BlogHer ’13 in Chicago this past week was my first experience with BlogHer conferences and any interaction with the brand outside of reading posts on their site. BlogHer is a publishing network for (primarily) women bloggers. Since I am a woman and I am a blogger – I thought this conference was a good place for me to be to learn about how to be a better blogger (who is also a woman).
I flew into Midway on Wednesday took a cab to the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in downtown Chicago. When I walked into the hotel, there were already many women in line to check-in to the hotel and I suddenly got overwhelmed. Although I knew that I would be partnered with my friend and gluten-free macaron (not macaroon) soulmate Mary Fran from Frannycakes, I realized that I would have to actually interact with other people.
Now, for those of you who have met me at expos and gluten-free conferences, you’re probably wondering why I would ever have a problem with that because I appear to be incredibly outgoing. I’m surprisingly introverted and have a hard time meeting new people when not in my “gluten free blogger” zone. When I meet other gluten-free people, I feel like I fit right in. However, these women were bloggers – many professional bloggers, many published authors, and many mommy-bloggers (women I have nothing in common with other than our gender). I felt totally like a n00b and wondered when I could have a glass of wine to calm my nerves.
Luckily, Sheraton was hosting a wine social hour with Wine Enthusiast magazine that featured free wine. Sometimes I really think that the universe listens to us and answers with pizzaz. Enter WINE KIND OF GOOD MOMENT #1.
Mary Fran came in from her job and we proceeded to sample the great wines (many which I can’t afford on my salary) and had a great time. We tried to interact with as many people as we could – especially with the wine representatives. I told Mary Fran how nervous I was to actually meet new people and talk about myself outside of the GF expo circuit. After a few glasses, I realized that I had to face all of my “don’t talk to stranger” fears I’ve had since I was a child and needed to reach outside my comfort zone and make non-GF blogger friends.
I woke up the next morning and put on a brave face. I promised myself I would try really hard to make good first impressions, be myself, and try to make new friends. I wandered off to get breakfast and get my badge at check-in.
EMBARRASSMENT KIND OF BAD MOMENT #1 – Totally on accident, I cut the ENTIRE line of check-in at Pathfinder Day to get my badge. I had thought the line was for breakfast, not for badges. Yep, totally cut sooooo many women off. I bet they thought I was the worst. “Who is that girl that cut everyone? Who does she think she is???” Totally not the impression I wanted to make.
I ate breakfast alone, a nervous wreck that people were judging me because I cut the line. Yes, this is where the stupid anxiety loop kicks in. Luckily, there were several very nice women who came and sat down at my table and were clearly more social than I was. It was really cool to hear their stories about what they blogged about and what they wanted to get out of the day. I was already uplifted by the time the breakfast speaker took the stage.
The guest speaker was US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. She was a great speaker and was trying to clarify Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act. As someone with an autoimmune disease and is considered uninsurable by many – this was very exciting stuff. Here’s a great post about the talk here.
I learned a lot of amazing things that will make me a better writer, a better author, and things that will help me better work with publishers in the future. Who knows, maybe my first book will do so well, I’ll write a second one! SUPER GOOD! I also met a few fellow humor bloggers (I guess I can tell you that I now consider myself a humor author – maybe not blogger, but my book is HI-larious – at least to me and my mom). Here are their websites – primarily about momdom, but also some general awesomeness too – Martinis and Minivans, The Shitastrophy, and According to Trish. BLOGGER KIND OF GOOD!
Between breakouts, they offered Glutino brand pretzel snack bags! HANGRY PANGS KIND OF GOOD! But, the lunch line was super long, and the session was so crowded I opted to work on my book alone instead of socializing. LONER KIND OF BAD. Also, although the food was marked gluten-free, I have no idea what I ate for lunch – but it was certainly suspicious. Then again, at this point I really trusted the food marked GF at this conference. NEWBIE GF KIND OF BAD.
When I got back to the room after a long day talking about publishing, Mary Fran returned from her day with Wilton (learn about it here) and gave me my very own edible owl she made for me! HOOT HOOT KIND OF GOOD!
That night the expo hall opened and we couldn’t wait to finally meet all the great sponsors of BlogHer ’13. You can see the list here. As someone who was in marketing and PR in their past life, I really dig conferences where I get to see brands at their best – selling and pitching to influentials (hey, I guess that’s me now?).
