The big, big BlogHer 2013 post

So, I’m back from another BlogHer conference. Just as with my previous BlogHer experience, I’ll share some of my random thoughts and impressions on the conference, along with photos.

The first BlogHer conference took place in 2005, and since then it’s become the largest conference specifically devoted to women in blogging. It spans three days and is known for its educational sessions, its swag-laden expo floor, and its brand-sponsored parties.

This year’s BlogHer took place in Chicago, both at McCormick Place and the Chicago Sheraton. Charter buses drove attendees back and forth between the two venues along the little-known traffic-free bus route that the Sun-Times wrote about last week. (It revealed that the Mayor calls the busway the “BatCave” and uses it as his own superhighway when driving downtown! But I digress.)

Having BlogHer take place in Chicago meant that I could come home at the edge of each jam-packed day to kiss my kids goodnight and sleep in my own bed. It meant I could save money by not having a hotel and commuting each day. I gave myself a $30/day budget and took the Metra each day ($6.75 each way during the week, and $7 total for a weekend pass.) From Union Station, I took a cab to the Sheraton, then jumped on the free BlogHer shuttle buses to go to McCormick – a few blocks in the wrong direction, but a few dollars cheaper than taking a cab from Union to McCormick. Plus, the fast bus route made it probably about the same time-wise!

The expo hall is the one of the largest draws of BlogHer, and you do take home a crazy amount of swag. In case you missed this photo on the blog yesterday, I’ll show you again:

Yep. While all of this is “free,” it is not technically “free” in that you do pay to attend BlogHer — a full conference pass is $407 and the expo hall is $78. But, I’m pretty sure I came home with a good portion of my badge fee in gear. I took a large shoulder bag to put everything in.

Now, allow me to share some photos of some memorable booths and displays…

Keurig had a booth promoting their “Brew Over Ice” K-Cups. You could take as many K-Cups as you’d like, but they were all for iced drinks like Snapple Peach Tea, Celestial Seasonings Southern Sweet Tea, Vitamin Burst Acai Berry Fruit Brew, and Green Mountain Lemonade. You also got a Keurig iced coffee tumbler that is just the right size to fit in your Keurig. Fill it with ice, and the Keurig fills it with your choice of brew without overflowing.

You could also use the Keurigs in the booth to make the beverage of your choice. I made a Green Mountain Lemonade, which, while good, is just lemonade. Would you pay to brew hot lemonade into ice to drink it cold? It tasted very similar to Country Time, which isn’t terribly difficult to make.

One thing you could not get in the Keurig booth was coffee. For that, you had to turn to the Folgers booth:

This was a popular booth with bloggers, who seemed to be drinking coffee here at all hours. Folgers also shared part of their booth with Pillsbury:

As I am not a coffee drinker, I gravitated toward this side of the booth, where they were making donut holes out of Pillsbury baking mixes. Yum. You can definitely eat your way around BlogHer each day and night. (They do serve you food too as part of your badge admission, but it does feel like you eat pretty much all day long, even when it’s not mealtime.)

Chuck E. Cheese had a booth promoting its children’s birthday party packages, and they had their famous Ticket Blaster in the booth. Come on, you know you’ve seen kids in that Blaster and thought “I bet I could do a better job picking up tickets if only they’d let adults in there.” Well, this is BlogHer, and many women lined up for their chance, including me.

Let me tell you, the Ticket Blaster is harder than it looks, and choosing to wear a longish dress to BlogHer on this day was a bad idea. I was shaking tickets out of it for close to a minute after I got out! But I grabbed a red ticket, which meant I won a prize. The prize was a stuffed Chuck E. Cheese doll, a bag with 20 tokens, and a plastic crazy straw cup. All of these things went into my bag to share with my kids.

Lean Cuisine debuted its new “Honestly Good” line of frozen dinners. I had a Lemongrass Salmon fillet with brown rice and vegetables, and it was surprisingly good! It definitely did not taste like your usual frozen meal. That’s because you cook and assemble it before you eat:

Lean Cuisine touted that these meals are 100% natural with no artificial ingredients. Their retail price is $4.79 (when not on sale) and they gave out some $1.50 coupons for these.

KISS nails booth was giving out nail polish, press-on nails, false eyelashes, silicone heat mats (to protect your countertop from flatirons and curling irons) and yes, hair dryers. The new KISS Tornado is supposed to be a revolutionary new hair dryer design that rotates the hot air into a cyclonic shape to prevent burning or overdrying your hair, versus holding a straight blast of hot air on the same hair. Think round brush brushing without having to keep moving the dryer around. I have to admit, I liked it simply because I’ll have a KISS hair dryer in my bathroom now to go with my KISS shower curtain.

