WordCamp Europe 2017 – Experimenting with Sponsor Workshops

At the last edition of WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. Europe in Paris, the organizing team decided to experiment with sponsor workshops. In the Call For Sponsors they were introduced as follows:

“This year, for the first time, we are introducing a third track during both conference days. The third track will be solely dedicated to sponsors, giving you the possibility to either hold a talk or a workshop. Like the other two tracks, the sponsor track will have a dedicated space (capacity for approx. 200 people), where the audience would have the opportunity to hear more about your business and product. You can decide whether you would like to use your time to talk more about your business, or to showcase.”

Now that the team is back together and it’s working at full speed towards the next edition in Belgrade, we wanted to take the opportunity to look back and recap on that experience so to establish what went well and what we should iterate on.

The Workshops

The workshops were offered to two SuperAdmin and four Admin sponsors. The former had four sessions each, the latter two sessions each, for a total of 16 workshops, lasting 45 minutes each, across the two days of the conference.

The workshop area had a classic classroom setup, with a capacity of 150 people. They were running in parallel with the main conference, starting at 9:00 am and finishing at 5:00 pm every day, with breaks between sessions.

Sponsors were in charge of organizing their session following the general guidelines provided by our team: to have a in-depth discussion, with an intimate setup, on one of their products. We encouraged an educational tone so as to be in harmony with the general goal of the WordCamp.

The workshops were positively received by our sponsors, who demonstrated genuine excitement about this new opportunity. We received multiple proposals from some of our sponsors and we helped them select the most promising topics, to fit the limited time they had at their disposal.


Except for the early morning sessions, which experienced moderate attendance, the workshops attracted enough people to fill the room to max capacity for most of the time. A limited room size encouraged intimacy and interaction, without creating any conflict with the rest of the conference. Even with the workshop areas always full during the afternoons, the other conference tracks did not experience any lack of attendance due to the different scale in size. A full 150 people workshop would account a little more than 10% of the attendees of the WordCamp.

Challenge: it was the first time

Most feedback, coming from our team and from the sponsors, was along the line of “It was our first time, next time we’ll prepare better”. Some of the sponsors admitted that their workshops were not prepared well enough, and some of them were arranged last minute. Also, the format was probably not ideal: 45 minutes are not enough to explore a topic in depth, in the form of a proper workshop. Ideally, we should have avoided having workshops early in the morning, considering how tiring a multiple day event can be for everybody.

Challenge: better communication

In the initial Call For Sponsors we called it “Third Track” which quickly became unofficially “the sponsors track”, contributing to a misunderstanding with the attendees, sponsors, media, and the general community.

When we initially started working on this experiment we called it “Sponsor Track” internally, just for clarity. It was not supposed to be the final name, nor it was supposed to be the “Third Track”.

Since the very beginning, it was an experiment to increase the value of our packages for our sponsors, introducing a set of limitations that would make it not competitive with the traditional tracks of our event. It was also meant to offer the opportunity to our attendees to get in direct touch with some valuable content provided by the sponsors. The limited size (150 seats), the separate building, the absence in the program, were decisions made by design to avoid a conflict with the overall spirit of the event we were organizing.

However, our mistake was profound when we overlooked how an internal name can be easily misunderstood if superficially communicated outside, where the most of the context is missing. After the initial Call For Sponsors, which raised legitimate concern for a few people in the community, we publicly clarified our intent and thankfully we received positive feedback in return.

Challenge: content guidelines

We realized that a general guideline was not enough to help our sponsors in the preparations of their workshops. Some of the sponsors admitted that they were not used to that format, and it was actually the first time they were preparing that type of content for an event. A more precise guideline would also ensure that the content proposed by the sponsors can fit the general tone of the WordCamp, offering a great value to the attendees. For the next iterations, we are looking into more granular instructions, making the sponsors team work in concert with the content team.


The goal of increasing the value of the event for our sponsors was pretty much achieved, leaving some room for improvement for a first time experimenting with this format. According to the feedback we received from our attendees, we were able to please them as well, with some notable mention in the attendees feedback survey.

Our duty as WordCamp organizers is to provide value to the WordPress Community, and experiments like this one have to ultimately align with it. In this regard, we feel that the experiment was successful, and with some fine tuning it can greatly contribute to the future of WordCamp Europe and be expanded to other WordCamps as well.

If you have any questions about this experiment that weren’t answered in the report, please ask it in the comments!