Thursday, August 30, 2007

Comment turned post: Conference speaker expenses

Tara Hunt from horse Pig Cow has this nasty habit of writing posts that compel me to write novels in response. So I think Tara is also familiar with my personal rule: If I'm writing a comment, and it begins to exceed three paragraphs, then it's asking to be a post instead.

So it goes today, upon reading her post Conferences and Community

In it she has some really nice things to say about BlogHer and our community. She also has a lot to say about speaking at conferences, and the compensation or lack thereof that conferences offer to speakers. She also has at least one question I can answer re: BlogHer speakers.

She says this as both a frequent speaker and as someone who has organized very low cost events, like BarCamp...and WineCamp :)

I too speak frequently and put on events where we invite speakers. So, when I went to leave a comment, I had way too much to say for a comment. So, here's the post that was crying out to be published:
This is a topic of great interest to me both as an organizer and a speaker. Since 2005 BlogHer has considered the use of sponsor funds to be primarily about two things: keeping our annual event's registration at about $100/day, and being able to provide travel assistance (and then we added daycare) to speakers who needed it. No speaker has ever gotten an honoraria at a BlogHer event, to answer your specific question above. And we now give full conference passes to every speaker, whether it's a Room of Your Own session created and nominated from the community itself, or whether it's a session we put together and found and invited people for.

The point of both of the above goals is to ensure that neither our speaking roster nor our attendee roster is filled only with those who can afford to come because they can afford, deduct or expense the trip.

But it is very difficult sometimes to asses need. We had 136 speakers this year...there's no way we could provide travel to all of them.

Some cases are obvious: a person who comes representing a funded organization (whether a sponsor or not) is going to be there for one hour speaking and for 48 hours networking on their own and their company's behalf. When i worked in the corporate world and spoke I expensed the trip to the company, not the event.

Some cases are not so obvious, and I have to say that sometimes we assess need by who asks. Always, always ask. You can later decide an event is worth doing without travel reimbrusement. I still do all the time. I'm speaking next month for nothing but a conference pass. (I probably shouldn't admit that, huh?)

Even in the cases where we do provide assistance, we don't provide open-ended reimbursement, but rather propose set stipends. We just aren't at a point where we can either take on travel planning to ensure the best rates etc. are gotten, nor to take whatever expenses come our way and reimburse them all without a second thought.

After BlogHer '06 I wrote a long and rather impassioned blog post about perception vs. reality and conferences. I don't think a lot of people realize how expensive conferences are. [This year, for example, we spent $28K on ubiquitous WIFI through the HUGE Navy Pier. The internet was perfect for the first time at a BlogHer event, and it was SO WORTH IT. I would spend it again. But man, that's a painful check to write.]

But I also don't think a lot of conference organizers think about what message they're sending by having a speaking roster that is not diverse: not just diverse in the ways people typically consider: race and gender, but also class or at least economic stature.

We try to address that, and it isn't easy, and you probably can't please everyone, but I wish people on both sides of the ongoing conference debates about these diversity topics would see the other side a little bit more.

Thanks for being one of those people who keeps bringing up these issues. I think they are important, even if they're sometimes uncomfortable.

Can you imagine how such a long comment would look? Hence my personal rule (for myself, please...I don't apply it to anyone else!!)

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

BlogHer spurs mega-marketing discussions

Wow, the State of the Momosphere panel at BlogHer has generated a lot of great post-panel discussion, really on two topics:

-How much marketers in general suck at blogger outreach

-How they, particularly, marginalize women and mothers of color even more than they patronize women and mothers in general

Lots of pent-up frustration, but lots of healthy constructive criticism if you can listen and absorb.

Some links to start you off:

Kelli at MochaMomma
Liz at Mom101
Stefania at CityMama
David at It's not a lecture

In my days as a blogging consultant I saw first-hand that companies thought they should "get into" the blogogsphere or, perhaps more accurately, into blogs, but they had no notion of how to do it in a productive manner. They grabbed onto something like the Technorati 100 and measured their success by whether they got mentioned on blogs listed there...whether or not those blogs were at all relevant to their product or service. They had no idea what it meant to outreach constructively, and many didn't have the patience to learn.

Oh, and as a blogger I certainly have experienced my share of truly poor pitches.

Worse yet, I have tried to respond to said poor pitches with my constructive advice about how they could do better...and have more often than not been responded to with scorn and defensiveness.

And I'm a pretty nice person too, I really did try to help, not heap my own scorn.

Perhaps (some) companies aren't quite as clueless now, but read those posts above and you'll likely come away thinking that most still are!

It all comes down to respect.

Companies obviously realize that bloggers represent a powerful, influential market.

So why do they simultaneously treat them as though they should be grateful for crumbs?

Companies and agencies can be schizophrenic when it comes to their treatment of bloggers, and bloggers are simply getting wise and getting fed up. Even those bloggers you don't consider to be on some lettered list.

I actually believe, as both someone who holds no inherent disdain for marketers (being one and all) and as a blogger that it can be done right, can be done well.

I've even blogged it once or twice, like here.

How about you? Can it be done right? Has it been done right? Examples please?

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This month's Silicon Veggie

My column this month is a restaurant sweep of my favorite local "neighborhood", the Santana Row outdoor shopping mall. Which restaurants know how to adapt their menu to take care of the occasional vegan like me? You can find out here.


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