The KISS booth was also doing free makeup, hair styling, and manicures. They’d also apply false eyelashes for you right in the booth if you wanted to glam up for the BlogHer floor. There were a lot of women walking around with lovely long lashes, and when I saw this booth, I realized where they’d gotten them.

Wild Ophelia is a new brand of American-made gourmet chocolates. And, as you can see, they’ve got some wild flavors! I sampled Beef Jerky Milk Chocolate and Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chip Dark Chocolate. Both were surprisingly weird and good at the same time, particularly the beef jerky. I felt bad for one of my blogger friends, who’s been a vegetarian for 22 years without a single slip-up. She took a sample of the beef chocolate without reading what it was.

Wild Ophelia also makes these commemorative Hunger Games chocolate bars, with a particular signature flavor for each District, including Fire Roasted Caramel, Hemp, and Smoked Chipotle Chili.

Now, here’s a booth that I was happy to see, as you know of my love for all things Coke:

Coke was the fitness sponsor for BlogHer, which a lot of bloggers on the floor were complaining about – I heard people saying Coke should not be at BlogHer because it makes you fat. Well, all things in moderation, people. At this Coke bar, you could order any of the beverages on the bar, and they were free.

And, if you really felt those Cokes were adding to your waistline, there was a yoga instructor in the booth to help you work off the calories. Coke was giving out towels with Coke bottles on them, jump ropes, headphones, soccer balls and Frisbees. (Now, envision my shoulder bag getting fuller with swag as the days went on…)

At Kozy Shack’s booth, you could grab a cup of rice pudding, tapioca pudding, or chocolate pudding. You could also take a photo for a chance to win some cookware. To enter that contest, you had to finish this sentence on the chalkboard: “I love pudding more than I love…”

Well, many of you know that I do not like Jell-O in the least, so this was easy! The Kozy Shack people cracked up at this answer, as they shared that they consider Jell-O their #1 competitor.

Coffee-Mate’s booth celebrated two new Girl Scout cookie flavored creamers – Samoa and Thin Mint. Brilliantly, there was a guy behind the bar making milkshakes out of the creamers – something I never thought to do! He had a regular blender, and he scooped vanilla ice cream inside and added milk. Then, he added a generous splash of flavored creamer and blended. Pretty tasty! You could also pick up flavored lip balms in the flavors of these new Coffee-Mate flavors, which in turn are flavored like Girl Scout Cookies. (Hope you followed that.)

Trojan was there with its “Wheel of Pleasure.” If you spun the wheel and answered a trivia question about bedroom activity, you won some Trojan lubricant or toys. Adult toys. My question was “How many nights a week does the average American have sex?” I guessed three, which incredibly, was the correct answer. As I collected my prize, I looked in my bag at the bizarre mix of products – everything from children’s toys to fake nails to lubricant? Imagine if someone snatched my bag on the street thinking it was filled with valuables… what a surprise they would get!

The canned food industry sponsored a booth called “Cans Get You Cooking.” In this booth, hosts toured you through the canning process. I learned that most canned fruit is canned the day it is picked for maximum freshness. Canned peaches are the most popular canned food sold in the country. And, at the end of the tour, you got to take home a can of… yourself.

This can is filled with 100% genuine coupon shopper! Just kidding. It actually contained free-product coupons though for KC Masterpiece beans, RedGold tomatoes and Chilli Man chili.

Sometimes you see strange things at the Expo. Here I saw Chuck E. Cheese leave his booth and go to the “Love With Food” booth to try to win something from their wheel of snacks!

I spun right after Chuck E. and won a bag of Hawaiian salted caramel corn.

At the Gorton’s booth, you were invited to dress up and take a photo with the Gorton’s Fisherman. I was actually not planning to take this photo, but I was walking the hall on this particular afternoon with Rachel from Mashup Mom and Chris from, and both of them goaded me into taking a photo with Gorton. I’m not sure why we’re both steering the ship, but here you go. Things get a little wacky after three days of BlogHer – it’s like BlogHers Gone Wild!

One of BlogHer’s speakers and guests was Ree Drummond who writes The Pioneer Woman. Her cookbooks are well known and have topped the New York Times best-seller lists. She was speaking at the Everyday Essentials booth (not to be confused with Jewel-Osco’s Essential Everyday, right?) There was quite a line to take photos with Ree, so Rachel kindly took this photo of Ree and I “together.”

