(Melissa from ShoeString Mag and I at my BlogHer 09 book signing.)
A colleague of mine, Thursday Bram, recently brought up the touchy subject of conference sponsorships. In the Mommy blogger world, these are fairly common (I have actually attended two conferences completely free, compliments of being a Walmart Mom.) But is it all the sunshine and roses that comped bloggers make it out to be? And could it actually hurt you to ask and be given reimbursement for these events?
It happens every year (and several times a year.) In the months leading up to a major conference -- think BlogHer or BlogWorld Expo -- bloggers and writers start buzzing about how they're pumped to go to the next big conference. How they will pay for it. Or not.
Within the 2 weeks before the event, they start to get frantic. Tweets go out asking for sponsorships. Posts go up on blogs announcing that "You, too, can sponsor ME to attend this conference." Advice is given via blog posts on how to pose the delicate question of "will you pay for my trip?" to big corporations (who seemingly have tons of money to spend on that sort of thing.) But is it all a good idea?
Thursday weighed the sides carefully, becoming even more insightful with her replies to various commenters. My favorite response? She says this: "personally, I’m reluctant to network for my own purposes if I’m at a conference for a sponsor. I feel like, if they paid for me to attend, I have an obligation to focus my energy on what they need — it’s more of an ethical concern than anything else. But that also defeats my purposes for going to conferences in the first place!"
Well said. I can see that the pros of getting your trip paid for by a sponsor can be quickly negated by the obligation you have to tend to their every whim (if they have them.) I remember a conference where a sweet gal was being sponsored by a children's safety tattoo. She was approaching everyone in a crowded bar (it was a semi-private event) and asking them to sign up to win an iPod or similar prize. At first glance, it seemed that she only had to wear the sponsor's T-shirt and get a few entries to the giveaway. This turned nightmarish, however, when she required entrants to put down personal info, wear one of the tattoos, and stick around for the prize drawing. I felt really bad for her. No sponsor I've ever worked with required anything like that of me.
And so we hear stories of ladies being forced to hand out tongue-staining mints, harvest email addresses for mailing lists, or some other PR stunt. It's not quite the humiliation of wearing a sandwich board out in front of a cell phone store, but it's close. How can anyone develop their brand and their business, when they are working so hard to do it for someone else?
Here is a quick and dirty run-down of both sides of the sponsorship argument. See if you agree:
- No money out of pocket means more money to spend on your business in other ways. If Big Diaper Brand wants to do that, great! (Mama needs a new laptop!)
- Sponsored guests often have access to "exclusive" events. While ideally it would be nice to be able to go without any requirement (Tide provided rides from the airport for several bloggers at a past conference and required NOTHING in return, for example), this is not very common. If you can meet a celebrity or eat lunch at the top of a tall building, I guess it helps to feel less like a bought and paid for spokesperson. I think.
- When someone else pays your way, it's easy to get lazy. You don't work the circuit as hard. You don't push your brand as well.
- If you're comped 100%, it's hard to say "no." And how ridiculous is it to try to go to every single conference out there? If you have a family and thriving business, taking 3-5 days out of your schedule to fly to conferences can kill ya.
- Some companies are NOT good people to work for. Unless you're ready to hand over a check to bail out of a commitment, be ready to go places with people that you wouldn't otherwise associate with. Some people just do icky business.
Speaking of conferences... I'm speaking at the iBlog Conference on Nov. 5-7 at Perry, IA. You can purchase tickets through this link. (Use code "save50" to get $50 off Thursday and "save25" to get $25 off Friday and Saturday!)