BEA/BBC Aftermath: Connections to Conference-goers Seen in the Wild

This is the second of my three-part reflection on conference comparisons. Yesterday I talked about conversations; today I’m thinking about some of the “accessories” conferences acquire…

BookExpo America

* Some people come for the swag, and you see them carrying around lots of stuff.

There’s been some pretty impressive swag spotted around BlogHer conferences. Some comes from BlogHer sponsor brands, but rumor has it that the really choice stuff turns up at the offsite, invitation-only events that both sponsors and non-partner brands schedule around the conference to court bloggers. Every year, there are stories of bad behavior inspired by some of that particularly choice swag.

You’d think that would be less of an issue at an event where the giveaways are mostly books and tote bags, but you’d be mistaken. I didn’t personally witness any grabby behavior over ARCs, but I heard of some incidents, and I know two bloggers who had the boxes of books they planned to mail back home ravaged in the shipping area of the Javits Convention Center.

I think swag-haggery at BEA is actually more problematic, because BEA is not a blogger event or a public book festival. BEA is a trade show. It primarily exists to fuel sales of current and upcoming titles. Review copies are one of the tools it uses for doing that, but there’s absolutely no obligation on its part to furnish them at large to all attendees. And as a non-public trade event, there’s also no obligation on BEA’s part to give “press” consideration to bloggers who don’t have some other role in the industry – publisher, author, writer, editor, educator, librarian – and allow us to attend at all. Bloggers who come in with an entitlement mentality about accumulating stacks of free books – and who engage in unprofessional behavior to obtain them – embarrass themselves and complicate matters for the entire blog community.

* Some people come for the parties and offsite events that happen around the conference, and you don’t see them much unless you’re at the same events; you may not see them much around the conference itself at all.

Yes, the choice swag may well be part of the draw, but for some people, it’s the networking at events that crop up around a conference that entice them to register for it. At a conference like BlogHer, they’re “brand events” – parties and get-togethers arranged by companies in order to connect invited bloggers with their products (and marketing teams). The guests are usually bloggers the brands have a working relationship with already, but may include some with whom they want to start a relationship. Bloggers’ influence on purchasing decisions is growing, and plenty of people with something to sell have noticed; they’re courting that influence, and bloggers are enjoying being courted.

The “brand” mix is much less varied at the events around BEA, but the process is the same: parties and meetups are hosted by publishers and publicists in order to talk to bloggers about their featured titles (and, frequently, to introduce their authors). The pool of invited guests is a similar mix, and bloggers appreciate the chance to make offline contact with publicists they know via e-mail and authors they know via their books. There’s courting, and relationship-building, going on at these events too.

There were people that I knew in advance were coming to BlogHer’10 last year, but I never saw them because they were so busy with offsite events they were almost never at BlogHer’10. There were also people that I knew were coming to BEA this year, but I barely saw them either, for essentially the same reason. I’m learning to accept that people have different agendas and goals for themselves and their blogging, and sometimes those goals are better satisfied by what goes on around a conference that what happens at the conference itself. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss them when they’re not around!

The connections: Conferences are about more than what happens in the programmed sessions…and regardless of variances in the content those sessions include, what goes on around those sessions is pretty similar.

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