Managed Sales Pros podcast guest Tim McNeil rogue marketing

Rogue Marketing in the IT Channel

Rogue marketing can provide a ton of value for new companies with limited budgets, but it doesn’t work forever, and should be used with caution. In some circumstances, rogue marketing could actually do more harm than good, damaging both your brand and your personal industry reputation.

(Click here to skip to the podcast featuring Tim McNeil from OSR talking about their biggest rogue marketing success story!)

What is rogue marketing?

Rogue marketing is the practice of finding ways to promote your business to a group of people for free – when other companies are paying for access to that same group.  The best example of this is showing up to the hotel bar at an industry event that your competitors have paid to sponsor.

Is guerilla marketing the same as rogue marketing?

Guerilla marketing is the practice of finding free or inexpensive ways to market your product or service.  Rogue marketing is best defined as finding free or inexpensive ways to market to a group that you would usually have to pay to access were you to follow the regular channels.

Guerilla marketing:  hanging out at a coffee shop near an event venue, buying a coffee for anyone wearing a conference lanyard and handing them a brochure.

Rogue marketing:  booking a suite at the event hotel and sliding invitations to your on-site party under all hotel room doors.

Rogue marketing activity has the potential to divert dollars and attention away from the group that is paying for access, guerilla marketing doesn’t impact someone else’s marketing spend.  That’s an important distinction.

Is rogue marketing ethical?

Sometimes being “young, scrappy and hungry” means finding ways to connect with prospects no matter what.  Keeping your costs low as a new business is essential, and everyone is looking for ways to do this.  You can go rogue, save some money, and still be respectful and ethical in your approach.

All is fair in love and war and marketing.

When can you go rogue?

What’s the barometer for “ethical marketing?”  Who decides?  Certainly not Carrie Simpson, but I do have my own code of ethics for choosing how and when I’ll go rogue in my marketing efforts.

Below I’ve outlined some specific times or instances when you may or may not want to go rogue. It is not an inclusive list nor is it a judgement of anyone who makes different choices.  It’s also not a claim that I’ve never gone rogue at times when I maybe should not have.  We learn as we grow.  It’s never a bad idea to ask for advice from someone who’s been around a little longer than you or who understands a space, industry or group better than you – there may be some events that are completely inappropriate for rogue marketing, and you’ll look bad when you show up uninvited no matter what your justification for being there is – when in doubt, ask questions.

Here is my personal thought process around acceptable/unacceptable rogue marketing practices.

  1. Is the event organized by a direct competitor and focused exclusively on their clients or prospects? If so, this is skirting the lines of what I would consider ethical rogue marketing.  An event my competitors are sponsoring is fair game, an event they are hosting is not.  I don’t just consider the event host in rogue marketing decisions.  My decision tree includes the potential prospect perception of my attendance:  showing up at a competitors’ event clearly shows that I believe they are a competitor.  I prefer not to pay lip service to any companies we may compete with.  Showing up somewhere that my competitors paid to be?  I have no problem doing this, especially if I have no relationship with the event host and don’t want or need one.  You may wish to consider if you’re planning to pay to sponsor that event in the future.  Some event organizers won’t take kindly to your showing up for free, so a better course of action in this case might be to call someone and ask if you can attend their event for a day in order for you to evaluate the quality of the event before you finalize next years’ marketing budget.
  2. Am I trying to access any areas that are only intended for paid attendees or sponsors? The hotel bar is fair game.  The hotel lobby is fair game.  Any space you can access as a random person strolling into a hotel is okay.  If you’re a hotel guest, any space you can access as a hotel guest is fine. The conference center hallway is fair game.  If you didn’t pay to play, it’s best practice to skip eating their food, drinking their booze or attending their marquee keynote sessions.  You didn’t pay to be there, and it could be embarrassing if you are asked to leave in front of prospects.
  3. Am I encouraging event participants to leave the event venue during a sponsored activity? Someone paid a great deal to sponsor this event.  Throw your off-site event before it, throw yours after it, but don’t throw a rogue event that detracts from the actual event.  Check the event agenda and find a time that isn’t overlapping conference agenda events.
  4. Is the event so small that my presence will be noticed by all and resented by many? Your prospects talk.  Your prospects have vendors they like.  Some won’t care, but many will.  Going to crash CES in Las Vegas?  No one will notice, go for it.  Going to crash a state medical administrators fall conference?  You’ll stick out like a sore thumb, as everyone knows everyone.  It will be embarrassing when you’re asked to leave, and you may burn bridges that you’ll wish you hadn’t.

Once you have your rogue marketing idea, and you’ve determined you can ethically launch a rogue marketing campaign, you’ll want to consider a few more things before you go all in.

Free isn’t really free.

Just because you’re not paying for something doesn’t mean there aren’t expenses associated.  How much of your time does this initiative require?  How much do you need to spend on collateral or swag or gift cards?  Are you paying for travel?  Are you paying for graphic design, campaign set up, outbound calling to invite prospects to a party? Before you get too excited, calculate the expenses associated and then determine if your approach can generate revenue that totals at least four times the cost of the event.  This is a best practice amount for marketing spends.  If the answer is not yes, this is not a good way to spend your marketing budget!

Your Mileage May Vary

Rogue marketing strategies are difficult to execute on as you don’t know how well something will go when you have no support from the event organizers or the venue.  You could invest time and money in something that flops.  Are there a dozen other rogue marketing initiatives at the event that you’re competing with?  Are your prospects already committed to other after-event activities?  The earlier you plan, and the more you know going in, the better your results will be – but there is always a chance that your best laid plans can backfire on you.

Cautionary Tale

I once saw a very heated argument at an industry event when a company chose to host a party the day before a conference hosted by a competitor.  They booked under a different company name so they weren’t on a “no fly” list, and it didn’t tip off the event organizer. On property this led to a very public fight, and the company that threw the rogue event was forced to leave the property – the relationship with the host even was far more valuable to the hotel than the small party revenue.  It was uncomfortable for everyone in attendance, and the chatter during the event was that the company thrown out of the event had done something that was “bush league”.  People didn’t think they were clever, people thought they were disrespectful and unethical.  Attendees were unaware that the event was not part of the conference itself, and they resented being misled.  It didn’t go well.

Best Case Scenario

In 2016, Osprey Strategic Research pulled off a marketing coup that few companies could emulate.

They managed to get a free breakout session at IT Nation, a free suite at the host hotel, and a ton of marketing for their start up lead generation business, without pissing off the event organizer.  Very rare!

I was of course angry about it at the time as a competitor who had paid a ton to sponsor the same event, but I can’t find a better example of masterful rogue event marketing than theirs!

If you’d like to hear the story, you can listen on-demand to Tim McNeil and I talk about it on Hallway Conference. You can check out the Managed Sales Pros youtube channel for the video replay. It’s worth an hour of your time!

All in all, rogue marketing strategy shouldn’t be ignored, but it’s only one small piece of a sales and marketing strategy.  If you’re interested in learning how Managed Sales Pros helps IT business owners generate better leads, we invite you to schedule some time to chat with us here:

Managed Sales Pros partners with OSR Manage to ensure we can offer our MSP clients more effective sales solutions.  If you’d like to own and manage the MSP sales process yourselve, but don’t want to learn how to become an expert sales leader, OSR Manage can help with fractional sales leadership, and Managed Sales Pros can facilitate this relationship for our clients who want more opportunities to increase their sales.  Check out our shared webinar on managing sales talent here!  

When you’re ready to chat about it, email us at