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In Defense of BlogHer

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One of our favorite events to attend as a team each year is BlogHer. The BlogHer community is always welcoming and we never fail to come home on a positive note. This was the first year we weren’t able to attend. Instead, the entire NMX team headed to San Diego for a marathon team meeting so we could plan our own event. What we love about the blogosphere is the ability to live vicariously through blog posts, videos, tweets and Facebook updates, so that when we do miss out on an event, we can still feel like we were there. We eagerly read all the BlogHer ’12 news and updates.

In many of the BlogHer recaps, attendees expressed a different vibe this time around. They felt the event had gotten too big and lost some of its intimacy. Many wished for a smaller event like in past years and I’d really like to talk about that today. As someone who helps to plan a conference, I feel kind of funny commenting on BlogHer and I hope it’s not out of line to discuss this. However, I also think that this gives me a unique perspective that most attendees may not see.

All Conferences Want to Grow

When I first began working for NMX I was shocked at how much it costs to put on a conference, especially one where everyone wants to have food and fun programs. Some venues will charge $200 to plug in a power strip or ask for $50 per head or more to provide everyone with a $7 sandwich. If the conference has a food or beverage sponsor who wants to provide free or discounted food or drinks, the organizers still have to pay full price for the items in what is called a “corking fee” in the event industry. The organizer also has to hire bartenders and food servers from the venue at union rates (typically $20 an hour or more) as well to serve attendees their “free” food and drinks. Each room or exhibit hall booth space comes with its own set of costs too.  So it’s in a conference’s best interests to grow.

The more people who attend a conference, the easier it is to cover costs. Plus when you have a lot of attendees, there’s a better ability to land sponsors and exhibitors. These sponsors and exhibitors help to keep ticket costs low and allow the organizers to provide food, parties and other fun stuff. It’s not easy to find sponsors for a small conference. When you also factor in people who are, in essence, stealing from the conference by hosting unsanctioned events or suitcasing (selling products and services at an event without purchasing an exhibit space), conferences really don’t make money unless they get bigger. BlogHer is a business and all business owners agree they need to continue to grow and profit to succeed. The bottom line here is that if you want BlogHer to be successful then you should want to see them grow.

A Sign of the Times

There are other reasons to be happy for BlogHer for their growth beyond the business point of view. This growth is a positive sign for all who work in new media and all content creators. It says “we’ve arrived.” Exclusivity is an interesting thing. On the one hand, we like to have our little clubs and niches that other people don’t belong too because it makes us feel like special, early adopters who knew about a cool thing before the rest of the world found out. Yet, we complain about people who lock their tweets or don’t let us into a Facebook group or membership forum because they’re being too exclusive and cliquey. We really can’t have it both ways.

We, as a community of content creators, should be proud when a conference such as BlogHer achieves such growth. It tells us that our industry is growing and reaching the mainstream. Growth tells us there will be more jobs and opportunities in blogging, podcasting, web TV and video. It also tells us that we’re going to be taken seriously and not just written off as a bunch of insignificant bloggers. It tells us finding sponsors for our content is getting easier, and fewer people will be rolling their eyes at us when we say we blog for a living.

Conferences for radio or television broadcasters or book and newspaper publishers reach tens of thousands of people. If we want to be thought of in the same light and prestige as old media, we can’t think of ourselves as an intimate group that doesn’t want to grow. There are more online content creators than there are news reporters or radio disc jockeys. We should be embracing our numbers rather than lamenting them, because the numbers are where the big money and recognition is. The numbers mean there will be a place for us in the future.

The Challenge

Maybe the issue isn’t that BlogHer has so many people. Maybe it’s that folks feel that when a conference begins hosting thousands of people attendees feel as if they’re not receiving the same personal service. Maybe we’re not as upset with the numbers as we are disappointed that we’re no longer attending events where everyone knows our names. The challenge for any event is to not lose the personal vibe with the growth. As long as people still receive good service, and we can still welcome them with a smile and genuine appreciation for their participation we’ll be just fine. The key is to try and maintain the same feeling our community and our industry had when we were small even when we hit the big time.

Congratulations to all the people who organize and help to run BlogHer. Five-thousand attendees is a wonderful accomplishment and an important milestone for new media content creators. Here’s wishing you many more years of growth. All of us at the NMX team applaud your achievements!

Read on for More About BlogHer

Here’s a great roundup of posts about BlogHer so you can feel like you were there too!

 

 


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33
  • PaulCunningham

    @debng Blogher needs defending? *reads article*

  • SheilaS

    If you attend conferences, here’s an excellent @debng post: In Defense of @BlogHer http://t.co/y4MEASfQ #BlogHer12 #eventprofs

  • dutchbeingme

    This was my first year at BlogHer and I was excited about so much of the programming that they had – and was excited that this was going to be their biggest year yet. My issue – at the end of the conference – was not with the size of the conference, but rather how it felt that the organizers (and the hotel) did not seem to prepare for that many attendees. That’s the part that disheartened me the most. 

