SponsHer…Ouch

When I attended BlogHer ’08, I noted the intense interest by many attendees to “monetize” their blogs. (I’m interested too, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t.) But I think what blew me away was the ferocity of interest. Even in 2008.

I didn’t attend BlogHer ’09 this year; but I totally believe that the swag bag part of it may have been a little out of control. Some folks coined the experience SponsHer, as a form of protest against Extreme Swag Collecting. Which is apparently a full contact sport. :( (Poor Jenn! That’s the “ouch” part.)

Now it seems with the economy in a rough spot, there’s even more emphasis on swag bags and companies underwriting a sponsored trip, which Confessions of an IT Girl discussed thoughtfully. Basically, a new job is taking shape: “professional mommyblogger.”

And boy is that process bumpy. The boundaries of what’s okay and not okay are unclear, and vary from person to person…despite attempts to lay down some reasonable guidelines (Blog With Integrity, for example).

Ad Age gives a summary of marketers’ desire to reach out to BlogHer attendees; the smart blogging women I know answer back in comments.

And SuburbanTurmoil nails the wild-eyed, “I’ma cut a bitch” electricity in the air with a hilariously satirical look at some hyper-acquisitive attendees of swaggy events.

I have high hopes of attending BlogHer ’10, and would like it to be about finally meeting some of the wonderful women I now know through Twitter and their blogs, as opposed to going slightly insane over freebies.

So here’s my suggestion:

Maybe BlogHer ’10 can set up a more civilized distribution system, where you’re given a “passport” of all companies giving away swag. The conference-goer can then get the “passport” validated by the PR company handling the account, then go to pick it up at a designated time and place. No one whose “passport” lacks validation will get the swag. I realize PR people like to hang out at their tables or work the parties, but maybe the tables could be kept to the Expo section of BlogHer so mingling and talking can take place, but the giveways–even party giveaways–happen elsewhere in the light of day under much more controlled and orderly conditions. For example, if swag bag collection happens

  • concierge- or coat-check style when people are sober,
  • when people are able to line up to pick up swag as their schedule permits (instead of just a short period of availability, thus contributing to crowds in lines & line-jumpers who do not seem to know what the word line means),
  • in the hotel where the event’s held (so attendees can spare their backs hauling stuff around), or so others staying elsewhere can at least use the conference hotel’s bell desk, and
  • in a brightly lit area where line-jumpers and the extra greedy are highly visible and more subject to positive peer pressure

I believe there would be better behavior.

[Updated to add: official BlogHer swag was apparently given out in orderly fashion. But Jenn's experience above in collecting some bruises while someone else snagged swag in the Expo area, and the grabbiness that seems to have characterized some of the unofficial BlogHer parties, are perhaps two examples of how party hosts and perhaps even PR people in the Expo area could use an improved, more orderly method. After all, does a PR person have a better quality interaction with a BlogHer attendee when they can chat as the PR person validates the "passport," or does it all become about muscling out the swag bags to attendees one after another?]

Having a “swag passport” would also give attendees a bird’s eye view of what’s being offered and a chance to be more mindful of what swag conference participants are truly interested in collecting, as opposed to grabbing something just because it’s there.

Perhaps this would make swag collection a more civil experience for all. I sure hope so. Previously I’ve met and spoken briefly with Lisa Stone and Elisa Camahort Page and some of the other lovely, thoughtful women who toil to make BlogHer happen; I know them to be wonderful people who are committed to women’s voices and women’s concerns and helped pivot all of us out of the Dark Ages when Web 1.0 was supposedly dominated by men, circa 1995. So I’m sure the SponsHer criticism of some attendees’ behavior must sting a little, as it can’t help but also reflect some negativity directed, rightly or wrongly, at the conference too. I think BlogHer’s a wonderful space and it’s given many women a platform to be heard. (Weeping…I missed a chance to see and speak with Valerie Jarrett alongside my sista MOMocrats?? Sob!) And of course, caveat emptor: as with any conference, a given person’s experience becomes what she makes of it.

That said, I’d love for the commercial opportunities to be balanced with the feed-your-head/widen-your-network opportunities too–because let’s face it, there’ll always be a strong entrepreneurial as well as editorial component to BlogHer. And maybe all that’s required to improve the experience for everyone are a few logistical/operational tweaks.

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