Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Open Letter about Maria Bailey and BlogHer

I'm reading: An Open Letter about Maria Bailey and BlogHerTweet this!

BlogHer '13First off, here's a bit of background on the pre-BlogHer controversy: just days before last week's conference, BlogHer decided to revoke the passes of some people who were organizing branded events for companies that were not official BlogHer sponsors. Elisa Camahort, one of the BlogHer founders, explains the decision here. Cecily provides a summary and background in her Babble column.

Maria Bailey, a woman  known for connecting bloggers and brands (hello, Disney Cruise!), also has a reputation for pushing boundaries to suit her needs. Does this make her unethical? Or a strategic thinker, exploiting situations to build her business? Feel free to make your own decision and make it carefully because she sets bloggers up with some pretty sweet deals.

Personally, I'm (mostly) beyond swag and I've swapped promoting stuff for promoting ideas and knowledge. In fact, the swag sitting around my office right now consists of a kick-ass soldering kit from Make, a bunch of decorating goodies from Wilton (an official BlogHer sponsor) and a bunch of science-themed picture books.

I went to BlogHer 2013, my fifth such conference, largely because it was local and I'd get to visit with friends I only see once every year or two. On a business level, the brands there weren't a fit for me, though some were personally. I picked up a few goodies at the expo and I may have snagged an extra Kozy Shack coupon (yum!), but my approach to the expo was fairly subdued.

However it pains me to say it, the fact is that for some attendees BlogHer is all about the swag.

I've been there. Indeed, I still remember the thrill of being offered my first book for review. A book. For free! (Honestly, I still have a hard time turning down book offers even though my time is more valuable now than it was then and it takes time to write reviews, even a quick ones for picture books.) A book turned into a loaner car, turned into exotic brand trips and more.

I remember the delight of walking into a swag suite at my first or second BlogHer, amazed at all the great stuff that was there for the taking (and ahem, ideally, blog reviewing). Maybe it takes time and maturity for some bloggers (including me) to realize that BlogHer is not about the stuff.

It also takes education for attendees to realize these "bonus" swag suites are not related to the official conference and, indeed, undermine it in many ways.

It's been years since I worked with a brand that sponsored BlogHer and even back then it came at a premium price. Those with little regard for the BlogHer conference or who think they can cleverly bend the rules can easily save their clients a little cash thousands of dollars by hosting an indie event rather than sponsoring the actual conference. BlogHer needs to look at their current model and figure out how to close this gap.

Far as I can tell, at least some of these outboarded parties are less about exclusivity, great food or an appealing venue than they are about receiving loads. of. swag.

Maria Bailey, whose pass was revoked for hosting outboard events, has graciously offered to brainstorm solutions. She writes:

 I feel so strongly about preserving and growing our community that I’m willing to fly to New York at my own expense and sit down with the BlogHer team to brainstorm.
That's a start, however, this offer comes at the end of a longish post that reads as a big F*ck You to BlogHer. She writes for several paragraphs about what an unexpected and truly wonderful blessing it was to have her BlogHer pass revoked- how it opened up doors, led to invitations, conversations and new relationships.

She ends her post talking about the importance of buildinga  community that connects and empowers women financially after making a case for how great it is to enjoy the spoils of the BlogHer conference without actually needing to buy a pass. I find that attitude from a leader in the social media mom community a bit...disappointing.

Also, I can't help but wonder if she'd feel the same way about her own conference, which is admittedly much smaller than BlogHer.

I have  much admiration for Lisa, Jory and Elisa. I appreciate what they built from the ground up and I sympathize with the struggles to grow and evolve the community while staying relevant to old and new members alike. It's a difficult balancing act. The community is now so large, it might be an impossible one. But Maria is clearly clever and has a lot of insights. I hope they take Maria up on her offer or send reps from their team to do so.


Shelly Kramer said...

I somehow missed all this controversy, Kim, (thankfully) but your post is a relevant one. I have noticed many "crashers" of conferences and have wondered on more than one occasion how people feel about this. I also know what it takes to put on a conference, court sponsors, try to get attendees to buy a ticket, etc.

I don't know what the right answer is. But I can't personally imagine crashing a conference I'd not purchased a ticket to, nor could I imagine hosting an event during the time of a conference and working, separately and without being involved with the conference, to woo attendees to come to my event. But that's what's right for me, which is no judgment about what's right for someone else.