    • debng

       @dutchbeingme  It’s hard to predict how many people will attend an event when you have to book a venue a couple of years in advance. Also, if the venue says it can comfortably accommodate X amount of people, the conference organizers take them at their word. A lot of these growth issues might not have been BlogHer’s fault. The problem is, most people will blame the organizers because they don’t know how it all works.

  • AllieRambles

    I too am happy for the industry and Blogher.  I attended Blogher last year and rather enjoyed the event and all that was offered.  But when they announced that it would be in New York the following year I immediately thought that it was getting too big.  Many times when an event gets too big there tends to be a diminishing of quality and it feels that it is all for the money.  I don’t feel that way about Blogher but worried that it can get that way. 
    It is not hard for a large venue to make its attendees feel special.  I’ve gone to events where there are specialized circuits you join and follow along with the same group of people throughout the day and for certain classes.  You really get to know your fellow attendees and the speakers.  This way you get the mass attendance so you feel like you are part of something exciting and large but also get that personal feel many want.
    ~Allie

  • KristaHouse

    You make valid points. Definitely. The content in the sessions were top notch and I walked away satisfied with my BlogHer12 experience, but I consider myself lucky.
     
    I was very lucky. I didn’t have to sit on the floor outside of the ballroom at one lunch time event because all the tables were filled. I was able to get in early and grab a seat for my sessions. The crowded rooms didn’t freak me out like it did my roommate. I sat sweating and learning and happy to be part of this experience. I saw frustrated Hilton staff overwhelmed by the numbers of people trying to file into the buffet area and people “not being very nice to each other” because of lack of space.
     
    BUT I am not going to hold it against anyone and hope that this is a growing pain for the fabulous people that plan the event that is BlogHer. I had a lovely experience in San Diego last year because the space was a conference centre built to accommodate the number of attendees (and more). I’m hoping they take away all that they learned this year and apply it for the years to come. Chicago looks promising. A real conference centre is a good start. And if they ever decide to go back to NYC … in the Hilton, then  will take a break that year. My lesson learned? Before buying that golden ticket I am going to do my research on the facility and make my own judgement call on if it is worth. Fingers crossed it will always be 🙂

    • debng

      You know, every year there’s at least one thing that went wrong or could have been done better. We’ve had spotty WiFi, too many sessions, parties that are too loud, and speakers that didn’t deliver as promised. Each time it’s a learning experience. It’s disappointing when a favorite conference falls short of expectations, but it’s not always their fault. Know the BlogHer organizers will chalk up any issues as a learning experience and do what they can to improve things. If there’s one thing that’s apparent, they really do value their community.

  • Kris10sL8

    @BarryBirkett Thanks for the follow Barry. Also, glad to see @debng article re #BlogHer in your TL. Almost missed it.

    • BarryBirkett

      @kris10sl8 It’s nice when timing clicks! Hope you have a great day Christina.

  • FireMom

    @Dan_Silber Best year ever. But I’m not a whiner either.

  • Robyn Wright

    I really do appreciate this flip side of the conference growing Deb. And honestly, I may rethink *not* going next year and end up there. If I do, I know I just need to view the conference from a different perspective at this point and change what I take away from it.

    • debng

      Big conferences offer something of value. Look at CES and SXSW. There are people who aren’t into conferences with 50,000 attendees but from a community outreach standpoint I can tell you that they’re incredibly valuable networking experiences.

  • Michelle

    I attended BlogHer the first year it was held at the Hilton in NYC and as an event planner thought the Hilton staff did a good job in accommodating that size crowd.  But I also thought that they were at capacity of service as well.  I also wondered how closely the folks at BlogHer worked with the meeting planning staff because we all know that just because you work at BlogHer and own a conference, does not make you a meeting planner, especially on this scale. You really need a professional to dedicate full service to this level of event.  And although I didn’t attend this year, from what I’ve read, they may have tipped the scale of being able to handle this event without a pro and outgrown their original strategy.  And luckily, that’s all fixable. 🙂
     
    I do agree with you in the “disappointed that everyone doesn’t know my name” point.  But I also think there are a lot of bloggers that think the field is flooded with people who just want to “make money” and aren’t in it for the “right reasons” and who may be giving blogging a bad name.   But that’s a generational adage that every industry faces.  Now to figure out how to bridge the gap….
     
     

    • debng

      When it comes to choosing a venue, you’re kind of damned if you do & damned if you don’t. Everyone prefers to have hotels and conferences in the same building, but those types of venues are smaller. Then, if we go with a convention center, folks wonder it’s too impersonal or too far away from the hotel.  Also, some venues are booked one to three years in advance – at a time when there’s no way to tell how many people will be attending. It’s a tough call. When we booked our Los Angeles venue everyone thought it was too big and spread out. When we booked our NYC venue, everyone though our area was too small and dark.  The sessions were good, the speakers were good, the community thoroughly enjoyed themselves, but they weren’t so fond of the venue. It’s a hard thing to predict.

