Josh Aronoff, Author at 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 or by phone at 412-613-2500. I can’t wait to work with you!