Wednesday, August 8, 2012

BlogHer '12: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

I finally arrived home from BlogHer on Monday afternoon.  Sadly, my luggage has still not arrived.  Apparently it had a little too much fun in New York and got lost on the way back to Chicago.  I am holding out hope that it will appear somewhere, but in the meantime, I'm making a list of everything I remember being in there - from the several outfits I'd worn first the first time in New York to my bloggy business cards.

BlogHer this year?  It wasn't what I was expecting from the time I arrived in the Big Apple to the time I set feet back in the Windy City.  

The Good
I enjoyed it... most of it.  I love BlogHer for the people, as I think most who attend do.  It's an awesome chance to catch up with the people we don't see very often - or ever - and meet some of the people we've been longing to connect with.  And that was awesome.

The parties?  Way fun.  Incredibly loud for my ever-aging ears, but fun fun fun until I headed up to my hotel room and my feet explained what they'd been trying to scream at me amidst the rockin' DJs: ouch.  I love dancing, and dancing with friends is always more fun than dancing at home.

With Nichole Brady, Laura Andry, and Amy

The food in New York was a blast, too, from the Stand4 milkshakes recommended by Connie Burke - the toasted marshmallow is to die for, and the pumpkin spice is pretty awesome, too - to the halal truck we decided to try.  Street food in New York is awesome, and we so enjoyed the truck we chose based on the line halfway down the block.

Best Milkshake ever.  And they can spike it with vodka

The Halal Guys: We Are Different
"We are different."  Nope, not better, not awesome, just... different.  We ate elsewhere.
And oh did we have fun with Flat Sue.  Flat Sue was created by a friend who couldn't make it to BlogHer this year.  We were so sad not to have Sue with us, but this made it fun.  Sue went everywhere.  She danced with the Elvis Blue M&M in M&M World.  She ate too many cheeseburgers at CheeseBurgHer.  She visited Times Square, the 9/11 Memorial, and Rockefeller Center.  It was beyond hilarious when Flat Sue got left behind at Social Fiesta, and a tweet-a-thon was begun to find her.  We did find her, and she even made it to the traditional party in Room L where she blew the bubbles we bring every year.

Bubbles at the Party in Room L

The brands I was able to connect with were amazing.  I had the most awesome talk with the Wholly Guacamole folks (you've seen my addiction to guacamole before, right?) about what they're aiming to do and ideas of how to do it.  The connection I made with the school lists folks was worth the trip alone for the benefits I'll be able to share with the rest of my exec board at the wee ones' school's PTO.  I learned about new products that I simply must have from the Sifteo - which is a really cool set of six cubes you can use to play all sorts of games - to TRIA - an at home laser hair removal and blue light systems - to how an adjustable bed really works and what you need to do to purchase one from the Leggett & Platt folks to Neato Robotics - a laser sighting robotic vacuum that I must have.  I had some wonderful conversations with brands that I will be following up on over the next several weeks, and I hope that some of them turn into relationships that benefit us both going forward.

The Bad
I'll be honest.  I don't think all the brands who attended BlogHer were there for the right reason, nor did they all have the right people there.  There were so many brands I approached to learn more about the products because of what I was interested in learning - for myself selfishly and for potential work with my blog - who were checked out.  Either they weren't able to answer my questions ("How much does this product sell for at retail?") or they blatantly had no interest in talking to anyone.  At all.  And those experiences leave a bad taste in my mouth about the brand.  I get the pressure to be there.  And I understand the expense of setting up the booth.  I get how exhausting it must be to stand there chatting day after day.  But Thursday afternoon before everything really starts?  It's hard.  I'll name no names, but there are some products I don't like as much anymore.

I have no suitcase.  I could care less about the swag that didn't make it home - a bottle of alcohol and some books, among other things.  It's my special electric toothbrush that I miss.  And my makeup.  And the clothes that I had bought just before BlogHer that I'm afraid I'll never see again.  It's "still being traced" - which isn't a good sign more than 48 hours after my flight landed.

I raved about the food I ate in New York.  I ate not a bite of the official breakfasts or lunches at BlogHer.  I either skipped the meals or ate elsewhere.  Why?  Oh my holy cats.  There were 5,000 people trying to eat at once.  And that's just a nightmare.  The nightmare was compounded by other factors, but suffice it to say that it wasn't pretty.  I'm glad I had other options.