What I do know is this: we are all for sale. Whether it's a Disney cruise or event, free Invisalign, Walmart "VIP status" or anything else, people sell themselves every day. And at these conferences you see this magnified by a hundred. People will do (or say) anything for something for free. Big swag, little swag, it matters not. It also doesn't matter what the company stands for, what they support (or don't support) and how you feel about them personally -- it's about free stuff.

So for me, it's not about Maria or BlogHer or any other person or any other conference. It's about us, being for sale. And being so easily bought. And for that, we have to bear some of the responsibility, no?

It's a shame, really.

And it will be interesting to watch and see how this plays out. Thanks for writing a post that made me think.

MorethanMommy said...

I don't think that outboard parties/events are all about the swag. They are smaller, more intimate, and for me, more fun. And some of them have no swag at all. Maria has been hosting her Swag Suite since at least 2009 when I started attending (she has purchased a ticket for BlogHer as well). That one is certainly about the swag. =}

I think BlogHer is right to be frustrated, and their sponsors justifiable in being annoyed. But it is simply not feasible for smaller companies to pay the exorbitant fees they are charging just to host an intimate dinner or experience for bloggers. I don't know the solution... it could be that BlogHer becomes something different from what it has been for the past few years. You can't be everything to everyone.

Kim Tracy Prince said...

Are we just getting old? I feel a lot of the same things as you write here. I just can't be bothered to care about swag or private parties or who's going where. That said, I know that if I had attended BlogHer this year, I would have approached it with my own goals in mind and I would have had a good time no matter where I wound up. That's something.

This is such a great post.

Gigi said...

great read, Kim.

I do see both sides of this controversy and hope that there can be some sort of middle ground where everybody can be happy (perhaps that's a delusion rather than a hope, but hey).

I do get a little weary of the post-conference chatter that "it's all about the swag," though. Yes, for some that's a driver and what they're there for (perhaps more so at blogHer than other conferences merely due to the size and # of sponsors). But I still like to think that for the great percentage of us that attend conferences, there are other objectives and drivers at play. Most of the women I have met at the 10+ conferences I've been to are professional, goal oriented and serious.

The blogger who is there purely for the love of writing and to hone her craft should be able to peacefully coexist with the blogger who wants to work with brands and/or pursue freelance and social media work. Why is one less valued than the other?

I don't attend many sessions at conferences anymore; I prefer instead to meet friends, make new ones during chance encounters in hallways, and yes, talk to brands. Lots of them. Not because I care about swag but I do, in fact, like making a little money off of my blog WHILE pursuing quality writing.

So I enjoy going to brand events WHERE I can actually talk to someone from the brand, make a meaningful connection, and perhaps see if there's an opportunity or a fit. Sure, it's nice if they give me swag. But it's the cherry on top of the sundae, not the sundae itself.

and I realize that a whole lot of this has very little to do with Maria or Blogher. I just feel like I have to speak on behalf of those of us who are trying to strike that right balance of monetizing and creating good content. #endramble

either way, I enjoyed reading your post, as always! :) xo

Jo said...

Thank you for your balanced views on this Kim. Hard to do when it's something so close to the conference, but also so necessary to do for exactly the same reason. I am still mulling over this controversy, and the fact that the out boarded parties are actually fun and useful makes this such a difficult thing to navigate. I don't think BlogHer needs to change much, but there certainly is room for what we entrepreneurs call a bit of a pivot. I believe I may be one person who outright says no to any offer of a party/event in future that is not a sponsor of the conference, for purely ethical reasons, not just because it's a good match or because it's not conflicting with anything official I wanted to attend. I can see here an opportunity to demonstrate my loyalty and gratitude to BlogHer for all the work the organization does, has done, and represents for all kinds of women who seek a voice - including those who risk their lives to use it. BlogHer is more than swag. The Voices of the Year have never included a review or giveaway of a brand's product, and that is something worth standing up for. To each their own, and I really have loved the people and parties elsewhere (though I have only attended a few). But it's time to face the music.

Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

I think the private parties are promoting snobbery, exclusivism, and divisive attitudes far more than even their swag, admittedly awesome it may be. BlogHer is not supposed to be like high school, where only the A table gets the good stuff; BlogHer, to me anyway, is as unlike high school as is possible to be, promoting fun, skills, and activities (social and learning) for all, equally. At BlogHer, everything is for everybody. For a person or brand to open a room and invite only a select few to their "VERY special" private event is just mean. Mean, like the girls in high school who took pride and pleasure in being exclusive and being invited to the party while we're not. Bring it on. Mean. No piece of swag is worth it to me. I go to BlogHer to see people and learn cool things. Mostly, to see people. People who go to a conference to collect things and not participate in the community. . . I pity them even while they fill me with a kind of contempt and sorrow at their incredible shallow greed. Those people are not real BlogHer people. They're adults who never outgrew trick-or-treat. Things are never as wonderful as people, y'all. Grow up.

Rick Calvert said...

Great post Kim!

To answer this question:

"Does this make her unethical? Or a strategic thinker"

The two are not mutually exclusive. It could have been an honest mistake. Many people don't understand how Outboarding and Suitcasing harm events.

If she knowingly violated the rules then it was clearly unethical.

Here is my post yesterday about a similar experience at this year's TBEX:


Veronica said...

What Mamacita said. To be at Blogher for the 4th time and continue to see people tweeting/instagraming from other selective events was disheartening. Even events that I know I don't have interest in. Just a bad taste.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe that brands would work with someone that doesn't even have their own website and is still on Blogger with a blogspot.com address, especially "sending them on exotic trips", but okay. I'll give you that. What I absolutely don't believe is that you're "over swag" when you talk about the swag you have sitting there, and how you're going on "exotic trips" etc. Kissing BlogHer's ass isn't going to help your blog... so just stop.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Shelly Thanks for commenting. You've always struck me as a person of integrity. But you are right, we all have a breaking point, if not a flex point. Mine might be Invisalign for my husband. :) A line that's be resonating for me lately is "If you're not paying for something, then you're the product." Facebook is a great example of this.

@MoreThanMommy We chatted about this on FB, too. You made an interesting comment along the lines of that if people register for BlogHer or the Expo then in some sense that more waste (food/money) because of how it affects the head count. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@KimTracyPrince And I agree with much of your recent writing (except those brief teaser paragraphs that leave me hanging. Thanks.

@Gigi I wonder if this is part of the problem "The blogger who is there purely for the love of writing and to hone her craft should be able to peacefully coexist with the blogger who wants to work with brands and/or pursue freelance and social media work." Is that simply asking too much. We've certainly seen niche conferences pop up- is that the way to go? That said, many of us are trying to balance authentic content with the ability to monetize and BlogHer does offer opportunities for that.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Jo You're welcome. I wonder where the pivot point will be. Maybe part of the issue is that this has been happening for years and so became part of BlogHer culture. It does not happen at the smaller conference People feel loyalty to Blissdom and Type-A. Why not BlogHer? Because it's so big? I don't know.

@Mamacita thanks for stopping by and eve better, commenting! While I'm not always a fan if exclusivity, I will admit some private events provide great opportunities to talk in a smaller, sometimes quieter, environment than at the inclusive parties. Related: why was the music blasting prior to VOTY? While I'll be the first in line to say I don't understand the appeal of being a "review blogger" I'll also admit I dabbled in it years ago and found it's not for me. I do some reviews however and though I get what you're saying and appreciate your passionate language (my general line is that we all have too much stuff, but I'm swayed by a shiny object now and again), review bloggers are a thing, a niche. If BlogHer is inclusive, shouldn't there be room for them too?

@Rick We're finally connected. Yes, I saw the TBEX post. That sounded like a more egregious offense. To be clear, Maria was not the only one kicked out of the BlogHer expo this year but as far as I know she was the only one to post a blog about what a fun, valuable time she had without any conference pass and then offer to brainstorm about building BlogHer community.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Veronica, even more to your point, read this post from my friend Nancy about what the social media stream looked like to people who weren't at the conference. http://fromhiptohousewife.com/2013/07/30/what-someone-who-didnt-go-to-blogher13-learned-from-blogher13/
But so many vendors asked "required" attendees to tweet/fb/instagram to win cool prizes. I didn't play along, but if most attendees were as "unfun" as me, they might not feel they got the value (in terms of SM impressions) from the conference. So those kind of contests might serve BlogHer (happy sponsor wants to come back next year) without best serving the community (we all look like brand whores). Your thoughts?

Kim Moldofsky said...

