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BlogHer Round-Up: Swag is the New Black

swagI credit the fabulous Liz Strauss with the title of this post. As she tweeted yesterday, “Swag is the new black in broadcasting a message.”  There is ample commentary in the blogosphere today on the deluge of product samples and other “gifts” given away at BlogHer this weekend. Most of what I’ve seen is critical — of the marketers, the bloggers who made the pursuit of free stuff their priority, or both (see suggested reading, below).

Yes, there was an insane amount of product given away. The photo above, taken by Laura Mayes of  Kirtsy.com, tells you all you need to know.  (Full disclosure: some of my clients were there a-swagging, too). This is what happens when marketers discover an influential community: they want to give you stuff. People — or consumers, as we marketing/PR types call them — listen to women who blog. Corporate America knows it, don’t resent them for wanting to get their wares in your hands.  Laura’s photo is not a sign of End Times; it is recognition of your incredible power. That’s a good thing.

(By the way, swag at professional conferences is not a new phenomenon. I nearly exfoliated my own hands off 15 years ago at the American Academy of Dermatologists convention, demonstrating a new anti-aging enzyme for 12 hours straight for the beauty company I worked for to hordes of sample-ravenous doctors and their wives. )

As Kristen Chase wisely tweeted today, “We’ve got to find more creative ways to start conversations between sponsored bloggers and attendees.” She was referring specifically to bloggers individually underwritten by marketers to distribute their samples at the conference, but I think the statement is true for any brand trying to make connections at BlogHer.  I will absolutely advise my clients to repeat their involvement at BlogHer 2010, but will also make sure we all learn from what went on this year. 

And with that, I offer this mini-PSA for marketers contemplating a BlogHer sponsorship.

PR Mama’s Advice for Marketers at BlogHer

Lesson #1: Be creative (to Kristen’s point.) Swag is not currency. What do you have of value that is wholly brand-ownable and will actually bring some value to the bloggers you meet?

Lesson #2:  Go big or go home. You don’t have to be the biggest sponsor, but you should do/bring something (or someone) that gets every single blogger there buzzing. You’ll get lost othewise, you just will.

Lesson #3: Speaking of bloggers buzzing — if you have an off-site event, do make sure it’s baby-friendly. Trust me.  If you don’t believe me, talk to the Nikon PR team.

There’s more but if I share it, my clients will accuse me of educating the competition and I’ll get in big trouble. And possibly lose my job and believe me, this blog is hardly a fall-back source of income (bizarrely, Sharpie and HP have not deemed me worthy of paid ambassadorship despite my vast readership. I was pondering that last night while I was typing on my thin, light and enticingly affordable HP Pavillion DV2 laptop with one hand and writing out loud with my teal Ultra Fine Retractable Sharpie with the other.)

Wait. What was I just saying about brands finding ways other than giving away free stuff to connect with bloggers…?

*   *   *   *    *

Suggested Reading:

Stephanie Precourt shares thoughts on being at BlogHer with a baby here and here.

Alma Klein laments the increasing presence of marketers over the history of the conference here.

Kristen Chase weighs in on the darker side of blogger behavior at BlogHer, also discusses the Nikon party controversy. (Note that Esther Brady Crawford, the mom who found herself at the center of the “Nikon Hates Babies” controversy, comments on the post. Do read it for a first-hand account of what actually happened.)

Julie Marsh and Chris Jordan express  similar sentiments to Kristen here and here.

Liz Gumbinner defends BlogHer marketers hereCV Harquail suggests in this post it is the swag specifically, not the sponsors, who distract from the real purpose of the conference.

There were some recaps NOT focused on swag. Kevin Pang from the Chicago Tribune captures more general soundbites and vignettes here.  Jennifer Howze recaps one of the conference sessions (“How to Find Your Blogging Tribe”) here.

And finally — and refreshingly — some recaps were just absurd. Brilliantly so. See Adam Heath Avitable’s insightful interview with the, uh, BlogHer09 hashtag here.  And this photo recap from Neil Kramer which speaks for itself.

  1. July 27, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for including me in your great recap. I hope that the post-game analysis will result in 2010 conference that’s more focused on craft and less on commercialism.

    • ssmirnov
      July 27, 2009 at 6:43 pm

      You’re very welcome, and thanks for commenting. Speaking of craft, it’ll be interesting to see if more recaps emerge on the sessions themselves — not the controversy — in coming days.

  2. July 27, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    The photo above is a little daunting, isn’t it? Actually, we gave almost all of it away. I have this “Rule of 10” for all conferences…I never bring more than 10 things home, usually less.

    All this discussion has gotten us thinking about the Mom 2.0 Summit in February. We’re working on some ways to do this a little differently and partner with a charity in the process. Why not make it an opportunity for better convos between brands, social media and non-profits? Surely there are smart ways to generate less stuff and more connection. Any related ideas and suggestions are more than welcome.

    All that said, I’ve been to five BlogHer conferences now, and this was one of my favorites. I met more new people and had a ton of great conversations with both bloggers and brand representatives.

    Huge kudos to all the conference organizers, sponsors and attendees. What a great weekend!

