I've been approached cold by email (sent to my work address) to attend a conference organised by a company called IDC. I have had no interactions with them before.

They are proposing to feed and house me in a smart hotel for the 2 days.

The topic relates directly to my work so I have no qualms about not being at work.

My hunch is that when something is free, it means you're the product. Having said that, I'm loath to turn down free food and a nice hotel stay, and it will probably be beneficial.

My question is: is there a catch? Is it as simple as the companies who will do the presentations are buying our attention by paying our hotel bills? Or will I wake up on day 3 missing a kidney?

UPDATE I responded to the organiser asking a bit more about the event. She explained that they are a market research company; they consider Gartner a direct competitor. The business model is that partners pay for the right to be there, so the attendees don't have to. The fact that IDC are not a potential customer or supplier means that attendees are not constrained by rules around accepting gifts.

Partners for this particular event include Google Cloud, Software NG, and a few others I hadn't heard of.

The event is about thought leadership more than sales, and consists of various presentations, seminars and workshops.

Now I just need to persuade my manager that it's worth my time going...

  • 9
    Are you sure you understood the offer correctly? Maybe the conference attendance is free, but that hotel stay and food is not necessarily free.
    – Brandin
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 11:55
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    Have you seen an agenda? Do the companies who are ̶a̶d̶v̶e̶r̶t̶i̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ speaking, sound interesting and reputable? Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 12:51
  • 44
    Is it a reputable conference? Who is speaking? Who is attending? Is it possible the "conference" is basically "come listen to our sales pitch for 2 days" ?
    – ventsyv
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 13:34
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    @ventsyv: The OP says "topic relates directly to my work", so even a sales pitch of 2 days might be a valuable opportunity, if it provides the chance to get in-depth insights in the product that might be impossible to gain from just reading a product portfolio. Therefore, I suggest to add an additional question to your very good list: Did previous issues of the conference take place and if so, how often and who attended, if it is possible to find out? Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:23
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    IDC is a large and legitimate company that has been around in the technology sector for many years publishing trade journals and offering conferences and reports. The email might or might not be from them and you might or might not be reading it correctly. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 16:09

5 Answers 5


A quick search turns up this (their words, not mine):

IDC: The premier global market intelligence firm.

International Data Corporation - https://www.idc.com

IDC examines consumer markets by devices, applications, networks, and services to provide complete solutions for succeeding in these expanding markets.

Take a look at their conference listings ... my take is that they're going to be asking you to attend presentations (perhaps a minimum number), then fill out survey(s) to provide them (IDC) and their 'partners' (read: presenters) with feedback on their offerings and to help them (IDC and partners) tailor products/presentations to better target this particular audience (market segment).

It may be worthwhile, it may not. It may also be a good networking opportunity for you, or it may not.

I've found very few of their 'conferences' to be worth my time, based on feedback I've received from colleagues who have attended ... but I have not attended any of them, so this is still hearsay.

  • 12
    That's even if it's really them, and not someone pretending to be them.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 20:13
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    @ChrisH ... which brings us back to the possibility of waking up missing a kidney, right? Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 21:15
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    the "smart hotel" part also makes me wonder whether its possible theyre also collecting/controlling the data generated by that hotel stay (or worse, trying to do corporate espionage assuming that attendees will want to get some work done on the hotel wifi/in the hotel room wher potentially sensitive things may be on the screens) Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 1:15
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    @Sharpenologist or a wallet, laptop etc., at least. But the hotel - if it exists and has a relevant booking that's actually been paid for - day not be the problem. There's also the possibility of some "small" fees and lots of personal data being collected before a "cancellation"
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 6:37
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    I honestly thought IDC was short for I Don't Care, and OP wanted to conceal the name of the company. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 21:19

"You being the product" usually means your attention is the product. But not always.

There are businesses and industries where trade shows are an important marketing mechanism, though those are usually underwritten rather than completely free -- in part to keep freeloaders who have no interest in buying from taking advantage of the offer and wasting their money.

