May 21, 2013

Surviving My First Blog Conference: BLEND Retreat 2013

This weekend, I was lucky enough to go to Utah for a really neat event: the BLEND Retreat. While BLEND is written in all caps like an acronym, it’s actually a cute little portmanteau for Blogging Friends. I love the “Blends” I’ve made writing this blog, traveling for races, and at fitness events in NYC, so what better way to meet lots of new “Blends” than a weekend retreat to one of my favorite states in the country? (It also didn’t hurt that I learned the Ogden Marathon was scheduled for the same weekend, so I could kill two birds with one stone by running the race while I was there.)

In the days leading up to BLEND, I honestly started getting a little nervous. Carla wrote a great post this morning about the clique-y-ness of bloggers, and it pretty much spelled out all my fears that I had going into the weekend. I’m very used to traveling solo, but from reading the Facebook page beforehand, it seemed like most people already knew each other – either from last year, or they had been reading each others’ blogs for ages. But aside from Amanda, whom I met earlier this month in Puerto Rico, I didn’t know a single person going to BLEND. Was I going to be the odd woman out and eating by myself in a bathroom stall a la Cady Herron? (Sorry, I can never resist a Mean Girls reference.)

As it turned out, my suitemates couldn’t have been more welcoming – even when they found out I was going to be setting an obnoxious alarm for 3:00am in order to get up and out for the Ogden Marathon (race report coming). Upon my arrival to the gorgeous Hyatt Escala Lodge where the retreat was held, Mollie and Alex even escorted me down from our hotel suite to the registration area – so I literally had friends right from the moment I walked in the door! It was great how quickly we all bonded, and I think I made some friends at the event that I’ll be in touch with for a very long time. (Plus, since we live all over the country, that means more fun travels! “Blends,” you know you are welcome in NYC anytime!)

Blend Roommates
Blend 2013 Suitemates!

After reading Carla’s post yesterday and while writing this recap, I got curious about whether the ultra-inclusive atmosphere at
BLEND was typical. While Googling, I came across this great post on coping with conference anxiety – and although I didn’t read it beforehand, I actually used several of the tricks in there for the moments when I did get all sensitive and shy. For example, when I came back from my marathon, heard cool stories about the first breakfast and the hike that I had missed, and had major FOMO. As tip #1 states, though, I couldn’t take it personally – of course everyone had bonded during that time, and to be honest, it was kind of dumb of me to leave that for the race. But there was no way to stay sad for long – my roommate Julie made a big fuss as soon as I got back, and even snapped a celebratory photo! (Especially helpful since I hadn’t taken any of my own after the race.)

Post-Ogden Marathon

When I rejoined the group, so many people asked me about how the race went and were incredibly encouraging, so I ended up getting back in the swing of things faster than I would have thought. Several people even said that if they had known beforehand, they would have come run either the full or the half themselves! (I’m holding you to that promise next year.) In general, everyone at the conference was entirely approachable – even the ever-so-busy-organizers – and I definitely felt like a part of the community rather than an outsider. I still don’t know if other conferences are this inclusive (I’d guess not, based on posts like this one from Christi), but I think having the focus be on making friends instead of figuring out how to monetize your blog made it quite a success for newbies like me.

Speaking of monetization, though, there was one other thing that was still slightly concerning me about the event ahead of time: the myriad of sponsors. I had seen product placement tweets from bloggers at other conferences, and always thought they stuck out like those dumb “Extra gum is healthy!” mini-PSAs they show during Biggest Loser episodes. On the one hand, I wanted to support the sponsors; but on the other hand, what if I didn’t like their products? Upon arrival, we received a packet detailing each sponsor’s contribution to the retreat, as well as social media contact info, so I immediately tweeted each sponsor to thank them for their support. I figured that would get the obligation out of the way up front, and I was genuinely grateful that they were supporting the event.

