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Why Brands Should Invest in Blog Conferences…and How to Get It Right

On Sunday I attended a blogger event hosted by the SV Moms Group for the DC Metro Mom writers and sponsored by a variety of generous, and dare I say delicious, businesses and brands. During an open discussion the question arose…

Why should my brand invest in blog conferences?

There are many ways to answer this, but the blogger who had the mic seemed to feel the same way that I do, and I believe the same way that many of us do. She shared that there are many products she still uses and recommends today based on introductions at blog conferences. In fact, as she said this, not only did a list of similar products form in my head, but a friend of mine caught my eye from across the room and made the gesture of putting on lip balm. I knew immediately that she meant eos lip balm, which we are both addicted to after receiving a sample at BlogHer last summer.

And while I now have eos lip balm smooth sphere or eos lip balm smooth stick in every bag/tote/purse/room of my house and have also switched to eos ultra moisturizing shave cream (no, they did not pay me for this post) certainly eos is not the only company to feel the love following BlogHer. Despite all of the swag bag brouhaha – including the sweet and wonderful George G Smith, Jr. (formerly of Crocs) being threatened for a pair of shoes – there were many products that I tried because they appeared in a swag bag or were handed to me on the convention floor that I now purchase and recommend. This is the same sort of phenomenon that happens when bloggers write reviews: we try it, we like it, we recommend it, we buy it.

So the short answer for brands and businesses out there considering investing in blog conferences is this…do it.

The longer answer, however, is do it well.

~ How to Get the Most Out of Investing in a Blog Conference ~

1. Be Official – The best way to sponsor a blog conference is to work in an official capacity with the blog organizers. Not able to afford a top level sponsorship of a large conference? Ask about participating in organizing official events, covering the costs required to be associated with just one session, or reach out to smaller conferences to inquire about sponsor opportunities.

2. Be Respectful – If you plan on having a presence at a blog conference, but you do not wish to work directly with event organizers, at the very least be respectful of the event. Clearly the goal of connecting with bloggers is to make a good impression and spread the word about your brand or product. Scheduling special break-away events during conference sessions is not the way to earn respect or make a good first impression and puts bloggers in an awkward position. It also probably won’t win you any points with the bloggers who are speaking during your special off-site event.

3. Have a Plan – Last year at BlogHer I attended many informational sessions, cocktail parties, and dinners. Some events were incredibly well-planned, such as the event for Sara Lee organized by O’Malley Hansen, and left me inspired to write posts and even appear on a local back-to-school news segment regarding packing a fun and nutritious lunch. Other events left me wondering why the brand bothered to pay to hold the party in the first place. With no future plans discussed and no follow-up post-conference, brands are easily forgotten.

4. Stand Out in the Crowd – Blog conferences – especially the larger ones – can begin to feel like one giant infomercial. It is critical to stand out in the crowd. Partner with bloggers to find creative ways to reach out to the community attending the event. Find a way to move beyond a business card giveaway or coupon for free product and actually connect with the bloggers. Last year at BlogHer I worked with Kelby Carr from Type-A Mom to host a live Twitter Party on behalf of and sponsored by HP. While attendees enjoyed cocktails and a chocolate fountain – mmm, a chocolate fountain – Twitter users were able to join us from home by tweeting with the same hashtag as those tweeting in the party room, and the entire online portion of the event was viewable on a big screen TV. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box!

5. Bring Your “A” Game – Interns have an important role in this world – US Department of Education former interns, represent! – but putting your third string on the front lines during a major blog event is not the best plan. Don’t be afraid to bring your “A” game. If the conference is worth the time and money you’ll need to invest to participate, then it is also worth bringing some of your heavy hitters. One of my most memorable moments from BlogHer ’09 was getting to sit down with and interview Sharon John, the General Manager of Hasbro’s Playskool brand and Jodie Neville, Playskool’s Senior Marketing Manager. This sort of connection is the type of moment that solidifies brand loyalty.

6. The Swag? Let’s talk swag… Without belaboring the issue of swag, here are some quick tips: coupons get lost in the shuffle, seeing the product not the gimmick is the best sell, and items that do not travel well will be left behind.

Brands – what have you found to be the biggest pay-off from investing in blog conferences?
Bloggers – what tips would you share with brands considering such an investment?

Comments

  1. 1
    Marketing Mama says:

    Amy, thanks for this post. For both Scandinavian Child and myself, it is vital to have conversations with our customers– parents and grandparents. Attending and sponsoring blog conferences has been a wonderful way for us to do that.

    How often do small businesses get to be at the table with their customers in a more intimate setting? Not often. Based on our experience at Mom 2.0 and planning for EVO, I really don't understand why more companies don't step up to the plate.

  2. 2
    Lucretia says:

    Awesome AWESOME post Amy!!

    "Scheduling special break-away events during conference sessions is not the way to earn respect or make a good first impression and puts bloggers in an awkward position. It also probably won't win you any points with the bloggers who are speaking during your special off-site event."

    I just want to highlight that section as it's the reason I'm putting this in my "link it rather than re-write it" folder.

