Hi ya’ll! Lisa and I attended our very first BlogHer Food conference in Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago. Actually, it was our very first food blogging conference EVER. We ate, drank, laughed, met amazing bloggers and brands and took away great nuggets of information. From kitchen demos to expert-led panels to food and drink samples to fun exploring the fantastic host city, BlogHer Food is a must-do for any food blogger at least once in your blogging career. But just like Texas, BlogHer Food is BIG – 600+ attendees – which is kind of intimidating, especially if you don’t know anyone. So we wanted to put together a list of our impressions and the things we learned as newbies to a food blogging conference. Hopefully those of you thinking of attending a food blogging conference in the future will find something helpful to you from our experience.
Reach out to attendees and brand sponsors before the conference. It’s likely you already follow or tweet with at least some bloggers and/or favorite brands. Find out who is going to be at the conference and let them know you’ll be there and would love to connect. You can make plans to meet or just let them know you will try to find them to say hi and put a face with a name.
Time your arrival
Lisa and I booked our flight to arrive after 5:00 on Thursday (the conference technically began on Friday). The main reason we booked it for that time was it was easier to plan for child care if we didn’t have to leave at dawn on Thursday. What we learned after making our flight reservations was that sponsor events are often scheduled in the days/nights before the conference. What?! We had no idea. This was all new to us. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a handful of pre-conference events, but we could have missed out on all of them if our flight had been delayed. And these are great opportunities to mingle with the brand ambassadors and conference attendees in a less formal setting. So go a bit early and allow yourself plenty of time the day before the conference starts to get settled in. Even if you don’t take part in any sponsor events, you’ll still have a chance to explore your wonderful host city and seek out the best places to eat and drink before all the festivities begin.
Don’t be shy
Introduce yourself to everyone. Remember when we suggested to connect with people before you arrive? That little bit of homework makes walking up to a complete stranger or brand representative so much easier. Hopefully you know at least a little something about the people or companies you want to meet so you have something to talk about during that meeting (other than the weather.) The people we met that stuck out for us were those people who actually knew something about us and our blog. It’s so much more memorable to have that experience rather than the blind business card exchange. And food bloggers are among the most open and approachable people we know. Something about that common love of food makes for very endearing personalities.
Make time to mingle with sponsors. The conference sponsors are some seriously high-quality brands, and they have booths set up outside the conference rooms. All are staffed throughout the conference and have lots of information to share about their products (not to mention tons of free samples). If you ever wanted to get in front of a particular brand or learn more about what they offer, now is a great chance to do that. Everyone we met was eager and excited to talk with us. There were a even few sponsors reps that we hit it off with so well that we’d love to hang out with them outside of work! Now we’re not promising that these meetings will result in any business relationships, but you still end up learning a lot about the brands and their products and can walk away with some specific contact names and information.
Plan your attack
OK, it’s not as dramatic as it sounds, but definitely check out the session topics before you arrive and have a general idea of what you want to learn more about and the speakers you want to hear. We had some seriously talented bloggers/speakers this year. That said, don’t be afraid to bail on a session if it’s not what you expected. There was one session that I left after aboout 20 minutes and went to another one simply because I didn’t feel like I was getting the information I needed. This is your learning experience. Don’t be afraid to take control of it and make it yours.
And one of the best learning experiences we had at BlogHer Food had nothing to do with a conference track. BlogHer contacted some of its food bloggers prior to the conference to set up personal meetings as essentially a check-in to see how the affiliation with BlogHer is going. Since we’ve only been part of the BlogHer publishing network for a few months, we are still learning the lay of the land and how to maximize that relationship. We had the pleasure meeting with Jenifer Monroe from BlogHer who was genuine, enthusiastic and eager to work with us. She took the time to review our site prior to meeting us and offered relevant and timely answers to our questions. It made our relationship with BlogHer feel like a mutual partnership where they are truly invested in our success. Thank you, Jen!
Of course there was plenty of time for fun at BlogHer Food. From pedicab rides to a boot-stomping party at Stubbs BBQ to one (or maybe more) Texas-sized margaritas, we had a ball and met some amazing, passionate foodies. Can’t wait for next year!