While there were MANY brands that weren’t necessarily gluten-free (although TROJAN LUBE is gluten-free we think, some investigating still needed, and WHITE CLOUD toilet paper could sure ease some gluten mishaps in the bathroom), there were a few that stood out. SWAGGIE KIND OF GOOD
1) Happy Family (Happy Baby brand squeezes, bars, etc.). Many of their items are gluten-free and their squeeze baby food really helped me with some safe snackage during the conference! We love this company!
2) SodaStream – Although I don’t do soda, this is a great machine to make your own carbonated water instead of buying SO many bottles of Perrier and Pellegrino.
3) Simply Saline – I have major sinus issues, so it was awesome to see this company here. They have lots of kids products but adult products as well. I actually really liked swabbing the inside of my nose with a saline-filled q-tip. Perhaps my new favorite hobby.
4) Garden of Life – A great “raw” lifestyle brand that has many gluten-free vitamins, protein powders and mixes. I’ve used many of their products in the past. I believe that many, if not all of their products are gluten-free (obviously check when you visit their website/shop for their products). I got to see the owner of Garden of Life speak at a Sprouts once and I was really impressed. Good to see them there, but they were touting diet items (how cliche for a female blogging conference!). I wish they would have been touting anything else but diet stuff.
5) BlendTec – because who wouldn’t love making their own almond butter and blending shit. I know I would. I am hopefully in the process of getting them to do a promotion with us. Because blender are awesome.
6) FoodSaver – along the same line as the BlendTec, who wouldn’t love to be able to freeze meals and products and keep them from freezer burn?
7) Kozy Shack – I totally cheated with milk and eggs in order to have this tapioca pudding. I twas awesome. And yes, I love pudding more than I love gluten. Also, tapioca balls are awesome!
8) Eggland’s Best – the incredible, edible egg at it’s finest. I buy the cage-free eggs that are shown in the picture (at least I did before I was deemed egg-sensitive). I’ve been incorporating more eggs back into my diet – so I’m looking forward to more Eggland’s Best at home too!
9) Jamba Juice – Especially not being able to trust a lot of food, Jamba Juice stepped in and fed us safe smoothies!
10) Gorton’s Seafood (that has several easy-to-bake fish that are gluten-free) – But seriously, don’t I look adorable in this? It may be my next Christmas card.
11) WINE. From Turning Leaf on – several wine brands showed off the fact that ladies love the wine. Especially me.
12) Coffee-Mate – If you can handle milk, then you can handle Coffee-Mate’s new GIRL SCOUT COOKIE FLAVORS. Yes, you heard me. You can finally have your Thin Mint fix in a cup of coffee. It was pretty good and tasted like the real thing (just not in cookie form).
Mary Fran and I with all smiles after getting lots of great SWAG.
Even Transformers were there (I know, it was weird too – but apparently Orlando was there pushing their new Transformers land. I basically just did this photo for Chrissy from Glam Without Gluten!)
On Friday morning, I woke up to participate in an event that was outside of BlogHer. It didn’t compete with any of the BlogHer functions, so I wanted to see and do as much as I could outside the conference while I was in Chicago. I woke up at the crack of dawn and headed to Millennium park to get my yoga on with Yasso Greek Frozen Yogurt. It was pretty amazing because I was at the bean ALL ALONE. Every time I’ve been to the bean, it’s been with 10,000 tourists and you can barely pick yourself out of any photo that you take. Lucky me, I was all alone and this picture is probably my favorite of all of the ones from BlogHer. The early bird really DOES catch the worm. BEAN TOURIST SHOT KIND OF GOOD!
I like connecting with brands that are gluten-free and are super fun – I think doing yoga in the park with this brand totally fit the bill!
Here, this proves that I did yoga. YAY GREAT WORKOUT SUCCESS KIND OF GOOD!
I was on such an endorphin high afterwards that I didn’t even realize how tired I was! I took some touristy shots and went back to the hotel to get ready for the day. Luckily, Jewel’s Gluten Free Bakery from home provided me with some flax bread so I had a great (and safe) breakfast after yoga in my own room!
The first day of BlogHer ’13 coverage was slightly disappointing. I think I just chose all of the wrong things to go to – either that or I just had such a great time at Pathfinder Day the previous day, that all of this programming couldn’t live up to it. Mary Fran and I sat in on a published essays presentation that was good, but nothing really mind-blowing to learn. The humor writing presentation was pretty funny in parts, and it really just solidified that I need to speak with my true voice more often – the off-beat funny girl.