    • ssmirnov
      July 28, 2009 at 8:56 am

      I like your Rule of 10, Laura. Also like your idea for Mom 2.0. Can tell you from firsthand experience w/ many of my clients involved in cause marketing that social media is ground zero for inspiring a groundswell of support for charities. You’d get a ton of interest, I’m sure. Though you might also find yourselves awash in a sea of competing charity programs; maybe there’s an idea in creating focus areas with single program sponsors or partners — one in an eco-charity, one in women’s health, one in family services, one in pet care/pet rescue…etc etc. Happy to talk more (ping me @ssmirnov).

  3. July 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Yes yes yes!

    I’ve stumbled upon a number of PR blogs recently and yours is by far the most intelligent one I’ve read so far.

    Let’s think deeper. Let’s move beyond the boringly obvious. Let’s talk about the products that are meaningful in our lives if we talk about them at all.

    Let’s be genuine.

    Let’s be authentic.

    Let’s partner to do fascinating things. I just suggested to a fabulous PR person, with whom I have a fun PR/blogger relationship, something she could do at BlogHer next year that would really speak to the bloggers in her space.

    Something that isn’t about Swag.

    Something that is an experience.

  4. July 27, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out! I’m sorry I wasn’t there to meet you. Next year, definitely.

    • ssmirnov
      July 28, 2009 at 8:52 am

      Re: BlogHer 2010 — absolutely, Julie. If I can find you under all the swag 😉

  5. July 28, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Oh, this is a great one and thank you for including my thoughts, too. I feel like I want to go back and say, hey, all this stuff happened and it was kinda icky but I still had a good time! Or something like that… : )


  6. July 29, 2009 at 3:53 am

    The swag was a bit daunting-this was my first straight “blogger” conference, I surely didn’t expect that. It made me sad, actually, as I sorted through it, packed the majority of it into a bag, and left it with a tip and a note for my hotel’s housekeeper.

    Yes, there were some lovely things, and I appreciate the sentiment behind the brand’s presence. But there is nothing, ever, that warrants people going out of their gourds. It was that dinosaur acquisition brain kicking in.

    I also feel that, to some extent, the giving of straight product promotes a sugar daddy feel between a brand and a blogger, and limits chances for real conversations. The brand may feel like they did their job already, and the blogger may feel somewhat bought and paid for, and what else would we have to talk about? And I think that’s a missed opportunity. When brands and bloggers engage as common pioneers in an uncharted territory, with different needs on the same spectrum, exciting things happen. Great post, Stephanie, and I enjoyed meeting you!

    • ssmirnov
      July 29, 2009 at 11:50 am

      Great meeting you, too, Lindsay! I’d like to think that something good will come out of all this — that next year there will be a)weeding out of brands who came really just to give free stuff away this year, having lived through the backlash and b)greater creativity for the brands who do show up on how to forge meaningful connections. I’m still a fan of sampling if it makes sense (i.e., is accompanied by one-on-one interaction with the person behind the brand.)

  7. July 29, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    The most useful “swag” I was offered all weekend was from four companies-Gymboree who partnered with Tide, Land’s End, Hasbro, and Swiffer.

    All four companies had cards we filled out to have a product mailed to us. We still got a chance to talk to a rep about the products, but there was nothing to be grabby about and nothing to ship home.

    I know PR firms like making up cute gift bags, but I discarded all of the Hallmark-type bags I was given and kept only the reusable canvas totes. And if I had been flying home I would have had to leave most everything behind. I don’t think the companies were hoping to get their products into the hands of the housekeeping staff of the hotel, or in the trash, but that’s where a lot of it ended up.

    There has to be a better way for next year.

    • ssmirnov
      July 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth. I agree, there is a better way and I feel confident and optimistic that we’ll see it play out next year (btw, Tide is my agency’s client – am glad you enjoyed your experience with them.)

  8. August 3, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Here’s a post from Esther Brady about the Nikon Event (no drama – good post!) http://www.faintstarlite.com/2009/07/babies-blogher-bars/

    • ssmirnov
      August 3, 2009 at 6:26 pm

      Thanks for sharing Esther’s post, Heather. She, as they say, is good people. She handled it well, as did MWW (disclosure: our sister PR agency) in their post (which Esther links to.)

  9. August 17, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Hey, you know what? One of my most memorable and anecdotal moments at BlogHer was meeting you at the SocialLuxe party. The story goes:

    I got there late because Obama was in Chicago, which meant the #partyplane limo got stuck in traffic, so we all missed the beginning of the SocialLuxe party. I knew at least 2 of the organizers, so without even changing my clothes I high-tailed it over to the Hyatt. As soon as I got there Ciaran came out and said with dismay, “All the swag bags are gone.” I looked at her quizzically and said “I came because it’s your party, not for the swag.”

    Mind you, this was before BlogHer had even started!

    I stayed at the party and got food and drinks and wandered around. And I met you and your colleague. And I was delighted.

    And that set the tone for me for the whole weekend. It’s not about swag, it’s about meeting the people behind the swag. A working relationship is worth so much more than a block of Bounce. (Which, honestly, what the hell is that, anyway?)

    And now to finally have visited your blog, the point is driven home. Well said, dear. All of it.

    • ssmirnov
      August 17, 2009 at 11:42 pm

      You are so right about that. I walked away from BlogHer with not a scrap o’ swag, but a pile of business cards and memories of having met women who I swear if they lived in my geography, I’d be best friends with. (I hate that I ended that sentence with a preposition but oh well.) Thanks for stopping by and commenting, I’m glad I strong-armed you on Twitter! 🙂

  10. September 3, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Excellent site, keep up the good work

  1. August 6, 2009 at 2:18 am

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