Big companies, and particularly big technology companies, seem to like to sponsor conferences and think tank events.  That buys them not just the use of their logo and a warm sense of public spiritedness but also, usually, a speaking slot.  Invariably that slot is positioned as though the sponsor’s representative had earned their place on the same basis as other speakers.  And invariably, the sponsor speaker uses the opportunity to inflict as much damage to their brand reputation as they can  manage.

That is partly because they seem almost always to be less articulate by an order of magnitude or two than other speakers and generally greyer in all possible dimensions.  More importantly, though, they rarely make any attempt to blend in.  At an event on innovation, they don’t send an innovator, they send a sales account director.  At an event on customer service, they don’t send a customer service obsessive, they send a sales account director.  And so on.  This is doubly strange, since most of these organisations do possess innovators and customer service obsessives – but they are talked about rather than being there to do the talking.

And on the basis of this morning’s experience which prompted this post, if they attempt more they achieve less.  Today’s sponsor not only provided a grey speaker, but also a self-congratulatory little booklet, in which this rather splendid logic bomb caught my eye:

While a degree of time lag between the development of a disruptive technology and its emergence in the public sector is inevitable, [sponsor who will get no puff from me] believes that in some cases this lag time can be removed.


  1. Well I cant think who you were speaking about here, but HP definitely fall into this trap. The worst ever was their constituent company Compaq. Fujitsu can be diabolical. Accenture can be awful. I saw a fantastic Nortel presentation the other day where the enthusiast (John Roese) even had the decency to apologise for the fact the marketing department had put a spin on his short video.
    When BT last spoke at an ID event they fielded the exemplary Hazel Lacohee, author of the DTI Trustguide. She was glorious warm technicolour, unlike the IPS counterpart who closed the event who was cold, grey, wooden. BT’s Home Affairs sales people must have had a fit. (Actually I’m being disingenous here – I asked her, and we wouldnt have had their sales people).
    We organise such events and I forwarded (anonymised and unattributed) your note for their private guidance and edification. It’s important to know!

  2. But I robustly reject the notion that sponsor speakers are greyer than say public servants. We did (10 years ago) an event on PKI for CESG which Sun agreed to sponsor. Sun offered Whit Diffie as speaker. CESG (who were trying to learn the art of marketing at the time, to earn their living) said “Noooo no no! – if Whit Diffie comes we’ll have a debate. And we dont want a debate – we want everone to use [our own product] Cloud Cover.” Well, we dug uor heels in, Diffie came, and he wiped the floor.
    The dullest speaker is invariably the Minister who sticks to the talk prepared for him by officials. For comedy value I’d rather have someone try to sell me Windows Vista

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