And speaking of 5,000 people, that was also part of the bad for me.  My first BlogHer was in 2009 when it was held in my hometown of Chicago.  There were about 2,400 people there, if I recall correctly.  It was big, but it was manageable.  It's gotten bigger every year.  I thought 3,000 in New York in 2010 was too big.  3,500 in San Diego last year?  Yeah, that was starting to get unmanageable.  I couldn't get through the entire expo and missed connecting with some brands I really wanted to see and meet.  This year, there were 5,000 people.  And 5,000 people trying to do something isn't pretty, especially when they aren't always polite.  I heard quite a bit of cattiness and saw a lot of line cutting and other disrespectful behavior.

The Ugly
The line cutting and cattiness isn't pretty.  The grabbing things from brand reps' hands?  The saying "Oh, there's nothing good in here, let's go" or "they aren't handing out anything; it isn't worth it" is just ugly.  I know there are a lot of bloggers who do their best to be professional and learn and grow when they attend conferences.  And it's just a minority of people who are in it to get as much stuff as they possibly can.  That saying about a few rotten apples?  It's true.  Seeing a hotel luggage cart literally filled from top to bottom with swag that one person - one person - is taking home makes me feel a little ill.  Yes, I brought some things home, but I visited only those sponsors who I felt would be a good fit.  And I took only a) that which was offered to me and b) that which I knew I would use once I arrived home.  I feel like it's one step forward, two steps backwards in getting bloggers taken seriously.

And I do take what I do seriously.  I went to BlogHer not just to have fun with friends and connect with brands that will help pay bills for the next 12 months, but I also wanted to learn.  I marked sessions on my calendar that I felt would be interesting to me.  I had five sessions I wanted to attend, aside from the keynotes and such.  Five.  I would have loved to attend one or two of the Geek Bar sessions, specifically on coding and on moving to WordPress.  Those were completely filled up almost instantaneously (back to the "5,000 is too big" mantra), only for me to see people saying "Oh, I didn't know what these were.  Does anyone want this session or that session?  I signed up for all of them not knowing what I was signing up for."

Want to know how many sessions I attended?  Zero.  I didn't attend a single session that allowed me to learn.  I tried.  The first session I wanted to attend I failed to get there because I couldn't figure out where the sessions were being held.  Signage could have been improved, although I know I should have taken it upon myself to figure out the session locations more specifically myself.  The others?  I was turned away at the door - even when I arrived early - because the sessions were full and they couldn't allow anyone else in.  I paid how much more for my conference pass to attend these sessions?

So yes, I had a blast.  Most of the time.  My flight getting canceled on Sunday and rebooked to Monday due to a) mechanical failure, b) a security breach at Newark "shutting down all airports from White Plains to New Jersey and New York" so I couldn't be rebooked on another airline, and c) horrible storms in New York canceling many other flights later in the day - well, that wasn't all bad.  It allowed me to catch up with a friend who lived three doors down from me growing up.  I spent the night at her apartment, and we had a hoot catching up.

But next year?  Next year BlogHer is in my hometown of Chicago.  I live here.  I don't have to pay for an airline ticket.  Potentially I could not even pay for a hotel.  But I don't know that I'm going to attend.  The conference I'm sure won't be any smaller than it was this year.  And it's being held at McCormick Place during the day (Expo and sessions), while the evening events and official hotel is the Sheraton on Michigan, miles away.  You can't walk from one to the other.  There's no easy public transportation from one to the other.  Instead, there will be shuttles running.  Yep, shuttles to get 5,000 people from one place to the other. Picture that during Chicago rush hour.

Right now, the picture of the bad and the ugly is looming large.  Perhaps this is why BlogHer tickets aren't going on sale until September 1 this year.  Maybe by then it will be like childbirth, and I will have forgotten that part just to remember the good - the fun with friends, the sights I saw, and the people and brands I connected with.  Your thoughts?

Shot of New York street night life


Mama.Mommy.Mom. August 8, 2012 at 7:42 AM  

I was a little jealous of the people who got to go to Blogher, when I was sitting at home, but not so much anymore. It's sad that a handful can ruin ot for the masses, and 5000 people? Oy. I'll stick my my smaller TypeACon and whatnot and leave the big ones to the Swaggers.

Robyn Wright August 8, 2012 at 8:13 AM  

Great recap! I have many of the same thoughts on all of it.

Jenn Hethcoat August 8, 2012 at 9:32 AM  

Nicely written...and amen.

Unknown August 8, 2012 at 9:56 AM  

man, nice recap. I found the sessions too hard to get to as well ... the luncheons were great, I had the best time but also found the shoving and cattiness well, off-putting to say the least.

