic no matter where you’re set up!

Ordering swag

Since our goal was brand visibility, we knew we needed some swag to help us achieve it. Moreover, WordCamps run on swag, so there’s no escaping it! We asked our audience on Twitter what swag they like:

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with swag. On one hand, it’s fun and memorable, but on the other, it’s often made of low-quality materials that end up in the trash within a few months.

We didn’t go for the cheapest options and tried sampling the materials before committing. Ultimately, it’s hard to judge the outcome when it’s your first time doing something like this. I hope it’s not too wasteful!

We largely ignored the advice from Twitter (oops!) and got various things to give away:

Wombat Plugins swag at WCEU

Here’s how it went:

  • 70 socks were gone by the afternoon of day 1. We kept the remaining 30 behind the booth as they were reserved. In hindsight, we should have ordered 50-100 more socks as it was a popular item! I think people loved that they were colorful and goofy.
  • Most stickers were gone at the end of day 2. They didn’t contain our website or brand name (just a cute wombat head) so they were popular too!
  • We have 20 pens left (180 were taken).

Content and interaction at the booth

Now that swag was taken care of, we needed something to show at the booth!

Ine standing behind Wombat Plugin's booth at WCEU 2024

Here’s what we did:

  • Since all booths came with a large flatscreen TV, we decided to loop a video showcasing some advanced features of our popular plugins. We hired someone on Fiverr to create it for us. It’s such a simple thing, but it was crucial as many people were watching the video while waiting to talk to us.
  • We also kept a laptop on the table to show demos to visitors while they were talking to us.
  • We created a visual of our Wombat brand in Torino, to use on various places around the booth. Here’s the draft our illustrator made:
    Draft version of our wombat mascot in Torino
  • We printed business cards with a QR code going to a thank-you page with a discount and a contact form to get in touch with the founder directly.

    Our "thank you" page behind a QR code at WCEU
  • We created a branded pixel game (based on Chrome’s dino game) to give away all plugins for free but ultimately, it proved a bit too difficult so we stopped doing it. Next time, we’ll need to think of something simpler!

    Wombat Plugin game based on "chrome dino game" for WCEU

At the conference

We arrived at 8 a.m. on the 1st day, which gave us an hour to set up the booth before people started to arrive. That was plenty of time to connect the TV and display all the swag.

Throughout the 2 days of the conference, people approached our booth non-stop! Aside from being a recognizable meeting point for plenty of our friends, we also talked to:

  • Existing customers who told us they loved our work.
  • Freelancers or agencies who asked us what we do.
  • People who follow me on Twitter and wanted to meet in person.
  • WooCommerce staff to discuss various aspects of running a WooCommerce business.
  • Fellow WordPress business owners.
People gathering around the Wombat Plugins booth at WCEU
Our booth became a meeting point for friends, which we enjoyed a lot!

Around 4 p.m. on day 2, things started to calm down and we could take a breather. Honestly, we’ve never talked so much in our life, but it was amazing and we met so many incredible people!

Events and meetings

If you’ve been to WordCamp before, you know that a lot happens outside of the conference venue too. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends or meet people you’d otherwise have no chance of meeting.

One of the highlights was meeting with a part of the WooCommerce team and talking about the road ahead. It gave me some insights that I would otherwise not have gotten (huge thanks to James Kemp for inviting me!).

Dinner with WooCommerce people

Moreover, we finally got a chance to meet with people we talk to online on a weekly basis! We met Ross from Search And Filter and Patrick from Simply Static, both valued members of our mastermind group.

Us with Ross and Patrick sightseeing in Torino
Sightseeing with fellow business owners in Torino.

The conference in numbers

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the costs of the conference:

The total cost to sponsor WordCamp Europe (excluding travel expenses, which would be the same as when we’re only attending) was 3,961.07 EUR or 4,258 USD. While that’s a significant sum, it’s not bad for a flagship 2-day conference. Most other conferences would definitely be more expensive.

Illustration depicting money

Tips for future sponsors

If you’re also thinking about sponsoring one of the flagship WordCamps, here are some tips based on our first experience:

  1. Have at least 2 people at the booth. You’ll be talking a lot, so having a partner helps manage the workload and ensures you can take breaks, attend talks, or visit other booths without leaving the booth unattended. We didn’t have much time to leave our booth, which felt like a missed opportunity for additional networking.
  2. Create a background video. A looping background video is a must-have. It helps introverted visitors before approaching you and keeps others engaged while they wait to talk.
  3. WordCamps are not about ROI or immediate sales. You won’t recoup your sponsorship investment through direct sales because people attend to learn and network, not to make purchases. It’s more about building relationships, increasing brand awareness, and possibly forming partnerships.
  4. Prepare your team for any type of question. We got both super technical or very general questions about our product or business. In hindsight, I should have prepped Ine (our head of content who joined me at the booth) a bit better for the technical stuff.
  5. Get some swag, obviously! Swag is a great way to spread your name and increase visibility. Simple items like stickers and pens do quite well, but unique items (like colorful socks!) can make your booth stand out.
  6. Distribute your swag wisely. Divide your swag over the two days. We found most visitors come on the first day, but lots of people will do a final “swag run” at the end of day 2 too. Save some goodies for latecomers.
  7. Prepare for lots of interaction. Be ready for non-stop talking. Rest well beforehand and stay hydrated. Running a booth is exhausting, but it’s incredibly rewarding to meet so many people!
  8. Plan and organize. We found the planning part was quite easy, but you should still start preparing early. The first batch of our pens had a printing error, luckily we had plenty of time to correct it and order a second batch.

Would we sponsor again?

The short answer is “yes”, but there’s more to it:

In hindsight, it might have been a bit too early for us to sponsor. We have a clear vision for where we want our WooCommerce plugin business to go, and we’re still working towards it. Explaining that vision is challenging when we can only showcase part of it. Waiting another year might have made that easier, but at the same time, we’re very happy with the lessons we’ve learned by jumping in the deep end.

We loved our first sponsorship experience, but building brand recognition is a long game. We’ll have to do this a few times before people actively remember who we are and what we do. We don’t mind, as it’s also a great way to give back to the community we love so much.

We’ll probably do this again next year!