There are also industries where this is a primary marketing mechanism. In the US, "vacation timeshare" resorts are notorious for inviting people to spend a weekend seeing what they offer, then subjecting the "guest" to an extremely hard-sell session to try to convince them to purchase a share before letting them leave. That isn't exactly leaving a kidney behind, but it can feel nearly as unpleasant unless you know this coming in and are willing to sit there saying "no" for an hour or two of increasingly nasty one-on-one sales pitch.

  • Related (FTC): Timeshares, Vacation Clubs, and Related Scams Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:11
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    Reminded me of the Timeshare Conspiracy episode of South Park :) Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:28
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    @ahmetkilinc That episode is completely accurate and not exaggerated at all. That said... their business IS selling that timeshare to YOU, there and now. In an IT conference, their business is selling speaking slots to the vendor. These slots are worthless if no one wants to attend, so they have to mix it up with useful non-ad content. Some better conferences even apply (relaxed) quality standards to vendor presentations.
    – Therac
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 13:06

They are selling something to you

TANSTAAFL : There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

It is possible that your reactions are the product (how do you react to their product or service) but it is much more likely that they are trying to sell you something. This sounds like a Timeshare pitch - come to our location with free room and board if you listen to our pitch for the morning.

Note that the real cost here is the opportunity cost of what you could've been doing during this ersatz conference. Maybe playing Starfield for 2 days has more value to you.

  • 10
    There's No Free Lunch migh be easier to digest as an acronym. Optionally, lose the “T” if you want to shorten it at the expense of creating confusion with American football. ;-) On the other hand, if you are deliberately going for an impractical and annoyingly verbose acronym, there's always IMPELAOSOHNBOTMWSBEIR: In My Personal Experience Lunch And Other Similar Offerings Have Never Been Offered To Me Without Something Being Expected In Return. Should catch on easily.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 5:17
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    @Metalist: Yeah, but TANSTAAFL is mentioned at Wikipedia's page titled "No such thing as a free lunch". IMPELAOSOHNBOTMWSBEIR isn't listed on that Wikipedia page. I presume you just made up that acronym when writing that comment, but that Wikipedia page cites the phrase as being popular since the 1930s, uses the acronym over a dozen times, and in the #Technology section even refers to TANSTAA being a prefix that has seen some more widespread use (probably because of this quote). So, it's not just something Tiger Guy just mde up.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 12:01
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    +1 for the TANSTAAFL (Heinlein) reference. That was exactly what went through my mind when I read the OP's post.
    – gandalf61
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 12:27

Welcome to the industry! Getting invited to free conferences is just one of the fringe benefits.

Invites to conferences with comped hotel stays usually mean that either your job title or your employer's name sounds good enough that the organizers think getting in touch with you might be of value to them.

The catch is this: at least one of the talks is going to come from a sponsor, or the organizer themselves. Just like with TV, you're getting "sponsored content" together with your regular scheduled programming.

It's rarely just a non-stop sales pitch. If you work in the field, many of the topics might be relevant to your work. You'll probably hear good insights from end users. But inevitably there will be some vendor products that they'll talk about, making sure to highlight every advantage. Unlike an online ad, though, you can ask the speaker and they'll usually elaborate on the hidden issues.

You "are the product" in the sense that the conference organizers are selling speaking slots to their sponsors. The sponsors are paying to get in front of an audience of people from the industry. By attending, you increase the value of that speaking slot.

I get several of these per month. There's nothing to worry about, it's usually good enough to hear them out once. Attend too many, though, and you'll start meeting the same vendors at multiple events - that's when it's time to cut down on trade show attendance.


Is it as simple as the companies who will do the presentations are buying our attention by paying our hotel bills?


Or will I wake up on day 3 missing a kidney?

Less likely, but not impossible.

My question is: is there a catch?

We don't know, why not write back and ask? Can be as direct as what you wrote in the question, that it all sounds lovely, but also too good to be true, so you are wondering what are you missing.

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