I will be at McCormick Place though because its in my backyard ... and the brands that were open to connecting made it worth it. Most were represented by Edelman or other PR firms... not sure if that is good or bad.

geekbabe August 8, 2012 at 10:19 AM  

My overall thought is that it's going to take me longer to truly measure my return on investment from this conference.

There was MUCH good, I loved hanging with old friends & meeting new ones. I'm not loving the actual bruises I'm sporting from being elbowed & hip checked.

Sippy Cup Mom August 8, 2012 at 10:52 AM  

Wow! I haven't really heard a single good thing about this year's BlogHer which makes me glad that I skipped it. I would be livid at being turned away from sessions though after what you pay for!

megan @ whatmegansmakin August 8, 2012 at 10:53 AM  

Thanks for this recap. I have been reading recaps off and on, trying to figure out if it's worth it to go next year. I live in Grand Rapids, so theoretically could just take the train to Chicago. I think I'll hold off on making a decision though - thanks for being honest!

Sarah August 8, 2012 at 10:56 AM  

I'm so disappointed! I have been hoping that BlogHer would be in Chicago because I knew that would be the only way I could really attend, but I've heard such negative things about this year's BlogHer (5,000 people?? That's insanity) and I'm amazing people aren't asking for refunds if they couldn't attend sessions. I would love to attend, but next year sounds like it'll be a disaster.

Meghan @JaMonkey August 8, 2012 at 10:57 AM  

Great post, it makes things clear about attending next year. I really only want to connect with brands and bloggers. I'm not willing to run for a seat to eat and learn. There are other conferences that I can get that from! I think if I go next year it will be because a brand wants to sponsor me. That's it.

Robin | Farewell Stranger August 8, 2012 at 11:40 AM  

Wow. I had heard about a lot of that, but getting turned away from sessions? What?! How is that okay when technically that's what you paid for?

I bought a ticket last year and then didn't go because I'm too pregnant to go all the way to NYC. Maybe I'm not sorry.

Tricia O. August 8, 2012 at 12:05 PM  

I felt the exact same way. Except I was glad I got to see you. Because you are my favorite.

Unknown August 8, 2012 at 12:08 PM  

I'm glad to know that as a blogher newbie what i was feeling wasn't incorrect. It was insane and overwhelming.

Michelle August 8, 2012 at 12:30 PM  

It amazes me how many people are saying the exact same thing. I've been holding off on BlogHer the last few years due to pregnancy and small baby. This year she is one, I was planning to attend and ended up backing out at the recommendation of a friend. I'm so glad I didn't go, honestly it sounds like a wreck from the veteran bloggers that I've been reading for years, to the newbies at their first conference. More importantly, I'm wondering how the brands feel about spending their hard earned marketing dollars on a clusterfuck?

Kathy at kissing the frog August 8, 2012 at 12:58 PM  

I have been blogging for about a year and half, and there are still so many things I don't know. I was feeling really bad about not going to BlogHer. It kind of felt like I was back in high school and not going to the big party. But, wow, from what you described, it sounds exactly like high school! I was thinking about going next year, but it might be too intimidating for me. Thanks for your honest review. Most of the others I've read have been gushing and telling funny stories.

Pat August 8, 2012 at 3:37 PM  

That all sounded like something bordering on night-marish to me. I'm so glad you had fun reconnecting with blogging friends, though. What a shame that you could not get into any of the sessions and you had paid extra for. I hope if you attend next time in Chicago that at least you'll be able to attend some of the sessions.

Nicole @MTDLBlog August 8, 2012 at 3:59 PM  

Wow...great to get some perspective on the location in Chicago...I missed this year (attended San Diego and had a good time) and planned to attend in Chicago but to hear you were turned away.. that's not ok when you've paid to attend sessions. Thanks for the honest and thorough account!

Kristin @ What She Said August 8, 2012 at 7:24 PM  

I've heard quite a bit of negative feedback about BlogHer this year. I won't say it validates my decision not to go because that's not entirely true. I just know who I am and what I like, and BlogHer? Doesn't sound like my cup of tea. Too big, too broad, and dare I say... too clique-ish?

I've been in this bloggy world for two years now and I'm dying to go to a conference. But not BlogHer. I'd much rather stick to one of the smaller conferences that aim to connect with its attendees. They just seem more my style - and more worth the investment.

Nicole Brady (SAHM Reviews) August 8, 2012 at 8:49 PM  

First, I have to say that you had the opportunity to post any number of photos for your "Good" yet you picked one with me in. I'm absolutely thrilled! I am so glad I was able to hang out with you and wish we were able to see each other more often. After all, we're not so far away!

