Sponsorships at BlogHer

There’s been a lot of talk about this on Marketing Bloggers’ websites and on BlogHer itself, so I won’t belabor the point, but there is one thing that I have to get off my chest.

The thing that bothered me most about some of the sponsorships this year at BlogHer was how their sponsorships sort of took over the bloggers’ personalities. I talked to two sponsor-t-shirt-wearing bloggers in the elevator once and never got to find out who THEY were, just who their sponsor was and why I should care. (They didn’t ask me about my blog either.) That’s not why I came to BlogHer.  I came to BlogHer to find out about YOU.  To meet YOU.  To hug YOU.  When I left, I was overwhelmed by the prevalence of product and the controversies swirling around, verbally, and on twitter.

Last year, I was underwhelmed by the huge number of bloggers dying to get into the review product game, working like crazy for coupons.  I was disappointed, because I felt that the bloggers were selling themselves short — you are worth more than coupons, I wanted to tell them — but this year coupons have turned to sponsorships, and the money is out there.  There is money out there.

The question is, what is money buying?

If you spend much of the conference pushing product, are YOU getting what you came for?  Did you get to go to the sessions, hear from amazing women, have quiet conversations with those who you had celebrated, laughed, cried, and hoped with over the year(s) you’ve been reading their blog(s)?  I hope you did.  If sponsors made it possible for you to come when otherwise you couldn’t, I hope that their expectations — and your feelings of duty — didn’t keep you from getting what you came for.  I think there’s a balance to be had here, and I hope that all the talk this week is helping us as a community find that balance.  I hope that we remember why we’re in this — for whatever reasons each of us are in this — and that we can stay true to our purpose, even as we (many of us) seek to be compensated for our work.

Let’s not let sponsors take over the conversation.

22 Responses to Sponsorships at BlogHer

  1. I didn’t have the opportunity to go this year or in the past, but reading on so many blogs the negatives of Blogher, it makes me wonder.

    I do think those sponsorships allow bloggers to go who otherwise might not have been able to afford it.

    I hope to go one day when kid’s swimming, husband’s MBA, financial considerations, you know, basically life, doesn’t get in the way. Honestly, if I ever had the fortune to be sponsored, it would very tempting to sell my soul.🙂 Hopefully, there is a balance to be achieved.

    Sorry to hear it wasn’t a great as experience as you had hoped. It seems you are not alone in your sentiments. {{Hugs}}

    ~Scout

    • whymommy says:

      Scout, I agree that the sponsorships enable some bloggers to go who wouldn’t be otherwise able to afford it. And for that, I think it’s a WONDERFUL development.

      I do think that women should be paid for their work, and that these new opportunities allow increased ways for that to happen.

      I just don’t want women to undervalue themselves, or to feel like a “kept woman” again — only this time to a corporate sponsor.

      It’s an exciting time, to be sure.

  2. Alice C says:

    I am glad that you have raised this subject because I think that it is a warning bell for the bloggers of the UK. There are a few companies here that have started to target blogs and offer trial goodies in return for reviews. They are just the sort of companies that you would be delighted to get free samples from – organic vegetables, up market chocolate, premium cereal goods – but it still makes me sad to see a conversation between friends being invaded by product placement. Adverts and sponsorship are not far down that line.

    • whymommy says:

      Alice, there are a bunch of blogs who have tried a number of different ways of handling this … a number separate discussions of product into separate blogs (like my Review Planet, where I talk about books and educational products), so their main blog is kept “clean.” That seems to work well. Other than that, I think many issues are very much open and under discussion.

  3. Florinda says:

    I guess people do what they feel they have to do to meet their goals – and for some, if they wanted to go to BlogHer and money was an issue, that was trying to find a sponsor to underwrite the trip. It’s not something I can see myself doing, but then, I was effectively (and luckily!) sponsored by my mother-in-law (she gave me the conference money as my Christmas gift). However, before that happened, my plan was to set aside some money over the months and save up for it.

    I’m not sure I’d want to go to BlogHer with any agenda other than my own, though, and it seems to me that sponsorship clouds that. Good food for thought here.

