April 2015 - Midwest UX Conference 2015

With Sponsors in Mind

I wanted to give you, dear reader, a behind-the-scenes look into how we came up with all things sponsor-related for Midwest UX this year.

When Jack called me last year and asked me to help with sponsorships for the Midwest UX conference, I immediately jumped at the chance. I believe in the mission of the conference, which is to elevate the Midwest’s awareness about the User Experience and Design communities and provide a platform for learning. I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to learn about fundraising and put my extroverted nature to good use.


First Steps / Stutters / False Starts

With my design background, I started the sponsorship process thinking about the end result and then working backwards.

For starters, I’ve never done something like this before. That in and of itself was somewhat intimidating.

The first thing I did was look at the previous years prospectuses; what did I have to work with, what was I required to make to support this work that I was tasked with doing?

Looking at previous years prospectuses, was kind of like trying to read The Code of Hammurabi, but forgetting that you don’t know how to read cuneiform and you’re not a lawyer. It was somewhat foreign to me, to say the least.

At this point, I started to second guess what I had gotten myself into…


Seeing the Light / Empathy and Mindfulness for All People Involved.

So, I backed up a bit and thought about what the needs of all the people who would be interacting with and attending Midwest UX would be.

  • What do sponsors want to get out of sponsoring a conference?
  • What are the touchpoints or things that an attendee can see or interact with, that would be a good vehicle for a sponsor?
  • What do sponsors need? Do they have specific marketing needs? Are they hiring new people, ramping up a new team? Do they want brand visibility in a city they’re not known in? Is sponsoring a conference an association thing, where a company is giving back to the community, or signaling that they’ve “arrived?”

I then did a mental map of the venues and pictured myself walking through as an attendee.

  • What do I see?
  • Where is sponsor information?
  • Who am I meeting?
  • What am I excited to do?
  • Am I nervous to meet new people?

After I went through these two exercises, the documents that I was looking at had way more clarity. I started to solidify the Sponsor Benefits and slowly realized that if I truly wanted to answer the needs of both attendees and sponsors, I would have to get sponsors involved in that process.

I also realized that we not only needed Conference Level Sponsorships, but Event Level Sponsorship as we had workshops and events that happened outside of the traditional conference track.


Force Quitting Old Mindsets / Installing a New Approach

I spoke with my fellow board members and realized I was getting in my own way early on in this process. We made the decision to hold off on creating a prospectus and launching the Sponsor page on the website. I would instead work collaboratively with potential sponsors to understand their marketing objectives and try and customize sponsorship packages for them.

We decided to describe sponsor benefits and levels on marketing materials, but discuss specifics with individual sponsors. This gave us some much needed flexibility. We weren’t beholden to some set-in-stone benefits and could work with sponsors in an inclusive and collaborative way.

Focusing on really nailing down the sponsor levels and having the sponsor benefits somewhat outlined, but not specific, allowed me to publish the sponsor page on the website. I then coordinated emails and tasks associated with getting the word out that we were looking for sponsors.


Where we are now

As we started to talk with potential sponsors, we realized that some STILL had a need for a prospectus. We are in the process of creating that and will be posting it on the site very soon.

We started talking with companies in the Pittsburgh area as well as the Midwest overall and response has been great! Doing all the legwork of thinking about sponsorships from an attendee’s perspective, as well as the sponsor’s perspective allows us to treat everyone’s needs with a level of care that really values everyone involved.

If you’re interested in sponsoring, you can reach me at josh@aronoffcreative.com or by phone at 412-613-2500. I can’t wait to work with you!


Soul of the Midwest

In February 2014, I was in Amsterdam for the Interaction conference. I was high off of finishing my book and I was feeling inspired by the fantastic conference experience the organizers had created for us. It was a beautiful city with fantastic venues, and I was once again spending time with the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through IxDA. One of those people was Erik Dahl, one of the founders of Midwest UX, and I asked him if Pittsburgh would be accepted as part of the Midwest. I knew that the call for cities to host MWUX 2015 would be coming out before long, and I was itching to bring it to my city.

You see, it was during a Local Leader Workshop at one of the early Interaction conferences that talk of creating regional conferences started. I really liked the idea, and I was aware that the Columbus group was trying to do so, but at that time, I was Logistics Co-chair for the upcoming Interaction 11 in Boulder, and that was sucking most of my free time. I couldn’t spare any to help with a regional conference. The first MWUX conference was a big hit, and what I found when I attended the second one in 2012 captured my heart. You could feel that something important was happening. It wasn’t just another design conference. There was a down-to-earth, do-it-yourself energy about it. It felt like a tight-knit community in which everyone had a lot in common. It didn’t hit me over the head in the program content, but it was there just the same—it had the soul of the Midwest. There was that mix of old industry, new technology, and entrepreneurship that has incubated a revitalization of so many Midwest cities—cities like Columbus, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, and yes, Pittsburgh.

It brings me great pleasure to be able to invite the rest of the Midwest UX community to Pittsburgh this year. I’ve always felt it important that a conference be flavored by its host city, and so my team of organizers settled on “Frontiers” as our guiding theme for the conference. Thanks in large part to our strong educational institutions, with Carnegie Mellon at the forefront, Pittsburgh has become a hotspot for cutting edge industries like robotics, wearables, gaming, and medical technology, and we intend to share that with attendees.

Sharing is, at the root of things, what MWUX is all about. Our team wants to share with you the process we’re going through in creating the next great MWUX conference, and that’s what you’ll be seeing here in our conference blog. My leads will be taking turns talking about how they are approaching their areas of responsibility, from curating the program to selecting our venues, giving you a peek behind the curtain. In fact, our next post will be written by Josh Aronoff, our sponsorship lead.

While you’re here, please have a look at the call for speakers. Maybe you have something to share with the Midwest community too.

Whether you’re selected as a speaker, contribute to the conference as a sponsor, or register to take advantage of our practical and very affordable program and workshops, I’ll look forward to welcoming you to Pittsburgh this October 1st through 3rd.