An Open Letter about Maria Bailey and BlogHer

BlogHer '13First off, here's a bit of background on the pre-BlogHer controversy: just days before last week's conference, BlogHer decided to revoke the passes of some people who were organizing branded events for companies that were not official BlogHer sponsors. Elisa Camahort, one of the BlogHer founders, explains the decision here. Cecily provides a summary and background in her Babble column.

Maria Bailey, a woman  known for connecting bloggers and brands (hello, Disney Cruise!), also has a reputation for pushing boundaries to suit her needs. Does this make her unethical? Or a strategic thinker, exploiting situations to build her business? Feel free to make your own decision and make it carefully because she sets bloggers up with some pretty sweet deals.

Personally, I'm (mostly) beyond swag and I've swapped promoting stuff for promoting ideas and knowledge. In fact, the swag sitting around my office right now consists of a kick-ass soldering kit from Make, a bunch of decorating goodies from Wilton (an official BlogHer sponsor) and a bunch of science-themed picture books.

I went to BlogHer 2013, my fifth such conference, largely because it was local and I'd get to visit with friends I only see once every year or two. On a business level, the brands there weren't a fit for me, though some were personally. I picked up a few goodies at the expo and I may have snagged an extra Kozy Shack coupon (yum!), but my approach to the expo was fairly subdued.

However it pains me to say it, the fact is that for some attendees BlogHer is all about the swag.

I've been there. Indeed, I still remember the thrill of being offered my first book for review. A book. For free! (Honestly, I still have a hard time turning down book offers even though my time is more valuable now than it was then and it takes time to write reviews, even a quick ones for picture books.) A book turned into a loaner car, turned into exotic brand trips and more.

I remember the delight of walking into a swag suite at my first or second BlogHer, amazed at all the great stuff that was there for the taking (and ahem, ideally, blog reviewing). Maybe it takes time and maturity for some bloggers (including me) to realize that BlogHer is not about the stuff.

It also takes education for attendees to realize these "bonus" swag suites are not related to the official conference and, indeed, undermine it in many ways.

It's been years since I worked with a brand that sponsored BlogHer and even back then it came at a premium price. Those with little regard for the BlogHer conference or who think they can cleverly bend the rules can easily save their clients a little cash thousands of dollars by hosting an indie event rather than sponsoring the actual conference. BlogHer needs to look at their current model and figure out how to close this gap.

Far as I can tell, at least some of these outboarded parties are less about exclusivity, great food or an appealing venue than they are about receiving loads. of. swag.

Maria Bailey, whose pass was revoked for hosting outboard events, has graciously offered to brainstorm solutions. She writes:
 I feel so strongly about preserving and growing our community that I’m willing to fly to New York at my own expense and sit down with the BlogHer team to brainstorm.
That's a start, however, this offer comes at the end of a longish post that reads as a big F*ck You to BlogHer. She writes for several paragraphs about what an unexpected and truly wonderful blessing it was to have her BlogHer pass revoked- how it opened up doors, led to invitations, conversations and new relationships.

She ends her post talking about the importance of buildinga  community that connects and empowers women financially after making a case for how great it is to enjoy the spoils of the BlogHer conference without actually needing to buy a pass. I find that attitude from a leader in the social media mom community a bit...disappointing.

Also, I can't help but wonder if she'd feel the same way about her own conference, which is admittedly much smaller than BlogHer.

I have  much admiration for Lisa, Jory and Elisa. I appreciate what they built from the ground up and I sympathize with the struggles to grow and evolve the community while staying relevant to old and new members alike. It's a difficult balancing act. The community is now so large, it might be an impossible one. But Maria is clearly clever and has a lot of insights. I hope they take Maria up on her offer or send reps from their team to do so.

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