Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Best Day of the Year - The SQLServerCentral Party at the PASS Summit

Each year I host an opening night party at the PASS Summit. I set up a deal years ago with the PASS organization to refer people to the event. In exchange for referring people, and having them use my code, my company got $50 per person as a fee. We decided early on to spend the money on a party for the people that used the code, and our famous opening night party was born.

And it's the best day of my year at SQLServerCentral.

I get to give away a polo shirt and a book to everyone that comes. We print up the Best of SQLServerCentral each year, a collection of the best articles from as many authors as we can and give it away. I've also had polo shirts embroidered every year with the SQLServerCentral logo, choosing new colors each year. Every person using our code, or buying a ticket, gets those gifts.

I also budget out the event based on the number of attendees. After removing the costs for the books, shirts, and catering, I go out and blow the rest. I go to Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and look to just blow over $1,000 on whatever I can think of. My goal is to get something for every 2 or 3 people and randomly give most of the gifts away.

It's a fun event, and a great time. I think the great gifts that we let go make it for one of the best parties that you can attend at PASS. We have fun, games, and the chance to take home a prize. Some of the things that we've given away in the past are:

  • iPod Nanos
  • Nintendo DS's
  • Digital photo frames
  • digital cameras
  • XBOX 360s

and much, much more.

I have a good time at Best Buy, thinking of gifts that people might enjoy. However it pales in comparison to the fun I have giving away the gifts on opening night at the PASS Summit.

The History

When we started the agreement, it was through my partner, and he wanted to promote us a little, so he had some oxford shirts embroidered and we gave them away to the people that used our code.

The first year we did it, we gave away shirts, and it was a zoo. We were a part of the opening reception and a line went across the room. People got in line, not knowing why. It was crazy, and a mess, but great fun.

So the second year we made better plans. We talked with the PASS board and managed to organize our event to follow the opening reception in our own room. We budgeted things out, and found about $4,000 worth of money left. After brainstorming, we thought about an XBOX event. The Summit was in Florida that year, so we arrived a day early and went shopping. We'd inquired about renting TVs from the AV vendors, but they wanted $300 for a 2 hour event for 32" TVs. That seemed silly to us, so Brian, Andy, and I drove to Circuit City and bought 6 32" TVs and 6 XBOX consoles. We set up the consoles with the TVs in a room, and had people come in and play. We also gave people stickers with numbers. Our thought was that we'd have people find their matching number, and we'd have 3 pairs of winners.

When Brian asked people to find their matches, we had people running around yelling their numbers. Not exactly networking. When Brian said the first pair to come to him, we had people falling over chairs and running. It was a mess, so we gave that first pair away and then randomly gave away the other consoles. At the end of the night, we gave 3 TVs to local people we knew from Florida, and 3 more to hotel employees. People loved the TVs, and we decided to try something new.

Our third year, I was in charge and searched around for various party themes. I decided on a casino party, and contacted Aaron's in Dallas. The event was in Grapevine, and Aaron had a great price for catering. So I booked them, arrived a day early with 40 DVDs, and then went shopping with Andy and Brian. We loaded up a cart full of stuff from Circuit City, spending about $1500 on all kinds of gifts and then randomly gave them away at the party.

That was such a huge hit that I've repeated that formula for the last 4 years. I've booked a casino company, West Coast Entertainment in Seattle, and then spent every penny left over on prizes. A couple years ago I actually went over budget slightly, I was having so much fun buying stuff.

This year things are down. We have less people attending the conference and less referrals. However I started selling tickets last year for speakers and other people that can't use the code. To handle that, I've purchased only a few dozen shirts and am taking leftover stock from previous years. So instead of a new color, we have colors from previous years.

  • gray
  • black
  • green
  • burgundy

We've printed less books, and if we run out, I'll have to ship some out.

The casino company cost more this year, but I've managed to scrape 65 presents out of my budget. We have a lot of DVDs and books (40 of them) and then lots of other things. Since I won't have time to shop in Seattle, I've had to limit what I buy so I can pack it in my luggage. So no Wii, no XBOX, but  I have added in some gift cards of various amounts ($25, $25, $100) that we'll give away as well. I'm thinking I might print out some numbers, and stick them to people's books. And then randomly call out some during the event.

I have a day to set something up, so we'll see what makes sense. Show up and see what I come up with.

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