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Sponsored or Promoting a Biz at a Blogging Conference? Don't Do "Suitcasing"

This is part two of a series on conference ethics. Part one is here.

So, you got yourself a sponsor to attend your favorite blogging conference or maybe you’re a staff member of a company that wants to work with bloggers. So, you buy your conference pass and get ready to go. But how do you stay ethical while representing a company at a blogging conference?

Even more important, how do you avoid violating conference rules and getting kicked out of the conference altogether? Because YES, that could happen.

The trick is to avoid suitcasing, so named for “selling out of your suitcase.” Here’s a definition from a tradeshow, but it applies to blogging conferences to some extent:

Suitcasing refers to those non-exhibiting companies or persons who go to shows as an attendee but “work the aisles” from their suitcase (briefcase) and solicit business in the aisles or lobby area.

This does NOT mean that you shouldn’t represent your sponsor as a blogger. Blogging conferences in particular leave generous wiggle room to allow bloggers the ability to use sponsorship as a tool to getting to the conference. That being said, they all have strict policies. You’ll find BlogHer’s sponsored blogger policy here (the Mom 2.0 Summit’s policy is here, here is the Type-A Conference policy, here is the Blogalicious policy, and here is the Evo Conference policy) and most are pretty similar. The upshot is this:

• You can wear branded clothes

• You can put your sponsors info on your business cards or other self-promotional materials

• You CANNOT distribute material or swag for your sponsor

• You CANNOT host unofficial events at the hotel

• Many conferences are now instituting a policy that you cannot host an offsite party for a sponsor without paying the business ticket rate the business rate typically being the non-subsidized ticket price (because official conference sponsors offset the cost of registration for attendees)

I think it’s important to bear in mind what Kelby of the Type-A Conference said about outboarding.

Depending on a conference’s policies on suitcasing and outboarding, a blogger who helps organize an unofficial event can have their pass yanked, could be banned from the conference in the future, or get charged higher business rates for your pass.

Stacey Ferguson of Blogalicious states it well.

I am in support of bloggers obtaining personal sponsorships to attend conferences; after all, these events can get extremely pricey between registration and travel.  Our only ask at Blogalicious is that those who are attending with a personal sponsorship respect our official conference sponsors…we’ve outlined a policy to explain exactly what that means.

So how do you avoid violating these policies? Here are my personal tips as a blogger that has been sponsored (or represented a company) to almost every conference I’ve attended these last three years (admittedly, these particular set of rules have been set during the past three years so there were some conferences where I engaged in exactly the behavior these rules are designed to prevent):

• Collect business cards on behalf of your sponsor / client to send them info and swag after the conference.

• Talk about your sponsor / client one-on-one with bloggers

• Mention your sponsor on your personal blog, and/or include ads on your blog

• Mention your sponsor on your other social platforms (be careful hijacking the conference hashtag)

Admittedly, since the crazy debacle at BlogHer in 2009 with sponsored bloggers (I personally actually had a blogger follow me into a bathroom stall trying to hand me her sponsor’s information and swag), bloggers have generally respected the guidelines.

Companies, however, have NOT. I know several companies that have attended conferences as individuals (as if they are bloggers, not company shills) while really representing their company, and behaving as if they are official sponsors when they are not. I do believe that these folks need to be careful, because the conference sponsors are officially on alert.

If you are confused about these policies, leave a message in the comments and I will go back to the conference organizers and do a follow up post. I’d love to hear your personal experiences being sponsored to attend a conference; do you have advice for newbies? Leave it in the comments!

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