Engaging industry in academic conferences is a win-win experience for both academia and industry. Academia benefits from direct feedback, new ideas, and the potential for collaboration. Industry benefits from early access to new ideas and emerging research, with the added benefit of being able to shape some of that research to increase its potential. The conference benefits from a larger and more diverse group of attendees, a larger number of events and activities for attendees to choose from, and in general an exciting event that they will come back to. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Increased Industry Visibility at Conferences
- Industry-Targeted Publicity
- Corporate Donor Packages
- Industry-Led Activities
- Co-Location with Activities with Industry Participation and Leadership
Additional resources are available at IEEE - Industry Engagement Resources and Tools.
The goal of these activities is to increase industry participation in conference organization as well as the conference program.
- Seek Senior IEEE members from industry to serve on steering committees, conference organization, and program committees. Ask your Technical Committee Chair for help. They will be able to provide you a list of potential members. For many organizations being a part of these committees is of both personal and corporate value. Don't be afraid to ask.
- Select one academic and one industry person as co-Program Chairs. This will help to bring a more balanced mix not only to the program committee but also the actual conference program. Industry people tend to be more connected to other industry people that can be brought into the conference, either as committee members or presenters.
Create industry-relevant track(s). Create tracks for highlighting research and engineering being done in industry, as well as collaborations between academia and industry. There are several options for doing this:
- Create separate industry track(s) at the same level as the research track(s). This option is likely attractive for researchers working on industry projects that would like to get their work published.
- Mix industry papers with research papers in the same track. This option would combine research and practice in the same track, therefore bringing different perspectives to the same problem. It will also present opportunities for collaboration between academia and industry as all the people in the room are likely interested in the same topic.
- Consider acceptance based on extended abstract plus slides. Keep in mind that for industry attendees it is likely more important to participate in the conference than to get a paper published. For any of the options above, if the goal is to bring in more industry people as presenters and participants, consider accepting contributions based on an extended abstract plus a set of draft slides. This should be enough to judge the quality of the presentation. Whether to publish the extended abstract or not is a conference decision. A recommendation is to make sure that these are marked as extended abstracts so that they are clearly differentiated from the full papers.
- Create applications tracks on new and emerging technologies. Industry will be very interested in knowing how academia is using emerging technologies — such as Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and serverless computing — and what challenges and gaps they are identifying. Applications tracks will attract practitioners from both academia and industry that are more interested in the engineering aspects of technology. The inclusion of emerging technologies in the conference will also benefit advertising to industry.
Include opportunities for industry to showcase their work and products. Academic conferences tend to avoid these types of opportunities for fear that the conference will turn into a trade show. While this is an understandable position, the reality is that many organizations require a "return on investment" if they are supporting employees to attend the conference. Invite industry to do presentations and demos of their new products but provide guidelines.
- Identify products commonly used by researchers in your community and invite the vendors of these products to give an update on latest features
- Clarify that the intent of the presentation is to indicate how they support research, such as through data managed or collected by their products, or through features implemented based on internal or external research
- Marketing material should be kept to a minimum and included at the end of the presentation
- Ask for presenters to have a technical background (rather than sales and marketing) to better promote technical exchanges between academia and industry
Create industry awards. Create awards not only to attract more industry participants, but also to encourage more interaction between academia and industry
- Best Industry Paper. Awarded to the best paper that includes at least one industry author.
- Best Industry Poster. Awarded to the best poster in a Poster Session, as judged by a panel of local industry people. This can create an incentive for these judges to attend the next instance of the conference.
- Best Industry Collaborator/Supporter. Awarded to a person from industry that has been an active member of the community.
- Create special ribbons. Have special ribbons for industry attendees to place under their badge. Encourage interaction with industry attendees to share problems and/or ongoing research.
- Create a professional-looking web site. A common practice in academic conferences is to use a graduate student, with no design experience, as a webmaster. While this is beneficial in terms of cost, the reality is that for industry this is typically the entry point to the conference: when an industry person wishes to attend a conference, the first thing that they do is send their boss an email with the web site for the conference. A professional-looking web site will generate a much better first impression that might lead to an approval to attend.
- Release abstracts for conference papers early in the publicity cycle. As soon as papers are accepted, add the abstracts to the web site. As soon as the program is assembled and sessions are defined, send periodic emails with abstracts grouped by session to get people's attention. The more content that is available on the web site, the more information industry attendees can use to justify their participation
- Call out topics that are of interest for industry. Make reference to emerging technologies and hot topics in your field that will be represented at the conference in the main page of your web site and all your communications. These are topics that industry would be very interested in, especially early adopters.