Anonymous, how bold of you to criticize me without a name or blog link! Dang, I've finally arrived. I've been blogging since 2005 and if you doubt I've had brand opportunities or exotic trips, look through my archives. I've also been a brand ambassador, been on TV, quoted in the HuffPo Guide to Blogging and in The NY Times, spoken on Capitol Hill. None of that is going on my tombstone, though I do treasure my handwritten thank you note from the Speaker of the House. Some brands look beyond the blogspot address, esp. those that care more about my PR4. Kissing BlogHer's ass? I don't even run their ads.

tracey becker said...

I love anonymous! So clever! Kim is actually some big time blogger. And a really nice person, to bout. Anyway, I think finding a way to bring the smaller parties in as different levels of sponsorships might be a way to continue on in the future instead of banning then altogether.... There isn't one right answer, but the outside parties w won't suddenly go away...

Devra said...

Kim, check your IP addresses in your stats log and see if the "Anonymous" poster's IP matches anyone who has already posted on your site as themselves. This happened to Aviva and me a few years back. Our webmaster figured out pretty quickly exactly who our "anonymous" commenter was and whenever this person tried to visit our site, which was quite often, she was redirected to www.charactercounts.org

Anonymous said...

Maria has been doing her own thing without caring about the event. Who does it at her events? No one important.

She is not savvy, she's self-centered and she has kept out bloggers from her suites because she doesn't like them and is the worst about talking about people behind their backs to brands.

This I know first hand and why I no longer am associated with her.

As for the practice, it is in poor taste and in the business world it is not accepted. So if bloggers want to be considered business savvy - they don't do things like this or support them.

Anonymous said...

I think, to some degree, when you get as big as BlogHer--and subsequently as pricey-- you have to take you lumps and accept that there will be people coasting on your brand. Think Burger King placing restaurants nearby McDonalds because McD's already did the research for good spots. It's just part of growing into a big business. And, the fact is, that Maria has enough of a network that she can host an outboard party without the help of BlogHer. I have a large brand, but would not be able to do that. I would need BlogHer to promote my party to get attendees. Unfortunately, we can not control everything that happens in the world, even things that are somehow related to our businesses.

Kathy said...

Great post Kim! I really appreciate your perspective here. I clicked through to your friend's post (the one who didn't make it to BlogHer`13 this year). I left a similar version of the below comment and realized it was necessary for me to write a completely new one here. So here is a slightly revised version:

I had a very positive experience at BlogHer again this year (my second annual conference). I went to sessions (I didn't miss one) and even Pathfinder Day. So I was all about learning as much as I could and connecting with other bloggers, those that I *knew* already online and some that I didn't prior to meeting them there, and hanging out/spending time with friends.

I did go to one unofficial party on Thursday evening, which I had mixed feelings about, knowing it was considered "outboarding" and realizing I was supporting that practice in this one instance. I had fun and found it interesting, but had no desire to go to others. I also went to some sponsored events on Tuesday evening and Sunday morning, but those were before the conference officially began and after it ended.

I went to VOTY again and the Fashion Show (which I missed last year) and both were highlights for me. I walked away from both feeling so inspired by what I heard and saw and empowered, that my fellow bloggers were given the opportunity to have their voices heard and others given the chance to get glammed up and walk the runway (an experience very few would ever otherwise get). I had little interest in the fashion show last year, but this year I had 3 friends who were in it and I have to say, it was awesome to watch them challenge their comfort zones and rock it. Each of the three speak very positively about their experience and highly recommend it, if given the opportunity.

Anyway, I thought I would add my two cents here. I don't envy what Jory, Elisa and Lisa are dealing with here. I admire them trying to have a conversation about it, as well as you and others for adding your perspectives. I am still in the process of writing my wrap up post, but it will be an overall positive one about BlogHer`13 and everything I learned and the amazing bloggers I connected with. It will not be about brands or swag.

Finally, here is a link to a video that I made with photos/highlights set to music from my BlogHer`13 experience. I feel it captures my and many of my fellow bloggers' experiences well and you might enjoy seeing it: http://bereavedandblessed.com/2013/07/blogher13-suddenly-i-see/

Carla said...

I was sort of grateful NOT to be in chicago as I watched this all unfurl on social media.
slowly this is impacting all conferences as we had our first outboarders at FITBLOGGIN this year, too.

Akemi said...

I did not go to BlogHer, but I did attend one of the Disney on the Road events. They drew name after name, for cosmetics and luggage and plush animals. I think many of the new social media moms felt very important to have been showered with so many gifts. They were hooked. But like you, I'd prefer that they promote ideas and knowledge rather than free swag.