This post might offend people, but in light of BlogHer starting this evening, it seemed like as good a time as any to share my thoughts on the subject:
I am not a fan of the sponsorship of individual bloggers at conferences.
As a blogger, you have the ability to be a lot of things. You are a writer, for sure. But you can also be a media entity, a spokesperson, or a consultant. What you should never be, though, is a walking billboard.
When I worked at a large PR firm, my clients would frequently forward me emails from bloggers who wanted to be sponsored. My advice was always to decline the opportunity. Individual sponsorship diminishes the integrity of both the blogger AND the brand. Let me try to explain why.
When a blogger emails, blogs or (even worse) tweets that she is looking for a sponsor, I think it smacks of desperation. Will she accept a sponsorship from just anyone? Is she truly looking to extend the reach and influence of the brand who pays her way? Or is she just angling for a free ride? (Hint: the perception is the latter.)
For the brands who do the sponsoring, I think the perception is just as harmful. When I see that a brand has declined to attend a conference on its own but has instead paid for a blogger to attend in its stead, I can’t help but think that the brand doesn’t really take this space seriously. If 300 to 3,000 influencers within your target demographic are all descending on one location for two days, don’t you think the better option is to be there yourself? The decision to delegate all of those important relationships to someone who doesn’t even work for your company is shortsighted and possibly even insulting to those you are trying to reach.
Let me clarify that there are absolutely ways in which brands can incorporate bloggers into their conference attendance strategy. My foremost recommendation (and hat tip to Carol Schiller of Cozi for helping me put this into words) is to HIRE a blogger instead of SPONSORING a blogger. Looking back (once again) to my experience at Edelman, there were absolutely times that we paid the way for bloggers attending conferences. However, these instances were never one-offs. They were part of a broader, long-term relationship. If a blogger is your brand ambassador for the year, her attendance at key conferences should absolutely be compensated. The key difference here though, is that she is in in a long-term relationship with the brand. She has been trained on key messages. She is working with the brand, side-by-side, to share its initiatives. She is literally an ambassador to the blogging world and is bridging the gap between brand and blogger. Another option (and this is better suited to smaller brands) is to hire a blogger as a social media consultant with conference attendance as part of the overall package. This allows brands that are new to the blogging space to jump in with a wingman. It makes an overwhelming space a lot less scary.
I’m really curious to know what the readers of MomCrunch (and my fellow writers) think about this subject. What are your thoughts?