- Make industry-relevant keynotes, presentations, and industry testimonials available online as teasers for the next conference. Use the conference as an opportunity to capture video from keynotes, get copies of slide presentations, and interview industry attendees. This material can be edited and made available on the conference web site as highlights encouraging industry to attend next year.
- Involve the IEEE Computer Society for publicity assistance. The IEEE Computer Society can help you advertise your conference. Contact your Conference Planner to get started. Also contact your TC chair to make sure that your conference appears in an upcoming TC newsletter or member communication.
The goal of this activity is to create a supporter package that ensures that the organization gets their return on investment and makes it an annual investment. Elements of this package can include:
- Recognition as Industry Supporters. Recognize their donation by placing company banners in visible places and mentioning their support during day opening activities.
- Complimentary Registrations. Provide free registrations for one or more of their employees based on their level of donations.
- Booth. Assign space for the company to have a booth to display their products and services.
- Special Ribbons. Create a special ribbon that says "Industry Supporter" to place on badges from donor attendees and encourage interaction with researchers.
- Meet-and Greet Events. Assigns rooms or space for meet-and-greet events as opportunities for interaction with students interested in going to industry. Note that hosting job fairs at conferences is against IEEE policy (see Section 10.1.24 of the IEEE Policies document). These events would have to be framed specifically as an opportunity to engage with students.
- Invited Keynotes and Industrial Talks. Work with the company to identify an engaging speaker to invite to provide a keynote or industrial talk.
- Best Paper from an Industry Perspective. Invite industry supporters to vote on the best paper from an industry perspective. They could even name the award!
- Sponsorship of PhD Forums or Poster Sessions. Include options for the company to sponsor events where there is a lot of interaction between attendees and opportunities for mingling, such as PhD Forums or Poster Sessions. Sponsorship could range from simply publicity to providing food and drinks during the event.
The goal of these activities is to have technical people from industry bring their problems and ideas and interact directly with academia. You can engage with industry to organize:
- Workshops led by industry leaders on their problems and challenges. Consider inviting industry to lead a workshop where they describe their problems and challenges and then invite ideas from the audience on how to solve them.
- Contests led by industry leaders to propose ideas to solve problems and challenges. Invite industry to create a contest in which conference attendees can submit solutions to a current or future problem. The discussion of solutions can occur in a workshop setting or could even be a session in the main conference for the top solutions. Industry should provide the award(s), which should be given out in a plenary session.
- Tutorials led by industry leaders on topics of interest to industry. Consider inviting industry to give a tutorial on a topic that is of interest to them, which perhaps they consider is not being well addressed by research and/or graduate and undergraduate curriculums. Product-specific advertisements should be kept to a minimum, simply highlighting specific example(s) of how the problem is addressed in their product(s) or known challenges that they have yet to address in their product(s). As an additional option, they can hold a no-charge-to-attendees Evening Tutorial on a topic of their choice. In this case, they will likely have to cover the additional costs associated with the event. However, they can benefit from having local industry or other attendees that are not participating in the conference.
- Lunch roundtables. Invite industry to propose topics of interest and assign tables at lunch time for people to sit at if they are interested in discussion around this topic.
- Micro-sessions on cutting edge industry topics. Invite industry to present micro-sessions (30 to 45 minutes) on emerging technologies that they believe should be better addressed by research and academia. These sessions could be done as part of the main conference, in an industry track, an Industry Day, or as a "lunch-and-learn" session.
The goal of these activities is to provide additional incentives for industry to attend the conference. For many potential attendees from industry, it will provide greater rationale to get the company to fund their attendance. Find opportunities to co-locate with efforts with large industry participation, such as:
- Open-source, consortia, and other industry-led efforts. Existing consortia and open-source projects should be interested in academic involvement so that students and researchers get exposed to the brands and projects. Sometimes these organizations have their own conferences and events. Identify the main organizations in the field of your conference and suggest co-location. Representatives of these organizations might also be interested in giving talks at the main conference. Also consider creating new consortia around the topic of the conference and invite industry participation. For example, electric utilities, manufacturers, and academics can come together to build a Smart Grid middleware consortia.
- IEEE and other standards activities and meetings. Visit the IEEE Standards Activities page to identify standards (and upcoming meeting dates) that are related to the conference, and schedule the conference around those dates. Contact the Vice President of the Standards Activities Board to coordinate cross-advertising of both events.
- IEEE training, certification exams, or preparation courses. Visit the IEEE Professional & Educational Activities page to identify training, certification exams, or preparation courses that are related to their topic of the conference. Contact Brookes Little from the IEEE Computer Society to coordinate scheduling and cross-advertising of both events.
- Industry trade shows. Trade shows attract a large number of industry people. Identify the main trade shows in the topic of the conference and consider co-locating. Contact trade show organizers to coordinate cross-advertising both events.