Sunday, July 26, 2009

BlogHer left a bad taste in my mouth (but there was good stuff too)

I attended a BlogHer 09 panel discussion called Sponsored vs. Unsponsored, and one of the moderators asked people to raise their hands if they thought getting paid to write a product review was okay or not. A lot of people voted okay, some weren't sure and I raised my hand for Not. I was the only one.

I spoke my piece, reassuring the filled-to-capacity room that I had nothing against product reviews (hey, I've done a few) or giveaways, but that I felt that basic integrity demands we disclose if a product has been given to us for free. And if a blogger's been paid to write a post or do a giveaway, it should be treated as an ad. Because that's what it is.

Honestly, I thought my feelings were pretty mainstream. Not any more. The women in the room were afraid to post negative reviews. Even posting constructive criticism was avoided. They were terrified of pissing off the PR folks and stopping the flow of goodies. And besides, writing a product review or hosting a giveaway was hard work. They deserved to be compensated for their work on behalf of brands. An interesting argument, but if you're turning yourself into a freelance copywriter, isn't it a little unfair to your readers to post as just another regular, trustworthy mom? I am an advertising copywriter, but I'd never recommend shampoo to a friend without mentioning I work on the account.

Where BlogHer 07 was a kind of geeky gathering of babywearers and girls in horn-rimmed glasses who dreamed of making the jump from blog to book, BlogHer 09 was a chaotic, whorish dance of brands and bloggers. The Expo Hall heaved with activity. Tide brought Tim Gunn. Walmart had Paula Deen. Rick Bayless appeared on behalf of the Pork board. Ronald McDonald, Mr. Potatohead and the Michelin Man posed with women weighed down with bags and bags of swag.
There was the official BlogHer swag bag. Expo Hall swag. Session swag. Party swag. Suite swag. I got a obscene amount of free stuff, and I'm not complaining. I like free stuff. But apparently it brings out the worst in some people. I saw women shove others aside, lunging for more free shit.

And as if the endless free samples, Strawberry Shortcake-sponsored Mommyblogging sessions and Ragu-branded lunch break (I'm sorry, but yuck!) weren't enough, the Blogher09 Twitter stream was just as cluttered with sponsored messages. When a blogger who calls herself Marketing Mommy is fed up, you know it's bad.
Yes, those are D-List Mom Blogger stickers on our table centerpiece

But enough about what I didn't like. Here are my top 9 memories from the past 3 days.

1. Hanging out with fellow D-Lister Sara, who boasted the conference's cutest baby bump.
2. Finally meeting Rookie Mom Whitney in person, after feeling like I've known her since I was pregnant with A. Lunch at Fox & Obel was 100 times more delicious than the Ragu glop I'd eaten the day before.
That's us
3. The Community Keynote. If there was ever any doubt that bloggers are writers, this forum should have put that misconception to rest forever.
4. Hanging out with fellow Chicago Moms Blog writers at the SV Moms party on Thursday.
5. Friday night parties with Jeanne. I let her beat me at a racing game at the EA party at the House of Blues, but I beat her at both drinks consumed and number of items dipped into the chocolate fountain at the Mommy Needs a Cocktail party.
6. Introducing Jeanne to Whitney and the other Rookie Mom, Heather, only to find out that she grew up practically next door to Whitney and went to college with Heather. Small world!
7. Meeting another Alma. I'm 33, and this is the first time I've ever talked to someone who shares my first name.
That's me on the left, Alma on the right
8. Sharing my cache of D-List Mom Blogger stickers with the handful of attendees who were there for themselves and weren't tweeting about their Yummie Tummie tank tops and Lord knows what else.
9. Seeing Liz, Kirsten and Magda in person. These bloggers have integrity. Magda (aka Ask Moxie) performs a public service to parents everywhere and Liz and Kristen know how to work with sponsors and do it in a way that doesn't sacrifice their integrity or voice.
10. Going home every night to Oak Park. From a Thursday late night birthday party for my next door neighbor to Saturday's block party (complete with wading pools, tropical cocktails and a live band), it was refreshing to escape for a check of reality. Heather Spohr closed out the Community Keynote by saying her IRL friends and her bloggy friends are one and the same. I'm not quite there yet.