BlogHer - An Open Letter to Brands

For 20 years I’ve been attending various conferences and I must say that my favorite is blogging conferences.  It doesn’t matter how weird or quirky you are – you’ll be welcome with open arms.  You’re guaranteed to laugh AND cry, you’ll be inspired, and somehow there always seems to be alcohol floating around.

Speaking of alcohol – It’s always interesting to observe the 30-50 crowd.  There’s the ‘I haven’t been out of the house in six months and dammit I’m having my fun’ bunch; you’ll find these women dancing with wild abandon and dressed like they were sixteen again.

There’s the ‘I don’t drink but ooohhhhhh what the heck hand one over!’ ladies.  They tend to be lightweights and they get darn funny if they make it to the 2nd drink.

I tend to fall in between these two groups – sometimes heading more in one direction or another.  19 crimes launched their wine at BlissDom Canada last year and we could take mug shots.  Mine was awesome, if I do say so myself.


But wait, there’s more! (in a cheesy ‘as seen on TV’  commercial)

The brands.  Need I say more?  Most conferences have title sponsors, but tickets to blogging conferences are highly subsidized by the brands who sponsor the event.

I think its fantastic that we have this opportunity to discover new products, meet with brand representatives, and make connections that could possibly turn your career around.  It’s the same reason I love going to trade shows like the National Women’s Show.

Getting Flack?

Are we all just a bunch of entitled brats disguised as grown-ass women?  There’s a lot of talk about SWAGHow much of it, how good it is, how its not as good as it used to be.  I’ve seen a lot of bitching on the interwebs and I agree, things have changed.  What no one is doing though is offering a solution other than ‘give me more swag’.

I think the real problem is not the swag (or lack thereof), but the experience.

Why do you sponsor in the first place?

You – the Brand – want people to experience your brand, fall in love with your brand, and praise hallelujahs about your brand on social media.  It’s a great theory, but the fact is you won’t achieve that simply by having a table and a PR rep  handing out coupons.

So what gives?

It’s all about the experience.  People forget coupons, but they remember experience.  Let’s go over some companies that have done it right, some that haven’t, and look at how the latter could be improved.  This applies to both brand events and expo hall booths.

Disney Junior

Disney Junior held a breakfast at BlogHer ’12 in NYC.  OMG.

Coming up the hallway you could hear the Mickey Mouse theme song and Mickey balloons were all over the door.  The room was decked out in Mickey Mouse colours, Jake (of the neverland pirates) and Minnie Mouse made guest appearances, and the food was awesome.  Sure, we heard a seasoned executive talk to us about where they were, where they were heading, but we also got a preview of a new show to come and some inside info on the ‘making of’.

It was fun!  There was great discussion about diversity and kids’ programming.  There was swag, but it wasn’t about the swag.  We each received a bag with (1) Minnie OR Mickey plush, a Doc McStuffins notebook, a Mickey shaped rice krispie treat, a branded iPad cover and a pen.  My daughters love those stuffies, the notebook was well loved, and we are now devout fans of Sophia The 1st – the show we previewed.

So what did they do right? 

For 90 minutes I was immersed in the world of Disney Junior and I felt like a kid again.  *I* was excited to introduce my girls to Sophia – so much so that we planned a movie and popcorn date for the series premiere – and overall I got to EXPERIENCE Disney Junior for all it’s glory.


Again in NYC Poise had a booth in the expo hall and held a private event.  The booth was fun and funny.  They gave out samples and you could record your own embarrassing LBC stories.

The event had us sipping wine and enjoying a comedy show about the issues we face as we age and / or keep popping out more babies.  I was about 20 months pregnant at the time (or so it felt) and I had hot flashes worse than my mom.  I also couldn’t sneeze, laugh or cough without peeing myself – never mind the constant puking.  It was so bad that some days I had to choose which mess I’d rather pick up as I would pee uncontrollably while I violently puked the 3 sips of water I’d managed to hold down.

Needless to say their message rang true.  We received a cute beach bag with a full size of each product in their new line.  To this day I’m still a fan and I use the lady-bits soap daily.

Walgreen’s, Minute Clinic, Procter & Gamble

Pharmaceuticals.  OTC meds.  Need I say more?  At both BlogHer ’12 and ’13 (in Chicago) you got to ‘shop’ their line of OTC meds.  A trip to BlogHer meant I had enough allergy, heart burn, fever, and cold medicine to last through the next conference.  I can tell it’s almost conference time when I start running out of meds.

The dollar value I received was usually more than the cost of my conference ticket which helped justify the cost to my husband who thinks blogging conferences are an excuse for a vacation.