You made some great points. There were a ton of exhibitors I wanted to meet but didn't get to. What I was even more discouraged by was the fact that many, many, many brands ran out of business cards. While many ran out of swag, I wasn't concerned. If I have their business card, I can reach out. But without a business card, I have nothing. THAT was frustrating. Yes, with 5k people, I guess that is bound to happen. August 9, 2012 at 9:46 AM  

Well, I'm definitely GOING next year, because Ah, CHICAGO. No flying? I'm there.

But I may be considering just an expo and party pass. I really just want to hang with people, anyway. And that will allow more time for chilling and meeting brands without feeling pressured to go to McCormick "on time" etc.

Transportation is SCARING me for next year, but I'll be brave and just do it.

Also, I won't feel the same kind of pressure to "experience" the city as it's OUR city!

Hope you get your luggage back. The loss of the clothing and make up would be SO UPSETTING to me!

Capability/ August 10, 2012 at 5:41 AM  

I am still processing my time at Blogher - some good experiences (the people),some not so good like not getting into sessions and the pushing thing.

Capability August 10, 2012 at 6:02 AM  

Thanks for commenting on my post - I'm finishing my post Blogher post today.

Mrs4444 August 10, 2012 at 11:47 AM  

Michelle, I haven't read many BlogHer recaps, but I'm really glad I read yours, and I think it should have more play, so I'll be tweeting it.

For me, the biggest part of BlogHer '09 was connecting with friends I hadn't met in real life. Yes, the brands and swag took a close second, but knowing that there will be 5000 or more in Chicago next summer gives me a sour taste in my mouth. I'd much prefer a group half that size. I could also skip the parties, frankly, simply because I don't drink and after a long day, I like to just hang out. Might have to rethink BlogHer Chicago :(

Here's hoping your luggage arrives soon!

Unknown August 10, 2012 at 2:53 PM  

I'm definitely headed to the Chicago one, just say I did it once. But I'm kind of like you ... sure I go to finally meet people IRL and attend sessions that will help me further my blog, but schleeping for swag and getting rude about it, not my scene.

And I'm with you...McCormick place is NOT the best location, and I'm nervous {scratch that} terrified of the cluster that whole thing will become. Maybe I'll just hole up in my hotel room and come out when it's time for a session. Ugh...

Michelle@ Simplifiy, Live, Love August 10, 2012 at 2:54 PM  

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your honest opinions. I've never been to a blogging conference before but would really, really, really like to go to one - not sure if BlogHer is for me... That said, I HAVE been to other conferences at McCormick and the transportation has always worked out fine. I have no idea how many people were in attendance at those conferences, though. One was the Pampered Chef conference 7 years ago and just recently we were at a Kitchen and Bath Design show. KBD was smallish, I think. But I remember PC being huge. And transportation took a while, but wasn't a huge negative.

Cher August 10, 2012 at 3:02 PM  

I too got mad about the geek bar sessions comments of I took all them before I knew what they were! I have yet to attend a session in the past 4 years I have gone to do timing, no availabilty or getting lost.

You know you'll end up going next year though :)

Lisa August 10, 2012 at 5:15 PM  

The last BlogHer I went to was here in Chicago. Everything you mention in the post was an issue back then already and has only gotten worse. I cannot afford to pay to go to a conference to socialize, and that's what blogher has essentially turned into.

Like you, I won't be attending in 2013 either.

Kim Moldofsky August 10, 2012 at 6:45 PM  

I hope they find your luggage and get it back to you. Your post echoes what I've heard about this year's conference. I have no regrets about sitting it out.

I, too, was excited to hear that the rumors about the conference coming to Chicago were true. But the logistics? Yuck! Maybe just a day in the expo and a night a hotel (not nec. THE hotel) to hang with friends will do it. Or maybe just sticking with the friends and parties part. I guess we have time to think it through.

Sandra August 11, 2012 at 11:50 PM  

I'm glad to have read your recap. I was sitting at home wondering what was going on over there. For selfish reasons, I'd want you to attend next year's BlogHer. And while I get how inconvenient it will be to get from McCormick Place to Sheraton, I think for my first one--where I don't have to fly anywhere--I just can't miss it. So I hope you forget most of the bad--you have about 10 months to do so. =)

PA August 15, 2012 at 1:27 PM  

WOW! 5000 people, I had no idea. I was there in 2010 and could not imagine adding more people to an already congested area. Id like to visit Chicago next year but not being able to walk from expo/sessions to hotel room is not looking pretty. Maybe I'll just go to hangout with you guys in your hometown :)

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