Lunch, however – was more than disappointing and leads us to UGLY KIND OF MOMENT #1. Friday lunch, regular full-gluten rolls were placed next too (in the same basket) gluten-free rolls. They were labeled on the gluten-free table as gluten-free rolls. When we approached the table to get our lunch, our friend April (the amazing and adorable face behind Gluten is my BItch) was already in discussion with one of the servers as she had taken a bite of a roll and it was so delicious she had to question it. The server came back and told us that it was a mistake and took the whole plate of gluten and gluten-free rolls out. WTF! I flagged the staff and demanded to talk to a catering manager about this issue – as eating a whole gluten roll is a major medical problem for those that have celiac disease or a certified wheat allergy (hey that’s us!). Something like that could take a blogger out for weeks or months – just from that roll. If Mary Fran had been the unfortunate one to eat it, she would have had to inject an epi-pen into her thigh and get rushed to an emergency room. And that doesn’t sound like a place I wanted to go to. April, as you can read from her article, forced her self to throw up the gluten so she wouldn’t be bedridden. Seriously unfortunate incident. We then talked to the Catering Sale Mgr and told her how serious the mistake was. She (incorrectly) said that April just ate a white flour roll so she didn’t think she would be that sick. OMG SERIOUSLY. Wrong – any gluten would make you sick as a dog, regardless of white or wheat. That type of incompetence in the food industry is alarming and we told her that the statement alone made us afraid to eat there and afraid for everyone else to eat there. She assured me that she would talk to the chef and take care of it. The chef came out and personally made Mary Fran and I a lunch and was very apologetic. We worked it out with the catering manager that all of us would come DIRECTLY to her and she would have the chef specially prepare meals for us celiacs/wheat allergy folks to assure the safety. We were satisfied with that answer, but obviously a little skeptical of the safety of the buffets for the conference.
What’s really disappointing about the whole thing is that because of the baby mama drama, I had to miss most of Guy Kawasaki’s keynote. Guy is awesome and wrote a great book (well he wrote a ton of books actually but this one is particularly great) about self-publishing called APE. It really made me feel confident to dive into the world of publishing and really got me prepared to learn at BlogHer ’13 and Pathfinder Day. Needless to say, I didn’t get to fully absorb Guy’s talk because I was so incredibly flustered by lunch. It really put me on a negative tone for the rest of the day, which was not made better by the next session. NEGATIVE NANCY KIND OF BAD.
Mary Fran and I visited the Unmarketing session because we thought we would hear some tips about staying true to yourself and not selling out by latching onto brands that don’t fit your personal morals, etc. It’s branding 101 – and I consider Celiac and the Beast to be my brand. However, the entire session was all about un”branding” – not marketing. I don’t think any of the panelists considered themselves a brand, and were pretty anti-brand in the sentiments that they opened up with. In fact, they gave the impression that bloggers connecting with brands were selling out. I left that session feeling crappy about myself because I didn’t take the money that I earned on blogging (what money you may ask? Exactly…) and give back to charity. It made me feel incredibly selfish that I wanted to turn my blog into a business. Maybe it was just the additional stress of the lunch drama, but I left that session more fiery than I entered. I guess one of the benefits of BlogHer is figuring out who you want to be as a blogger and making your own path, your own way, and carving out your own niche which includes your morals and guidelines for your personal blog when it comes to working with companies and vendors. FEELING LIKE A SELL-OUT KIND OF BAD.
We finished off the day by stopping into the “Good to Great: Sponsored Post” session and I really learned a lot about the FTC guidelines and post sponsorships. I thought this was a really useful session for bloggers of any level to get acquainted or re-acquainted with the idea of sponsored posts. KEEPING COMPLIANT KIND OF GOOD.
After a really emotional day, Mary Fran and I just wanted to escape and relax and eat in a place that didn’t make us fear for our lives and/ or sanity. She finally got a chance to take me to Little Goat – a great diner that offers gluten-free items (and appears to take them very seriously) run by Stephanie Izard of Top Chef fame. It. Was. Awesome. Especially the pancakes <drooooooool>. SAFE PANCAKE KIND OF GOOD.
We also got a chance to visit my friend’s restaurant, OON. While we could only stop in for drinks, he assured me that since the place is fancy-schmancy with real (and real good) chefs in the back, they can make several of their exquisite dishes gluten free. WINE AND FRIENDS KIND OF GOOD.
When we got back from OON, we headed out to the after-parties! We were most interested in the DIY party, since we like to get crafty and artsy! Besides spilling wine thanks to my oversized Marc Jacobs purse – PURSE CATASTROPHE KIND OF BAD – it was a fun time decorating a wine glass and doing some painting.