      • Michelle

         @debng Preaching to the choir!  I totally get it. 🙂  And, at what point, do you limit the number of attendees in order to provide a certain level of service?  Part of the planning is determining what you want your attendees to walk away with. How do you want to make them feel?  What do you want them tweeting about this event?  With conferences like EVO (a limited 400 person conf), people tweet how they love the intimacy and content.  With BlogHer this year, there were a significant amount of tweets about Obama and Martha Stewart.  Not educational content, intimacy or how well they were treated.

        • blogworld

          If you are a true industry wide event, you would never limit how many people can attend your event. Events like CES, NAB, Book Expo America etc would fall out of their chairs laughing at the suggestion.

        • Michelle

           @blogworld I agree, but you have to realize up front that your level of service will be affected in addition to how your attendees perceive your event.

      • blogworld

         @debng correction. Some venues for large events are booked as far out as twenty years in advance.

    • blogworld

      Great perspective Michelle. To add a bit to your last paragraph if our field is flooded then new media will never reach the size of influence and scope of traditional media.
       
      NAB The National Association of Broadcasters attracts 85,000 attendees. Book Expo America attracts 25,000 attendees. Now add in the industry events for newspapers, magazines, and film (because that’s what new media is) and you can easily see a New Media Industry event with tens of thousands of attendees.

      • Michelle

         @blogworld Oh, it wasn’t ME who said the industry is flooded.  There is certainly room for all voices.  I’m just throwing out the “word on the street” amongst some of the self professed “original” bloggers.

        • blogworld

          I understand Michelle. We hear it all the time as well. It is amazing how many lessons we can learn from history if we just pay attention to it. The big three broadcasting cos ABC,NBC and CBS thought no one would support a new network aka Fox. None of them thought people would pay for cable, or something as crazy as satellite. They all roared when someone suggested bloggers and youtubers would be competing with them some day. At one point every one of them was a pioneer. Now we see bloggers who just five years ago didn’t know what a blog was scoffing and denouncing these upstart bloggers who are “just in it for the money” or whatever other complaints they have.
           
          Time is not on their side.

      • AnneHogan

         @blogworld I think it’s a bit of an uneven comparison to bring up NAB or BEA.  Both of those are events for industry professionals.  While many people view blogging as their profession, there are many others who only attend BlogHer for a fun girls’ weekend.  I think that disconnect is where a lot of the griping is coming from. 

        • debng

           @AnneHogan  @blogworld I think all conferences have people only attend for the party factor.

  • Bobbi

    The fact that the president was allowed to speak to the group in order to campaign for another term is one of the reasons I’m glad I didn’t attend this year.

    • debng

      Hi Bobbi,
       
      The fact that the President (any President) agreed to a video address shows the prestige blogging is receiving. Regardless of how you feel about any candidate, that’s something for all bloggers to be proud of.

    • blogworld

      I have to disagree too Bobbi. The fact that the President of the United States found it worth his time to address a bunch of bloggers is a huge boon to all bloggers no matter what their political leanings are.

  • typeamom

    Great post, but I just wanted to make the point that you do not have to be large (or have unlimited attendance) to be successful as a conference. It isn’t that big or small = better or worse, but it is different and it is a decision conference organizers consciously make. 

  • Elisa Camahort Page

    Thank you for this post, Deb. You hit many nails on the head because, simply, you’ve been there. In this specific case, we indeed booked the HIlton about a year and a half out, just as we booked Chicago for 2013 early this year.  When we had a big rush in tickets in just the last couple of months before BlogHer ’11, we were concerned about the ’12 venue capacity, but in addition to being locked in contractually, we also hoped that, having hosted us before, the Hilton would be equipped to not only accommodate any event this size (which we know they have indeed done), but one like ours, where we have admittedly high/unusual demands in certain areas. There were definitely staffing and capacity issues, and I think it’s likely the annual event will never again be housed all under one hotel roof. 

    • blogworld

      We feel your pain Elisa. thank you for dropping by and commenting. We are all big admirers of the amazing event and business you and everyone else has built at BlogHer.
       
      Huge congrats for getting President Obama to do the video address this year!

    • debng

      Thanks for commenting, Elisa. I’m pretty sure all businesses experience growing pains and while they can be uncomfortable, they’re a terrific opportunity to make important changes. When I read the blog posts about BlogHer’s growth I felt very proud even though it’s not “my” event.  It means great things for the blogosphere and especially for women. Congratulations to you and your team. Hopefully we won’t miss BlogHer Chicago.

      • Elisa Camahort Page

         @debng That’s so kind of you to say…I think it does mean great things for our industry. And I think we can still *be* and industry, even as we accommodate many attendees who don’t care about being in an industry 🙂

  • sandratatum6

     
    Nice experience shared. Its not less than an interview. Great way of posting such good and informative stuff.
     
    http://www.sense2.com.au/

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