    I've given that advice – both heeded and unheeded – more times than I can count. Attendees aren't in whatever city is hosting a conference just to hear about your brand or attend your party – they are there for the conference. If you aren't sponsoring or participating? You shouldn't be trying to compete.

    As a speaker, I've been surprised more than once by someone inviting me to a non-conference event during my session and not understanding why I might just possibly be less than thrilled. Believe me – speakers remember that sort of thing. It's a brand's way of saying "we don't think what you have to say or teach is important."

    I'd also second the 'if it's too big or heavy to take home, forget it' rule of swag.

  3. 3

    This is a great post, and I think what you say about bringing your A game is crucial. With Type-A Mom Conference, I am really encouraging sponsors to either send key staff who get the scene or, at the least, using the tickets they get with a sponsorship to sponsor a blogger to represent them. Just being a name on a program is not effective.

    And definitely, companies need to be respectful of the conference itself. Coinciding with official programming is just bad form, especially for those not sponsoring. I've seen it at several conferences, and it always makes me cringe.

    It feels a bit like leeching off of the popularity of the event without actually contributing. And, as I'm sure many of you know, official sponsors are the only way these conferences become financially feasible. Registrations would likely be upwards of $1K or more per person without the official sponsors.

    Beyond that, I definitely believe sponsors get an awful lot out of blog conferences. For one, I knew the EXACT lip balm you reference… which is sort of amazing when you consider how much swag was handed out at BlogHer. One little lip balm stood out among all that stuff. It is also a great opportunity to get face time with influencers, to network and connect with them, to get feedback, to get exposure… and to learn about the community.

    Anyway, well written and great points.

  4. 4
    Jennifer James says:

    Great posts and very key points sponsors really need to listen to!

    And, by the way, the lip balm and the shaving cream by eos…um…they rocked my world and now I am a loyal customer. Out of everything I brought home from Blogher, it's the only product I have purchased with my own money…first online then I saw eos at Target and was thrilled for them and for me :)

  5. 5
    Tiffany @ Lattes And Life says:

    I also have my fave products and companies that I discovered either at a conference or through doing a review. I'll add something else though…I have fave products and companies that came to be faves because of the PEOPLE at the company. When I'm shopping for an item where there's similar brands on the market, I will almost always go for the brand I have a personal relationship with. Whether I tweet with the company rep or met them at an event, that personal connection is so important!

  6. 6
    Sommer @greenmom says:

    I also knew what lip balm you were referring to, which does indeed say a lot considering the swag. I think being official, having a plan and staff or bloggers that get it – is key!

    On swag, I think we have to think eco-friendly here and not just give out more junk that ends up in the landfill. Crap with your logo or name on it probably won't work for me. It has to be useful, something I can take home and for me I love coupons. I always need an umbrella, notebook, laptop bag and if your product rocks, let me decide to sign up for you to send it to me. Just a few ideas but I like the coupon so I'll have to disagree there.

    Great post Amy!

  7. 7
    ResourcefulMommy says:

    Sommer,

    I love the idea of a sign-up for product! Something like a bottle of shampoo to try was a no brainer, but a larger item is just not practical.

    For those handing out coupons in the main swag bag, perhaps they can all be assembled together? I feel like mine always get lost, ripped, crumpled, and then abandoned.

  8. 8

    Having never been to a conference (my first will be BlogHer this summer), I love this post. I have to agree with Sommer on the eco-friendly part. Throwing your name on junk and expecting me to add it to my luggage AND bring it all the way home probably doesn't work for me. However, I do like the idea of a coupon, but also think that having a sign-up list for bigger items is a wonderful idea. Of course, follow-through is key on that one. Don't make people wait forever to receive the swag. If it doesn't fit in a handbag or can't be eaten or worn, there's a strong chance it will be left behind.

  9. 9
    The Mental Clutter Coach says:

    Amy, what a great post!

    In regards to the "getting it home" dilemma, I immediately thought of the Barilla event during Mom 2.0 ~ they wined & dined us {literally} and then as we left for the evening they showed us the goodies they'd be sending to our homes "so we wouldn't have to worry about how to get them there" {insert jaw drop}.

    Simply put, Barilla got it right.

    If a company has bulky items they are attempting to get in our homes ~ ship it directly there after conference.

    I was grateful I didn't have to pay shipping from the hotel & when I received the package a few weeks after conference it was so exciting. As a matter of fact, they stood out more because now I could completely focus on what they had sent instead of being lost in the shuffle of all the other busyness of conference.

    {bonus perk for Barilla ~ my whole family jumped in & we immediately began planning how to use the products! Bet they'll stand out in my children's mind in years to come too!}

    Well, written post. Looking forward to sharing it with others!

    Warmly,

    april

  10. 10
    ResourcefulMommy says:

    April, that is awesome…and makes me hungry :)

    Last year I spent more money than I'd like to admit shipping BlogHer swag to my home, much of which I gave away or recycled anyway. I would have loved to see a swag sign-up at vendor booths! It would have saved my back and my wallet.

    The glitch? I went to a Toy Fair in October of last year and signed up for swag…that some of the companies never sent. I didn't even walk away with an informational sheet because that was meant to be included. It is absolutely all about the follow through!