Ready for UNSAFE FOOD KIND OF UGLY MOMENT #2? Again, this moment was the unfortunate problem with the catering team of the venue, not with the BlogHer conference team – although the two are also unfortunately intertwined because our meals were part of the BlogHer ticket. What makes this whole situation from day one much worse is that they served us gluten again on the second day.
We arrived at breakfast on Saturday and asked for our specialty plates to be delivered (as per previous instructions). Just to be sure (because we always have to cover our butts), I went back to the “gluten free” table and compared what was on our plate to what we were served from the “chef.” Our plate was 1/3 seitan (which is just vegan wheat gluten). Once again we had to call the catering manager and express just how awful this incident was. She then brought out the banquet director who assured us that they were (once again) mistaken and that they would make us special meals. They finally brought out a plate of basically just bacon and sausage. By this point we were so frustrated and I told Mary Fran that I wanted to skip day two of BlogHer because I was so emotional and frustrated that I couldn’t even “learn” over my anger at the situation. LE SIGH.
Luckily, Sheryl Sandberg made everything 99% better because her keynote about “Lean In” and what you would do if you weren’t afraid was amazing. The day I got back from BlogHer I went on Amazon and purchased her book. She was so inspiring. I realized that if I wasn’t afraid – I would finally be able to call myself an author. I’m writing a book. A real book. I’m going to be an author. That’s awesome. I would encourage every woman reading this to at least explore her book and her Lean In community at LeanIn.org. WOMEN POWER KIND OF GOOD.
Here’s my “what would you do…” moment. What’s yours?
Mary Fran, Rebecca and I traipsed around a few other sessions throughout the day. Rebecca and I went to “Pitch Your Work for Publication” which was basically a way-short version of what I learned in PathFinder day, and Best Practices for Bloggers sponsored by IAB. I learned a few things to keep my blog up to speed with best practices – but it was really hard to beat Sheryl Sandberg’s presentation earlier that day.
I wanted to take a picture of our lunch for day two. It was an UDI’s gluten-free sandwich. Finally. It was done right. They event put the bags of Udi’s bread out on the table so we would be assured we were getting the right food. Thank you. SAFE FOOD KIND OF GOOD.
After lunch, we had kind of a gluten-free blogger pow-wow with the three of us in a quiet room where we could just sit and chat about our blogs and what we were up to in the next few months. It was really good to honestly just sit and talk with fellow bloggers and just be real. These girls are amazing. Adore them! We all sat in on a Facebook and Pinterest session – to which Mary Fran offered up her additional learnings in a blog post found here. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the session even ended, so I had to cut my BlogHer ’13 time (and time with my girls) short.
Overall, BlogHer ’13 was a mixed bag for me. Some parts were amazing (meeting up with fellow bloggers, Pathfinder Day, making connections with brands, learning about publishing, Sheryl Sandberg’s talk), and some parts were super crappy (a session or two, but mostly just the food issues). Would I go to another BlogHer event? Of course I would! There’s no way to recreate the same kind of learnings, bonding, and connections anywhere else. I would probably go to BlogHer Food – where more gluten-free brands are there and they could probably feed me a bit better. But yes, I will definitely be returning to BlogHer again. As a final note, I contacted BlogHer and informed them, IN DEPTH, about the incidents with their catering company for the event. They ASSURED ME that they strive to be as accommodating as possible to those with cthose that need a gluten-free diet. I put my trust them, and they have tried to make everything right with those who were affected by the incident. I know that this incident will only help them understand the importance of working with specialty diet bloggers in the future for upcoming conferences. They understand JUST HOW SERIOUS those two incidents were, and are having post-conference chats with the venue to address the incidents. Bravo to BlogHer for 1) acknowledging the seriousness of the incidents 2) getting back to us in a timely matter 3) attempting to make it right with us and 4) attempting to connect with the venue to address the incidents with the catering team.
After all of that reading, don’t you deserve some swag? Here’s your chance to enter to win some swag that I have from the event.
HOW TO WIN A BLOGHER ’13 SWAG PACK
Enter to win 1 (one) BlogHer ’13 SWAG prize pack – for US residents only.
1 winners, picked randomly (via Rafflecopter) based on valid entries.
HOW IT WORKS:
Each person can be entered into this contest FOUR TIMES via Rafflecopter.
CONTEST ENDS: SUNDAY AUGUST 18th 2013 at midnight EST