FoodSaver had a booth demonstrating their vacuum sealers. They cut an avocado in half on Wednesday before BlogHer began, and they placed one half in a Ziploc bag and the other half in a vacuum-sealed FoodSaver bag. The two bags sat on the counter in their booth for the entire show. I took this photo on Saturday afternoon. What a difference!

At La-Z-Boy, they touted the ability to custom upholster furniture in your choice of fabrics. The booth was staffed by three handsome models who were wearing suits made from the same upholstery fabric as the furniture. I thought it would be even more visually striking if the models actually sat on the furniture that matched their clothing, and this man was kind enough to oblige my request.

After this photo, I pretended that I could not see him to thank him for the photo, because his camouflage allowed him to completely blend in with his surroundings. From his reaction, apparently I was not the only one who had made this lame joke during the conference.

Windex Touch Up had an entire, free-standing “house” at BlogHer. They were doing makeup “touch ups,” hair “touch ups” and styling in the booth. Needless to say, this booth was pretty popular too.

Universal Studios Florida had Optimus Prime in their booth, and he was, well, super tall. He spouted off wisdom like “It was pleasant to meet you, human.”

A few other booths worth mentioning… Shark vacuum cleaners had a cool booth with salsa dancers. I forgot to photograph it, but I don’t think photos would have done it justice anyway, because the salsa dancers weren’t dancing with each other. They were dancing with the vacuum cleaners. Fun to watch!

Walgreens had a large booth – their first time at BlogHer. In talking to the representatives at the booth, I learned that Walgreens is finally starting to try to work with bloggers. They were giving out a variety of Walgreens-brand products and tote bags filled with Wags gear:

I think our family is all set for cold season. And allergy season. And taking care of an infant should one drop by. And treating head lice. Thank you, Walgreens, but I sincerely hope we never need the head lice kit.

CVS/pharmacy’s Minute Clinic also had a booth with another nice swag bag. Lots of skincare goodies, with some haircare products, Essie nail polish, and a little first aid kit.

The BlogHer parties are another big draw of the conference. There are so many brand-sponsored parties at any given time that you will either need to carry notes on where you go when, or use the BlogHer app to manage them all. And, a lot of the parties happen at the same time in different locations, so you have to choose where you want to go and what to see. Conversations among my blogger friends went like this: “Are you going to CVS’ luncheon?” “No, we’re touring Groupon’s headquarters at the same time.” “Are you coming to Cottonelle’s party?” “No, I have Toy Book at the same time.” And so on.

I ended up going to two different parties that celebrated toilet paper. Really. (You may recall that at my last BlogHer, the only party I attended was for feminine hygiene products, so I don’t know what this says about me and the kinds of parties I’m being invited to.)

On Thursday night, I attended Cottonelle’s SocialLuxe party, which was fun. It certainly was decorated memorably:

A DJ spun a variety of music, including tush-themed tunes like “Baby Got Back.” This was a “pampering” party, which featured hairstylists, makeup artists and masseuses:

They also had a team of talented henna artists. I never had henna art before, and since I am not a massage girl at all, I opted for the henna:

Incredibly, the artist drew this in less than ten minutes, freehand. She was very fast and extremely fun to watch! After the henna dried and flaked off the next day, it looked like this:

On Friday night, I went to the White Cloud party. It, too, celebrated all things toilet paper with a “Cocktails in the Clouds” theme:

Here you see the party hostess dressed in a cocktail dress made from White Cloud.

You entered the party through a “cloud” made of White Cloud. Inside, fog machines created an “in the clouds” ambiance throughout the bar. There was a photo booth where you could try on boas and hats made from White Cloud.

White Cloud’s party also had manicure stations, where you could get your nails done. You could choose from one of three manicure styles:

The party advertised “cloud themed food” too. I wasn’t sure what that entailed, but it turned out to be tasty chicken and vegetable bao buns — which are kind of cloud shaped. They also had a toilet paper artist (!) making creations on a stage in the back of the bar. I also met BlogHer founder Elisa Camahort Page at this party and talked about the conference with her for a bit.