P&G had a ‘refresh’ station where you could get your makeup touched up, mini massages, or mini manicures while learning about their products.  Talk to me all you want lady, so long as you keep massaging those shoulders! I’m a big fan of P&G products and got to take home some favorites.

I am fully aware that this can get expensive; on the plus side I usually make a little swag bag for women close to me such as my mom and my sister – They always included some of the meds and they also fell in love with the brands.

While the Walgreen’s and Minute Clinic booth didn’t offer an immediate experience I experienced their brand for a full year following the conference.

Going the extra mile?  If they wanted to improve on their performance I would suggest bringing in a pharmacist to do private consults to review your current meds and your conditions to determine if there are any conflicts, as well as suggest alternatives to OTC products we are using.


BlogHer ’14 in San Jose brought us Bridgestone.  They were featuring tires that you can still drive on after getting a flat.  Their booth, the ‘No Pressure Zone’, offered us the chance to get pampered, learn about car care and enjoy some treatsCan you say tire shaped cake pops?

We got to take home a pressure gauge and one lucky blogger walked away (rolled away?) with a brand new set of tires A select few were driven to a closed course to test drive said tires and received a car care kit.

The experience drove home (see what I did there?) their message.  I didn’t feel like I was being sold to and got to relax while chatting with the team.

Going the extra mile?  Their Selfibration contest could have included the flat tire and road-side props and a sign that said ‘No Pressure No Problem’ or something of the sort.

In NYC I got to interview a dermatologist about rosacea.  They filmed and edited the video that I could then use as content for my blog.  I learned a lot, got great content, and left with some Cetaphil for myself and a readerTheir suite had a lounge section, some refreshments, and experts that could answer your questions if you didn’t want the video interview.


Being in Chicago – the home of Wilton’s – they bused some of us to their school and testing facility.  We spent a few hours playing with icing, touring their testing kitchens  and experiencing first hand the process of creating masterpieces for their yearbook.  You could smell the buttercream as you walked into the doors.  mmmmm.

VSP Eyecare

Though not present at the conference per se, they held a ‘pin it to win it’ contest before the NYC ’12 conference.  100 bloggers won a pair of designer sunglasses (including MOI!) and we got to pick them up in the hotel lobbyI wish they’d do it again

A few booths that rocked it

Lean Cuisine (the fresh honey, the jams, and everything else… it was a great learning – and tasting – event)

Coffee-Mate breakfast (OMG girl scout cookie flavour!)

Verizon held a series of mini talks to showcase different products.  Each session a participant won the product in question.

LazyBoy with their upholstered-outfit men.

Serta with a king size bed to try out – great for putting up your feet while catching up on twitter notifications.

Evenflo Baby (at BlissDom Canada) with their #clickclickpush car seat – They had the back seat of a van and we could practice installing and removing the car seat with the super easy mechanism.  I fell in love with the car seat and ended up reviewing it on the blog (along with a super cute video featuring my daughter).

Hallmark (again at BlissDom Canada) allowed us to pick a card and mail it to a special someone.  I sent three to my daughter, my mom, and a good friend.

Chuck E Cheese always has a fun booth, and this year we had to spin to win.  Board games, gift cards, a few iPads, and my roomie even won a 5000$ Disney cruise voucher!!!!  A little bit extra?  They could have more arcade games to play, specially multiplayer games Another option would be to hold a private event and bring Chuck E Cheese to a ballroom. Think the ultimate gaming and pizza party.

Sonic brought their slushie machine and copious amounts of nerd candy to put in said slushies.  Double YumI wish we had a Sonic where I live so I could go to the drive-in – if only to get a blue slushie with nerds. Improvements?  Hold a drive-in night at the conventionWasn’t @MovieMarshall doing a pre-screening of a new movie?  They could easily have come together and offered the movie in a drive-in settingBlogHer Movie Night – large pillows and shaggy carpets, popcorn, slushies, and a great movie projected on the wall.  Or you create something similar, but outside.

Skype and the #paywithpassion campaign.  Pledge (and tweet your pledge), choose swag of your choice?  Yes! The charger is one of the best piece of swag I got.  Also, we got to all talk about SKYPE while also reflecting on our own lives.  Brilliant.

The brands that missed the mark, and how they can do better next year.

It’s no secret that most of the private events this year were… lacking.  If I’m going to take time away from a session, a keynote, or another party I want an experience I’ll never forget.

There’s a lot of talk going around about those that held these events but the talk doesn’t exactly bring warm-fuzzies.

Merz Aesthetics

Aside from the irony that I’ve just been told I’m enough and now I’m being pitched Botox and facelifts, this event could have been stellar. 

You’re an aesthetics clinic.  You could have set up  facial stations – mini-micros, power facials, glycolic peels, etc.   Talk to me all you want about your clinic, your procedures… and give me an experience.

