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Offsite Parties: Controversy over Outboarding at BlogHer ’13

blogher13-logoLast year prior to BlogHer ’12, I wrote an article about the unethical practice of off-site parties piggybacking on the attendence and success of the annual BlogHer conference. My column elicited some passionate discussion, and this year BlogHer has decided to also address the problem, which has exploded this year with dozens (if not even hundreds) of off-site parties. It’s an issue that’s often confusing to BlogHer attendees, who often think these offsite parties are, in fact, sanctioned by the conference and part of the BlogHer experience.

In a post on the BlogHer site, co-founder Elisa Camahort writes:

However, this year, we’ve seen a skyrocketing number of unofficial and unsanctioned events that are — there’s no other way to put this — hijacking the reputation of BlogHer events and drawing community attention away from BlogHer’s Official Sponsors who are our community’s paying hosts. We know that many members of our community are not aware that these events are unofficial and no dollars go to support the community as a whole. These events have a name. They are well-known to most large events. They are called “outboard” events, and they are considered an unethical business practice in the industry.

This year BlogHer has taken a hard line on this practice, and anyone involved with throwing one of these parties is risking having their conference pass revoked.

And here’s the part where I offer full disclosure: I have not always been aware of this issue, and in fact in 2010 was a blogger host for an offsite event for a major brand, and attended many offsite parties. At the time I was thrilled to be included (and the paycheck didn’t hurt either), and had no idea this was unethical. (In secondary full disclosure: I disrespected one of my favorite conferences in May by engaging in the also unethical practice of suitcasing, and I’ve regretted it deeply ever since. Take it from me: it’s not worth the conference sponsorship.)

So why doesn’t BlogHer support these parties? There are a multitude of reasons that you can read about in Elisa’s post, but one of the reasons most people don’t consider is this: BlogHer is all-inclusive. Everyone is invited to every single event onsite there is zero exclusivity (this was not always true, but has been the standard for many years now). The offsite events all have one thing in common: they are all invite only, leaving many BlogHer attendees feeling left out when they don’t receive the coveted invites.

But the big reason, of course, is that without the official BlogHer sponsors, our experience of BlogHer would be completely different. There would be no meals served (other social media conferences I’ve attended do not feed attendees), for instance. BlogHer’s ticket price has been nearly the same amount each year since I’ve attended in 2008. This is remarkable.

So what do you think about outboarding at BlogHer? BlogHer has asked for your comments and thoughts on Elisa’s article. But I think Elisa really says it best at the end of her piece.

So we have a good problem: Working together, this community has developed a world-class event that has been called the “Super Bowl of blogging” in the Wall Street Journal. We’ve come such a long way from trying to answer to the question “Where are the women who blog?” as we first tried to do in 2005! We appreciate your support for our official sponsors, which allows us to continue to be excellent business partners to the brands who are helping us create a global stage that is inclusive for every blogger who attends — from the first keynote to the last party.

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