    • whymommy says:

      I think it could cloud that. Like anything, it’s just an extra consideration when planning participation in an event. It can be done rightly, or not so rightly, or rightly for one person. I guess what I’m saying is … I don’t know! It’s a new area of thought for me, and I really appreciate everyone’s comments!

  4. Mom101 says:

    Aw man. This was my biggest fear – that if someone is going on behalf of a sponsor, then who is there on behalf of her blog? I’m sorry to hear that’s exactly what happened.

    I wish there were a better way to get women to the event, to experience it in the way that might benefit them the best. I wonder if some women really couldn’t go if it weren’t for their sponsor or if the “getting a sponsor” stuff has all just become a game.

    • whymommy says:

      I hadn’t thought about it that way, Liz — I assumed that either a) people were seeking sponsorships because there was no money in their personal budget to go or b) people were seeking sponsorships because there was no money in their business (or hobby business) budget, and they treat their blog like a business.

      Do you think it’s a game? What have you heard?

      • Mom101 says:

        I think that marketing has impacted blogging to the degree that some people base their self-worth on marketer attention. So you are “worthy” of having a sponsor or not.

        I did see a lot of people saying “wah, I’m not big enough/cool enough/interesting enough” to have a sponsor and I thought gee, that’s not really the point.

  5. Sara says:

    I largely agree that the sponsorship issue is one that is “controversial” and I won’t re-iterate the debates espoused here. They are well put.

    But, I will point out that the act of seeking and pursuing sponsorship is arguably not that different from the reasons why some blog in the first place. This relates to validation, acceptance and approval seeking. Much like a vast number of bloggers blog with a mission or message in mind, it would be presumptuous not to acknowledge that some pursue it in order to either capitalize and gain financially, or to validate themselves through a medium that reaches a wide audience and in which like minded individuals can seek you out. Sponsorship is , for some, the icing on the cake. It is further validation that one is indeed worthy and, well, worth something.

    You point out that there are essentially a myriad of reasons as to why “we” pursue blogging, and that we should stay true to our purpose. “Our purpose” often becomes shrouded in rainbow and puppy dialogue, and consequently we cloud the realities and experiences of women bloggers whose reasons for blogging may be recognition or financial gain in and of itself (i.e. not seeking compensation as a perk of blogging about their mission). This is an important part of the network of women bloggers and one that should not ignored.

    I’d argue it’s a complex interplay between self-image and sponsorship-a relationship that is definitely not as uni-directional as we might presume.

    • whymommy says:

      Excellent points, Sara. I’d love to see more discussion of these points as the community continues to talk about the options.

  6. I was sponsored but didn’t talk about it to anyone unless it came up in natural conversation. And I don’t think it took over my BlogHer experience.

  7. kelly says:

    Oh, I agree. It should be about the words and the flesh and the heart of all of us.

    • whymommy says:

      Well said, Kelly. I was so blown away by your talk at the conference, by the way, that I’m still kind of speechless. I cannot believe I didn’t know about your blog.

      It is — you are — beautiful.

      (And there will be a post.)

  8. I say let the sponsor whores peddle their wares, it’s just that much more of you for us. If that makes any sense.

    I wouldn’t mind being sponsored, but I’d be Nanny Goats in Panties first…actually second…I’d be me first.

    • whymommy says:

      Oh, good. Because being a nanny goat in panties sounds like it might make for awkward conversation.

      (Kidding. I met Margaret at the airport and really enjoyed our LONG cab ride in together! And yes, we did tweet. But we also talked, and the tweeting helped break the ice. Funny, that.)

  9. magpie says:

    I suppose you could say I was “sponsored” – but only because I won a random contest. So, really, I was there as me. And, I may have been in some cloud or another, but I didn’t meet any of those sponsored bloggers who were getting in people’s faces.

  10. I went as an official BlogHer volunteer and about 30 minutes into the first session I was liveblogging I realized that I had undersold myself. I gave up my freedom and ability to do everything I wanted to do at the conference for the cost of the ticket. Not worth it.
    If I go next year it’ll be on my own dime and my own steam. So I can spend time with the people I want to see and listen to what I want to hear!

  11. jodifur says:

    This thing that annoyed me was when people introduced themselves and then only talked about their sponsor. I don’t need to know about company X, I want to know about you. I don’t care if people are sponsored, but can we talk about something else please?

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