Let me sit back in a salon chair, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, as you pamper my dehydrated jet-lagged skin.  I guarantee you I’ll leave feeling refreshed, and I’ll have a positive outlook as to what ‘Aesthetics’ really means.  Bottom line: if you’re going to tell me I should have started using Botox in my twenties, soften the blow a bit and at least give my skin some much needed love.

Bright Starts

Based on the event description I was expecting to walk into a room resembling something out of a toddler’s gym.  Bright colours, exercise mats in different shapes, toy stations… I was disappointed to find out we’d all be sitting around the same round tables every other event had.

I once heard of a company that brought adult size bouncy chairsWho wouldn’t want to sit in a vibrating adult sized bouncy chair?!?  Oversized replicas of your best sellers, like the play mats and crib toys would have been awesome.

Show me your world from the eyes of a toddlerAnd yes, absolutely, share with me the research on laughter and babies.


Great product, great food and coffee, and great presentation…. but again we were all sitting at tables hearing about your brand instead of experiencing it. 

Have tables set up around the room, manned by your staff, showing the traditional remedy and the Zarbee’s option for various ailments.  Let me go around the room, mingle with your reps, learn about your brand, and see first hand how you are the better option. And sure, we can gather ’round to listen to your presentation.


How about a more informal setting?  Couches and settees instead of round tables.  Each seating area could have a coffee table with an assortment of leashes and other products.  Maybe do a pop quiz for a few giveaways?

The dogs were cute – I’ll give you that much. Pets may add life, but I was drained when I got out of there.  The hamster video was cute – and I love the initiative – but I didn’t come here to view yet another slide deckThat’s what sessions are for. 

Bring a handler with a mutt and show us all the great tricks he taught that mutt.

I can learn about your programs at the boothhow about having a trainer show us tips for integrating a rescue into our lives?

A photo booth where you can take a picture with one of the dogs and a sign that says “I’ve got my P.A.L., do you?” Or maybe have us in a ‘just caught the Frisbee with my mouth mid-air’ type of pose and add a park-like setting to the background.  Something – anything – interactive and fun but still on-brand and on-message.

Booths and Swag

Yes, conferences sponsorships are a lot of money.  You don’t necessarily want to spend a fortune building your booth either.  But do remember that the goal is to get people talking POSITIVELY about your brand and using your product.


Great product – Love Love Love.  The giveaway of an iPad with a set of Tiggly shapes?  Also love.

Improvements?  Figure out what your budget is for giveaways.  Divide that by the cost of your product and that’s the amount you can give out.  If you can only afford 10 units, that’s 5 a day – hold an ongoing giveaway, every few hours, of a set of shapes, and keep the grand prize of the iPad with shapes. 

Many people already have iPads.  Even if one doesn’t, they can give it to someone who does.  More users, more app downloads, and more people spreading news of your great app for babies and toddlers.

Pledge, Shout, Ziplock, and Glade

Have one-on-one competitions – who can clean the fastest, who can remove a stain better, etc.  Let us have fun with your products.  Let us try to scoop spaghetti sauce in your Ziploc bags that stand up on their own.  Have some Glade warmers plugged in so we can smell the goodness as we do all this.


I was once at a tradeshow where they had competitions like timed dishwasher loading, unpacking groceries, getting a batch of cookies in the oven, and other multitasking kitchen stuff.  Each competition had 1 winner, who would win the featured appliance.  At the end of the show they’d given away 1 of every appliance.

Bloggers could sign up and name drawn at random to come compete at a predetermined time.  As the buzz builds, you get more excitement about your brand and your product – driving traffic to your booth – throughout the weekend.

And finally

Are you giving away deli meat samples?  How about a bun and condiments bar with that slice of meat in a fabulous ‘make your own sandwich’ booth?  We all know that bloggers are perpetually hungry.

Promoting a new phone with case that takes awesome pictures?  Bring a handful of units and hold a mini demonstration each hour where people get to practice ‘live’ the tips you’re sharing.

Demonstrating a new app / game / etc?  Have several devices loaded with said app and a few comfy chairs.  Let people come by, put up their feet, and play / read for a few minutes.

Hair products?  Before & After shots.

Pregnancy products or health information geared to the pregnant woman?  Single-use ovulation and pregnancy tests.

Hair removal products?  Offer brow shaping in the expo hall.  Makeup?  Mini-makeovers.  Skin care?  Skin analysis with sample that works best for your issues.

I think you get the point by now.  Yes, I care about your message and your purpose, but if you want me to remember you and become your next brand evangelist, give me an experience. 

How can you step up your game for your next event?  Think about it!  And if you need help designing your next booth experience, you can hire me HERE.

Without sponsors there would be no conference – You’re investing a lot in this anyways, make the most of it!