A selfie at White Cloud! White Cloud was one of the main sponsors of BlogHer this year. Everyone who attended the expo got a coupon for a free 12-pack of their brand-new “Luxuriously Soft” variety of bath tissue, which is their new premium tissue. And, White Cloud took over the entire Sheraton hotel. Friends staying there said that they had White Cloud in their rooms, and when I used the public bathroom at the Sheraton, it was in the toilet paper dispensers. After I left the stall, a White Cloud representative near the sinks informed me that I had “just experienced the softness of White Cloud.” (I relayed this to one of my blogger friends the next day, who said “What if you hadn’t?”) Kidding aside, I could not tell you the last time I used White Cloud, as it’s a Walmart-exclusive brand – but it was really nice bath tissue. Softer than Charmin and strong too. (And it’s on sale this week at Walmart… see how all of this messaging affects bloggers? Marketers know exactly what they’re doing..!)

I also attended parties for CVS/pharmacy, All You Magazine, and one of my ad affiliate networks, which is really why I go to BlogHer — to network with the brands that I blog. As much as I love blogging, blogging is my business too, and having so many of them in one place makes it a valuable three days of discussion for future partnerships and promotions. But there would be no way to attend every party. Hasbro had an enormous party, renting out the entire Hard Rock Cafe and sending bloggers home with bags of toys. During one of my bus rides, bloggers were buzzing about the previous night’s party on Navy Pier for Kuyam, a website devoted to lifestyle businesses. Kuyam reportedly had a raffle in which they gave two $12,000 cash prizes to two bloggers..! I didn’t attend anything quite that lavish, but I enjoyed the events I attended and came away with new knowledge and information. Like this infographic from CVS’ lunch – did you know that if you’re under 65, you’re twice as likely to skip taking medications? (What young punks we are!)

With all of this going on, it would almost be easy to forget that BlogHer is an educational conference too. Each day, there are numerous session tracks devoted to everything from photography to marketing to creative writing. The first time I attended BlogHer in 2011, I had a full conference pass to attend all of the sessions. And, honestly… I came away kind of disappointed. Each session I attended, whether it was on web marketing, design, or another topic, focused on very beginner-level information. In fact, I remember being surprised at how many people I met at BlogHer that year who weren’t yet blogging. This year, I saw a lot of the same. Brands would talk to people on the floor, asking “Do you have a blog?” “Well, no, but I am thinking of starting one.” People do come to BlogHer to learn how to start a blog, and certainly, there is plenty of information in the sessions to help you learn how to do just that.

But, when I looked at this year’s list of sessions, none of them were really grabbing me as must-dos, if that makes sense. There was only one session on Advanced Monetization (essentially, improving the amount of money your blog can make) that sounded interesting to me. As I wrote earlier, a full conference pass is $407, and the expo hall pass is $78. What would you have done?

I opted not to buy a full conference pass this year and went expo-only. It’s tough, because I go to BlogHer ultimately to improve my own blog. But the fact is that there doesn’t seem to be as much information in the educational sessions for people who already have established, successful blogs.

I had two friends who did attend the Advanced Monetization workshop, and when we had dinner that night, they shared their disappointment in it. One said “The workshop opened explaining what a clickthrough rate was. What views versus impressions were. And I thought, this is supposed to be advanced monetization? This is beginner stuff!” She walked out of the session shortly after it began. (And while those terms might not mean much if you’re not a blogger, if you are, they’re things you must figure out very early on if you want your blog to pay the bills.)

I thanked her for saving me $329. Now that the conference is over, you can also read transcripts online from the BlogHer sessions. And I’ve been doing some of that since I’ve been home, shaking my head at some of them. For example:

App Development – Build or Buy? This is something I’ve wrestled with when I’ve wanted to add functionality to my blog – do I write the code myself (which I usually do) or look at a pre-packaged option to save time? But the session opened with this statement: “This is not going to be a very technical panel so don’t get nervous. It’s not going to be about code or anything like that.”
Hmm. I guess we won’t be building then…

Good to Great: Sponsored Posts
Sponsored posts are part of the lifeblood of monetizing a blog, and I don’t do a lot of them unless they’re relevant to what you guys want to read. This session opened with: “I hope you’re here to hear us expound about good to great sponsored posts. I am the writer of an incredible defunct blog because I hardly have time to write on it any more.”
Okay, then.

That said, I did enjoy my BlogHer experience thoroughly, but the majority of my time was spent interacting with brands – either in the expo hall or at private events. It was the best use of my time, and I hope that the networking I did benefits my blog over the months ahead.

What else? I was happy that BlogHer was in Chicago this year. Even though I traveled back and forth each night on the train with swag bags that weighed more than one of my sons, it was my least expensive BlogHer to date, for which I am grateful. (Hey, I am a frugality blogger!) I spent time with a lot of blogger friends walking the expo and at parties, and it’s especially good to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in a long time as we’re all scattered around the country.

And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on at BlogHer… now you know.