There was this perhaps unintentional (maybe?) conference at BlogHer this year. It didn’t have a name or a set location, but believe me, it existed.

I call it SwagHer.

My biggest suggestion for improving BlogHer is to remove it of swag. Some of the best conferences I attend (and I attend a lot each year) actually have better vendor conversations because the Swag has been removed. In fact, one of the best conferences I attend has eliminated the Expo floor all together and there are just tiny tiny booths (more like poster areas) for each vendor around the edges of the keynote hall.

You see, there was weird swag craziness this year. Each conference bag includes swag, which is fine. The expo hall was enlightening for me. Even at JavaOne, which provides a heck of a lot of swag, I have never experienced anything like this expo hall.

First off, the expo hall had vendors that were geared towards Mommy Bloggers and I have to tell you, we were not all Mommy Bloggers. The types of swag in the expo hall included Bounce dryer bars, All Laundry detergent, baby food, and so on. You get the picture. It was only really irritating when this would happen:

Vacuuming vendor: So how old are your kids?

Me: I don’t have kids.

Vacuuming vendor: Um, uh, I don’t know if we can help you.

Me: I have floors to vacuum too, you know.

Right. So that was fun. It’s not like it only happened once.

Beyond that, there were the parties. I witnessed women fighting over bags of sponges. Sponges people!  Is it worth it? And those were just the public parties. Many of the alumna bloggers were invited to special, invite-only parties and collected amazing swag. It got to be so that in many ways, Swag became the focus of the conference.

There was one party I can think of that was open to the public where they hyped the Swag Bags all day on Twitter. So much so that we changed our plans to go, convinced that with all that hype (and only the first 100 people receiving the bags), that they had to contain Netbooks or Printers or something equally amazing (based on the sponsor). They got people to the party with the enticement of the Swag Bags. Turns out, the bags contained coupons and some people (not all) also had scarves. Yep, that’s it – over-hyped and driven by swag.

Now I say all this as the recipient of some awesome swag. In one bag, I got an adorable little Kodak video camera (that’s the same bag from which I acquired a pair of Crocs flip-flops, no threats needed). But I also returned/recycled/trashed a lot of what I received.  You would see people wandering around the conference with 3 or 4 bags just filled to the brim with swag. This dovetails nicely, by the way, with yesterday’s post on Blogging with Integrity. So many people wanted to know how to get the free stuff, either in swag or by blogging, or both.

This behavior was encouraged by the marketers, but really, could you blame them? They had a willing audience. Not only that, many bloggers were apparently sponsored to go to BlogHer by different brands. In return, they were supposed to promote said brands, which several did in a classy way. But many of these sponsored bloggers were akin to used car salesmen, shoving their swag into your hands and forcing you to listen. It wasn’t uncommon to be accosted in the lobby of the hotel, given free stuff and then being forced to listen to an entire spiel. There’s got to be a better way.

Swag, and free stuff, is not what BlogHer should have been about, but that’s where some of the focus seemed to go. It was my first BlogHer and I was a bit taken aback by all of this. However, I suspect we’ve reached the tipping point, and with a fair amount of backlash I’ve read, it may be downplayed next year, or more controlled by the conference organizers. But some of it was out of their control and very much in the hands of the bloggers and marketers.

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Cheers!
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