In general, it’s kind of a delicate balance with blogging to figure out how to handle product reviews. I definitely do fewer reviews than other bloggers I read, and I think it’s in part because I can be picky about what I choose to showcase. I’m a bit more lax about microblogging sites like Twitter (since those are short and a little less permanent), but I look at my published blog as a chance to share my opinions/knowledge rather than as a moneymaking opportunity, and I don’t want to post about something I don’t like. This is why you only see me publicize NYC events that I’m actually attending (stay tuned for another one this week!), and give away products that I continue using for races long after I’ve written the reviews (for example, my Earhoox and Feetures socks worked great for the marathon this weekend – no problems with either music or blisters, despite the pouring rain!). But was that going to be the case with the Blend sponsors?

As it turned out, YES! Throughout the weekend, I kept trying the (tons of) products we were so generously provided, and I was so pleasantly surprised when I loved almost all of them. For example, when I arrived back to Blend from the race on Saturday just in time for snack break, Orlando was serving up Onnit Hemp Force chocolate protein shakes. I’m not usually a big supplement person, but I figured a little protein couldn’t hurt after my tough race, so I checked out the ingredients list. I was very pleased to discover that the mix had only five ingredients, all of which I knew and trusted (hemp protein, cocoa, maca, stevia, and vanilla extract). Mixed with some Silk Soy Milk and a banana, the shake was totally delicious, and absolutely something I’d buy on my own. Similarly, Core Power provided some commercial-looking protein drinks for us – but upon closer inspection, those also turned out to have all natural ingredients and be tasty enough that I wanted to slurp down several bottles at once. In the end, I was very impressed with the assortment of sponsors that the organizers assembled – it was clear that they were just as picky about the representation as I would have been, and I was excited to get introduced to so many great new brands.

Plus, I finally got to meet Amy from Chobani! Amy blogs over at Fruit Salad Life, and took a job doing social media for Chobani a little over a year ago. Chobani has generously sent me plenty of Greek yogurt in the last year, and I was very excited to get to meet Amy in person and thank her personally. Chobani was actually the official main sponsor of the entire conference, and they provided a really epic breakfast spread on Sunday morning before we all packed up and headed out; in addition to trying innovative recipes like Chobani Perfect Pancakes and omelets with Chobani Chive Sauce, there was a huge assortment of some of Chobani’s newest products, the 100 calorie Bites and the mix-ins-included Flips. I hadn’t seen these in stores before, and I was psyched to get to try several of them and figure out my favorite flavors. Although I tweeted a lot about the yummy breakfast, it was because I really enjoyed everything I had – and I was relieved to discover that there was no pressure to say anything I didn’t mean.

Chobani Bites and Flips

In all, I had an amazing time at my first blog conference, and would definitely consider going to more conferences in the future. The Blend organizers, Janetha, Katie, and Lindsay, did an amazing job making it a small-event feel even while coordinating over a hundred women and dozens of brands, and I had a fabulous time!

Have you ever been to a blog conference? What are your tips for fitting in and staying authentic to yourself/your personal brand?


28 thoughts on “Surviving My First Blog Conference: BLEND Retreat 2013”

  1. This is awesome! I totally know what you mean about conference anxiety and blogging events.There have definitely been a couple of things that I have not gone to because I had thought it would be a room full of successful bloggers who know each other… and sometimes, sadly, that has been the case. I’m so happy that BLEND worked out well for you, and I totally want to run Ogden next year!

    1. Ogden Marathon wasn’t a great experience this year, but that was primarily because of the weather. I’d totally go back and do it again with you!

  2. Loved this Laura. You hit on a lot of the tension and the delicate balance that exists between bloggers, sponsors, products, etc. I do think that Blend is different from other conferences and events that I’ve been too. I think that the premise of the retreat made it such that everyone was super low-key and friendly. I’m SO glad that you came and that we got to meet and hang out. PS I love your blog design 🙂

    1. Christine, I am SO glad to have met you in person – you are definitely one of those I was referring to when I said we’ll be in touch for a long time! Thanks for being such a great suitemate and can’t wait to hang out in NYC soon 🙂

  3. This is a great recap, and thanks for the link to Carla’s post, I hadn’t read that one yet and it gives a good perspective on the blogging world. It was really great to get to know you over the weekend! I felt more like myself at this conference than I did at Fitbloggin last year, I was more relaxed, had more fun and got to meet a lot more people at Blend. I hope to see you and the other New York ladies the next time I’m in the City!

