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The ethics problem of vendor hosted conferences.

An unfortunate ethical aspect of vendor conferences often goes unnoticed.

It's all too common for vendor funded conferences to be more about wining and dining than improving student outcomes.

How to tell if a vendor conference crosses an ethical line?  One simple test is to see if the most common attendee is the persons who make the buying decisions rather than the users of the product.  

Of course, another quick way to tell if the ethical line is crossed is when the name of the conference does not clearly include the name of the vendor or product.

When a conference title sidesteps the product's name but clearly leans on its financial support, it's a tactic that savvy educators should be aware of. It's a subtle yet powerful way to win deals which often has a larger impact than direct marketing.  Everyone, including school leaders enjoy being included in fun events with their peers.  It quickly becomes imperative for a school leader to purchase a product in order to be truly included into the click and enjoy the perks which include golf, steak dinners and so much more.

Often, the improper use of Sole Source letters goes hand-in-hand with unethical conferences.  It allows the sales process associated with the conference to seal-the-deal before a proper buying process occurs.  If you hear about a 'sole source letter' from a sales person, than be careful, you're dealing with an unethical company.  It can indeed lead to situations where products are essentially pre-purchased, bypassing the required evaluation process.

Take, for example. Their conference is titled "SchoolCEO."  Why?  Because it's the CEO (i.e. superintendent) who makes the purchasing decisions even though that is a role which rarely actually uses their product.  Their primary users are webmasters, teachers, students, and parents, yet the focus of their conferences tends to be on superintendents. It's a mismatch that shows the truth behind the intent of the conference.

On the other hand, look at PowerSchool's conference.  They actually use the "PowerSchool" name right in the conference name, "PowerSchool Edge."  Even better, take a look at ParentSquare's conference.  Their conference is called "SquareCamp" and their tagline is "The National ParentSquare User Conference."  A couple of great examples of good ethics juxtaposed to Apptegy's poor ethics.  

Possibly it shows an underlying root cause.  Apptegy has received countless rounds of funding and their founder has been replaced by the Venture Capitalists 'key man.'  Obviously, their short-term interests lie in the next round or even going public or being acquired where the others look to achieve long-term business success.

These practices certainly raise ethical questions, and it's crucial for educators to be discerning when attending vendor conferences. It's not about the golf and steak dinners, but about making informed decisions that truly benefit the educational community.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.  And of course, if you know of any examples of good or bad ethics when it comes to vendor-led conferences, please list them as well.

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