  11. 11

    Great post, so many places I could go here!

    As a brand representative, I attended my first conference (TypeAMom) last year. I cannot tell you what a valuable experience sponsoring and attending actually is… Two of us attended. David had been tweeting and talking with many mom bloggers prior to the event, for him this was all about cementing relationships developed online. For me, as an HR and Operations professional, I had no experience in the Social Marketing space, so I got blown away by all of the incredible women I met there. The experience launched my social marketing participation. Now I am the head of Sprig's social marketing efforts, and the conference introduced me to key bloggers I have continued to have relationships with. I could not be successful without the relationships I developed at TypeAMom.

    I would argue that every brand should have a conference presence. there is simply nothing like meeting face to face to either cement or start great relationships. If you are a small brand with limited resources (like Sprig!), I would say the following: start with a smaller conference. Find out from your favorite bloggers what conferences they plan on attending and pick out one or two of the smaller ones. It is easy to get lost at a large conference if you don't have established relationships and some key bloggers to help you navigate that landscape… start small! Contact those conferences, sometimes there are sponsorship packages available that are fairly minimal in cost, as Amy mentioned.

    When there, be respectful of bloggers time, they are at the conference to learn first and develop brand relationships, second. We got a lot of mileage last year by being at a table outside the break-out rooms. We were able to chat with bloggers between sessions and it was well worth the investment.

    When you get home: take all those blogger business cards and follow them on twitter. We found it extremely useful to take some time in the following weeks to look at blogs to see which bloggers were 'playing in our space' and worked to further relationships with them. You will be forgotten if you do not follow up or touch base occasionally!

  12. 12
    George G Smith Jr says:

    Thanks for the kind words :-)

    Great post. I definitely think brands can learn from what you wrote.

    In the end though, the brand has to want to be a part of the community. That's important. They don't need to be in the depths of it, but they need to want to support the community – not just have the community come and use their products. Real, authentic support gets noticed and converts people into brand evangelists.

  13. 13

    Amy, thanks so much for the nice words on last year's Sara Lee Back-to-School Nutrition Summit!
    When we put it together we really worked hard to understand the challenges moms face when it comes to creating more nutritious meals for their kids.

    I shared your post with my colleagues because it provides great insights into how companies can connect and make a lasting impression with attendees. I know moving forward, as we continue to work with moms who blog, this kind of information will be extraordinarily valuable to us.

  14. 14
    messyfunmommylife says:

    Amy, this is a great post. I think this is super helpful for brands that are new to the conference scene. I have seen many of these mistakes made again and again they could definitely learn from you!

  15. 15
    Erica Mueller says:

    I haven't been to BlogHer, but I was impressed with Conagra at Blissdom. The way they treated us all to yummy food, and the popcorn break was just an awesome idea to share their product without being pushy.

    At Mom 2.0 I was impressed that Fox sent the directors of Flicka2 for us to meet, talk to, etc. It was a really nice touch. Hotwheels also sent their own designer who was not only a panelist on the web design tract, but also hosted a round table discussion and helped man the booth. Bertoli had a very nice presence there too. Just a few examples of doing it right.

  16. 16
    Lindsay says:

    Wow! Great post! I only recently attended my first blog conference and it was a mini-conference. I enjoyed it. I'm a bit upset that I don't have a ticket to BlogHer, but after clicking thru your links to read other's posts about last year's experiences… I'm kind of scared to even attempt going to another conference, now. Oh, well, I guess there's always next year and I'll be reading everyone's Tweets and posts. :)

  17. 17
    LittleTechGirl says:

    Really great post Amy! You covered all the great points.

    I have to agree with you on the coupons. I guess it's just a matter of waste. The coupons definitely get easily lost or are not distinguishable. Actual product to try out always hits home with me.

    I have received a couple of things at blogging events and getting to try them out right away totally helps me with recommending them to others. I have naturally talked about how I love them to friends around, as well as in blog posts or on Twitter or Facebook months after the event.

    I think it's nice that companies are starting to get it and release how much reach a blogging conference and social media can have for their brand. Of course, there are still a lot of companies that are afraid to job into those waters.

    Keep up the good work!

  18. 18
    geekbabe says:

    I have found many brands I love via reading about other blogger's opinions of them.Several brands have come to my attention as well by their sponsoring blogger's attending conferences. When I'm in the aisle at the store I remember for example that Whitecloud loves moms, so does Walmart. I favor brands who are committed to women & our concerns.

    As to advice for brands? Please don't overlook baby boomer bloggers, women in this age group carry considerable spending clout
    and our opinions carry considerable influence

  19. 19
    Paula schuck says:

    This is a great post. I often have trouble articulating the many reasons why brands should commit resources to things like conferences. You are so smart. Best tips on the blogosphere. I will use this. Thanks.

    Paula
    Paula schuck recently posted..A Thursday BlogHop and Life In General

  20. 20

    Excellent post, Amy! I completely agree about coupons and large items….and the eos lip balm. LOVE that stuff!
    Lolli @ Better in Bulk recently posted..Love and Marriage and Gnats – PSF Linky

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