After mulling on this one for a while, reading the New York Times article on "conference crashers," and just now hearing the good folks on the Event Alley Show talking about it, I think I finally am coming down on the anti-lobby rat side (though I still see both side's points). These are people who, for noncommercial reasons, want to be near your attendees but don't want to pay to actually attend educational sessions, a floor, or official networking events.
I think Brandt Krueger said it best on the Event Alley broadcast: It is a fine line, and it really depends on why you're at the show. If you can't afford to pay now, but would love to down the line, it's actually kind of priming you to be a paying attendee, as was the case with one of the people interviewed by the Times. But if you're with a major corporation and are just cheaping out, as Brandt said, "then it's just scummy." And if you're bothering people, organizers should definitely give you the boot. But if you're just, as one person interviewed for the Times piece said, just shopping and going to restaurants to eat with friends who happen to be there, I wouldn't even call that being a lobby rat since they're not even in the building hosting the conference.
But, and here's what's really swaying me toward the anti-lobbyconning side, now that the educational piece is less important than it used to be—we can all find the content we need on the InterWebs nowadays, or so the common wisdom goes—what conference organizers are mainly selling now are connections, a place and time to build relationships. And I love this guy's spin on it, again from the Times:
“Part of me is aware that I’m getting value without really paying anything. However, I think I’m adding value by spreading the word,” said Mr. Hintz, who is now an angel investor. “A lot of people most likely attended the conference because I mentioned it.”
It's still really interesting to think about!
And now for something completely different: Brandt and Event Alley co-host Lindsey Rosenthal and Brandt also talked today about the NFL's recent brain-splat idea to ask halftime acts to pay to play—and whether we should start a Kickstarter campaign to pay for Weird Al Yankovic to play at the 2015 show. Ha! But then they segued into how, if this actually happens—and it will only take one act to say yes to paying for the opportunity instead of offering it for free and letting the NFL pick up the tab for the not-inconsiderable costs of getting the band there and all the production expenses—it could possibly filter down to the meetings you plan.
I'm having a hard time imagining anyone of any stature at all being willing to pay to speak, especially since I regularly hear people in the meetings industry complain about being asked to speak "for exposure," and even pay their own travel costs, and even sometimes a registration fee. The likes of Bruce Springstein and Beyonce may have agreed to do it for free in the past, but I can't imagine it was because they needed exposure (I could mention Janet Jackson, but I'm not going there).
I can foresee many a conniption in response to the poor planner who's tasked with trying to make that one fly! I never thought I'd hear myself asking a favor of Coldplay, Rihanna, and Katy Perry, but please, please, just say no to this one.