Q+A with INBOUND’s Sponsorship Manager, Doug Stone

As an event that has seen explosive growth since it started five years ago, HubSpot’s INBOUND is one of the biggest marketing and sales industry events. Not surprisingly, some of the biggest brands—including LinkedIn and Dunkin’ Donuts—tap into INBOUND’s reach by sponsoring the event.

As part of our Q+A series with the INBOUND team, we talked with Doug Stone, HubSpot’s Sponsorship Manager for the event, about how he builds and manages relationships with brand partners, and how he ensures that they adhere to the high standards INBOUND has set for its content and in-event experience. Keep reading to learn more, and click here to read the first part of our INBOUND Q+A series.


What were you doing before taking the Sponsorship Manager position at INBOUND?

I have a background in film and film production, so I’ve been a production assistant on a major motion picture and have worked in the film production space. When I started at HubSpot, I was actually with the creative team getting footage and getting interviews on-site at the event. My very first experience with INBOUND was very much behind the camera. After being familiar with the event, the opportunity presented itself to get involved in the role that I am now. Same event, different perspective.

How has your experience on the creative team at INBOUND influenced your current role?

There are actually quite a lot of skillsets I developed in film production that I can apply. One of them is collaboration. The whole process of putting together a film, be it two minutes long or an hour and a half motion picture … where the magic really happens is through collaboration.

What I’ve found is that I was really able to learn [through film] how you get someone’s perspective, how you get a clear sense of what messaging and story roles they’re trying to achieve, and how you make sure it’s presented in a way that really tells that story in a successful manner.

Just getting to the root of what makes people successful, or happy, or accomplish their goals … that was something I carried over wholeheartedly into the role of brand partnership manager. It really comes down to the brands, figuring out what their goals are, what success looks like to them, and making sure we can really make that come to life, similar to making a film—getting it together, producing it and distributing it.

What do you think has most contributed to INBOUND’s success?

Really knowing INBOUND as a community and making the event about the industry and the inbound approach to doing business—whether it’s in marketing, sales services, or beyond—is something that is so applicable to everyone who wants to do business in a human-centric way. I think that wide appeal is what really draws people in from the community as a whole, and making the event about the inbound approach to doing things is really what sparks that movement.

For example, on the brand side of things, we really hold a high standard for the content and the speakers we bring in. I know a lot of major events may have a pay-to-play approach where someone would take a main stage to pitch their product but we do not take this approach at INBOUND. We actually keep speaking content and sponsorship completely separate.. By continuing to have that rich content that brings everyone in, and then a place for people to engage around this movement, it’s really kind of a magic formula that sparks this growth year over year.

INBOUND is an annual event—at what point do you start planning the next one?

The month leading up to the event, you have to have the ability to see what’s ahead the following year. You’re certainly focused on making what’s right in front of you the biggest and best event possible for attendees, for speakers, for everyone involved—but people start thinking about [the next INBOUND] before the event itself even wraps up.

There are some things that you can have going [during the current event] to prepare for the next one. Whether it’s letting people know the dates for the following year, or getting them involved for early involvement or registration, or getting their feedback. One of the things we take seriously is the feedback from attendees—it’s what makes INBOUND so fantastic. We can always know what the big wins are, and what the areas of improvement are for the year ahead. There’s kind of a duality of being able to put on the best event possible while it’s happening, but also making sure we have the right things in place to make the following year that much better.

You explained earlier that you hold high standards for the speakers you work with to ensure that they’re delivering high-quality content. How do you do the same with brands who are considering partnering with INBOUND?

I ask the right questions up-front. And whenever I get on the phone for an inquiry about involvement, or when I’m looking at some brands who are doing incredible things in their respective industries and spaces, I make sure that their goals, their mission, are customer-centric and add value. It’s important that a brand is enhancing INBOUND as a community and a way of doing business.

Making sure that customers are in mind is something that’s really important, and I think it’s a benefit to those who are sponsoring INBOUND and to the attendees alike. When I approach a potential brand partner, I look at it as the beginning of a long-term partnership. I listen to their goals and we review opportunities to work together, and if there’s magic there, then it really aligns, but if there’s differences there, or it doesn’t seem like an audience fit, or it doesn’t seem like what they’re bringing adds value, I’ll be very direct and let them know. I feel like it’s mutually beneficial for all to just be as transparent as possible.

What are some of the questions you ask potential brand partners to determine if there is a fit?

I definitely want to know what a brand’s ideal audience is, and one question I really love to ask is what they envision success as. What are some past experiences they’ve had at events that have really worked well for them. What have they always wanted to try that they haven’t? We want to bring delight to the attendees and brand partners alike, so allowing space for creativity, and also focusing on what’s presently available as well, there’s a full range of opportunities and we go from there.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone who is working in the event space?

Whether it’s a brand partner or an attendee, there are people that are opting in to engage with what you’re putting on—don’t ever take that for granted. You have their attention, you have their energy, and they want to be a part of it—it’s nothing to be cast aside. They are what fuels that event and it’s growth.

Always ask your attendees and partners questions, get their input, always be listening and be as helpful as possible. Getting the different perspectives from people that are at the event and constantly innovating the event with the attende in mind is what sets you up for organic growth and a delightful experience for all.

To learn more from industry-leading experts, check out our Future of Event Marketing online series, which includes interviews with event pros from FreemanXP, Mashable, Octagon, and more.