BlogHer '14 recap: the good, the bad, and the bizarre

Me and my friend Jamie at the Shebooks suite. Credit: @shebooks

I've been putting off writing this post for the past week, which in itself is not a good sign. Last Sunday, I returned home (on a painfully early 7am flight from SFO) from my third BlogHer, which was held in San Jose, CA this year. I flew in and out of the San Francisco airport rather than San Jose (nonstop flights are always > those with one stop or more) so I was able to see a little of San Francisco my first day, which was fun.

I arrived at SFO on July 23rd and my flight was about an hour late, cutting into my time in the city. My CA friend Jamie, who I met at the ENMN conference in Anaheim this year, had graciously offered to pick me up at the airport, since she was also heading to BlogHer, and we were able to sightsee for a bit and also attend a lovely dinner before heading to San Jose.

I was staying at the Fairmont San Jose with one roommate, and I checked in around 11pm PST that Wednesday (which felt like 2am EST for me) and promptly fell asleep.

The conference was officially that Friday through Sunday, not counting Pathfinder Day on Thursday (which I never attend), so I had most of Thursday to lounge around and hang out with new and old friends. I finally got to meet Judith (Crunchy Metro Mom), a fellow mostly-movie blogger, as well as some of her friends and other bloggers she had already met. I kicked the night off with a sangria party from Eppa Sangria (and actually ended up winning a $100 Soybu gift card there for tweeting during the party, woohoo!) and then went to the Evening at the Expo, where the expo opens early before the conference actually starts.

Before I launch into this, I want to make something clear: it is abundantly obvious how much time and effort goes into planning a huge event like BlogHer, and the BlogHer staff and core group work very hard to do so. I also am a huge fan of BlogHer as a corporation, and I get many sponsored social media opportunities through them that I appreciate.

That being said, this year's BlogHer was overall a disappointment to me as compared to previous years (BlogHer '12 and 2013) . I may not be fair in comparing this one to the previous two because I went to a fair amount of "outboarding" parties those years - parties not sanctioned by BlogHer, which in fact piggyback off the fact that a lot of bloggers are in one city at the same time - but I didn't have as much fun this year. I was also disappointed in the sessions; I usually only do 1-2 per year (I buy the full conference pass for the meals and the keynotes) but this year they seemed especially light on content.

  1. Where's the water?
    San Jose is a HOT city. The week we were there, it was about 85-90 every day, though cooler in the early morning and at night. I came prepared this year with an empty water bottle, knowing that in previous years, water had been hard to find, but I literally only saw water available at the lunches and at one session.
  2. And speaking of that, where's the rest of our lunch?
    In previous years, BlogHer served us meals (breakfast + lunch on Friday and Saturday) buffet-style, which often meant long lines. This year, they decided to mix things up by having lunches already at the table, which was definitely appreciated; however, on Friday we were served sandwiches, salads, and a fruit tart, and on Saturday, we were only served salads, with bite-sized pieces of steak and chicken to mix in. I came to lunch hungry on Saturday which proved to be a mistake. 
  3. Where did all the swag go?
    I am by no means a swag hoarder or a "swag mommy" as we called my one BlogHer '12 roommate, but last year I got a TON of stuff, including many beauty products which I still use (they've not yet expired). This year, I was able to consolidate everything into one bag, not including the Eppa red sangria that we got from that party, and it was easy to do, too.

    Favorite swag: everything from the Eppa party, including the sangria, the workout shirt from Soybu, and the cute Whole Foods tote bag it all came in.
    Least favorite swag, which I left in the "swag room" at the conference center: Bridgestone candle ... because it smelled like tires. (but I will say that their cake pops from their booths were fantastically yummy)
  4. Panoramic view from a sponsor suite at the Hilton San Jose
  5. Related: where did all the expo sponsors go?
    Because I'm what is called a "niche blogger" - I mostly write about entertainment, both here and at my book blog - the expo has always been hit or miss for me. Last year, Fox Home Entertainment as well as St. Martin's Press was in attendance, so that was great. In previous years, I usually get around ten to fifteen sponsor business cards, whom I intend on contacting to collaborate with in the future.

    This year, I got four,
    one of which was for Chuck E Cheese and I passed that on to my editor.

    I also was dissatisfied with the sponsor suites and the Friday night parties, all of which were at the Hilton. BlogHer used to have "core" parties such as CheeseburgHer, Sparklecorn, etc., which seem to have gone the way of the food they were planning on serving us at lunch; this year, they got rid of those and went with sponsor suites. I will say I enjoyed going to the Shebooks suite the next day, but that's because we were actually sat down and talked to rather than just said hello to and then allowed to browse/mingle.
  6. Why are the sessions not explained clearly?
    The Friday AM session I went to was about monetization - because I don't do much to monetize my blogs, at the moment, I thought that might be interesting to attend. I wanted to know more about affiliate networks (like Share A Sale) and instead got information on how other people monetize their blog - but no specifics, like which are the best networks to join, etc.
Things that were awesome at BlogHer this year:

  1. The keynotes. The keynotes are the reason I bought a full pass ($250) versus an expo/party-only pass ($150), because they're usually fantastic and this year may have had the best line-up yet. Friday brought us Arianna Huffington of HuffPost fame (interviewed by Guy Kawasaki) in the morning and Tig Notaro (comedian) at lunch, and Saturday was The Bloggess (Jenny Lawson, one of my favorite bloggers) in the morning and none other than KERRY WASHINGTON (yes, that Kerry Washington, of movie and Scandal fame) at lunchtime.
  2. The closing party, sponsored by McDonalds and featuring Rev. Run of Run-D.M.C. as the DJ. I will say I could have done with more than just Happy Meals for dinner, but this party was surprisingly fun and exciting. I don't know a ton about Run-D.M.C. but the Rev. was rocking the parking lot where the party was held, and I was sad I had to leave early to get some sleep before my early flight the next day.
  3. My hotel, aside from a few issues. I stayed at the Fairmont San Jose and the rooms are very lavish - I would compare it to Wynn Las Vegas in terms of luxury. Housekeeping accidentally threw out some of my toiletries, but other than that I had no BB cream and shower cap no other problems and would stay there again, especially for the crazy low conference rate ($159/night) that we received.
  4. The people. The people of BlogHer (mostly women, as you would guess) are always welcoming and I noticed no difference this year. Part of the fun of BlogHer is meeting up with old friends and making new friends, and it's always interesting when people recognize you from your blog, too. 
  5. Seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey at a local cinema. Disney again put together a movie night for anyone who wanted to attend, and so I was able to see The Hundred-Foot Journey, which was a fantastic movie - check back next Friday, August 8th for a review of it.

Another blogger called BlogHer a "very expensive girls' weekend" in her recap, and after this year, I'd have to agree. There's a slight possibility I'd go again next year, but it would have to be more in my neck of the woods (Midwest or East Coast) and again have a fantastic keynote lineup for me to attend.

As of now, I think I may be done with the conference, especially since I'll be attending the Entertainment New Media Network (ENMN) conference again next February in Hollywood; I attended it this past February in Anaheim, for its inaugural conference, and it proved to be more suited to my niche.

Have you ever been to a blogging conference? If so, how was your experience?

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