    1. Meg, I’m so glad we got to hang out at Blend! I think I’d definitely feel a bit “safer” going to Fitblogging/etc if I knew someone there (like you!), so I could see that working out. YAY for you coming to visit NYC soon, and I’ll def keep you posted on my West Coast travel plans!

  4. I am so glad we got to hang out again, I feel all lucky and stuff 🙂 hehe.

    I can’t lie even having been to other conferences, I still had moments of feeling a little outside, but some of that I believe is simply not operating in large groups any more. It’s not like being in school, most of us now don’t meet so many new people at one time.

    You really hit the nail on the head with the sponsors too. Even going as a sponsored blogger it’s weird trying to find the balance of doing them justice without driving everyone crazy 🙂

    1. Amanda, glad you could relate 🙂 And as I mentioned, I was so excited to see you again! Can’t wait to do it again soon.

  5. I’m so so happy that you enjoyed Blend this year! I was also worried about it being cliquey..although I had been last year, I really wanted to make sure I made new friends and that everyone felt welcome!

    I think it helps that the schedule is so open that there is more time to socialize and you especially had a huge room full of girls (somehow I only had two roommates??) so those roomies tend to click as friends right away.

    I agree there is a balance with sponsors and blogging…it can get a little overwhelming since there were so many great sponsors!

    So good to meet you and good luck with your crazy marathoning! 😉

  6. I wish I could have gone to BLEND but I’m going to Fitbloggin’ and I’m excited. You got to meet 2 of my Bklyn peeps though, Christine from Love Life Surf (we were 1st time moms together) and Amy Keefe from Chobani.

    I just shared Carla’s post with my SoCal Blogging collective so this post definitely will definitely allow newbies to feel comfortable.

  7. Laura! I never would’ve known you were a little nervous coming into BLEND you little social butterfly! 🙂 you were so easy to talk to and it was great to hang out with you! I was bummed, too, that you missed a portion of Saturday. but I think we made up for it and always can more in the future! 🙂

    1. Mollie, it was so wonderful meeting you this weekend! I really mean it – come to NYC anytime, or I’ll plan a trip to your neck of the woods soon 🙂

  8. I wanted to go but it just wasn’t in the cards this year seeing that we are going on vacation in two weeks. But I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself and everyone was laid back and friendly and that the products were actually good. And yeah, those Chobani flips things are amazing and I’m not even a huge Chobani fan.

    1. Ooh, Lee, I didn’t know you were considering it! Next year I’ll make sure to peer pressure you early into coming 🙂

  9. I have never been to a blog conference or anything of the sort, mainly because I am newer to it and most people don’t even read mine and I am okay with that. BUT, reading everyone’s posts about BLEND made me super jealous. Not for the fact of blog promotion but the fact that there were so many awesome healthy people there with the same interests as me. I would love to do one of the conferences to simply meet like minded people and have some fun healthy conversations. I feel like I don’t have many I can have those types of conversations with in my life.

    I would have the same fears as you though…about the cliques, and the sponsors and all of it. But I am glad it all worked out for the best and you had a great time. And big congrats on another marathon I can’t wait to read all about it!

  10. I totally IG stalked all the blend pictures this weekend. It looked like a ton of fun. I have never been to a bloggy conference or meet up as I cannot get off work. Very tempted to fake sick for Blend next year.

    1. One thing that was really nice about Blend (don’t know how other blog confs work) is that it didn’t really start until late Friday afternoon… so not much time off work required!

  11. SO glad I got to meet you, Laura! Especially now that we’re going to be NYC buds. 🙂 It really was a special conference and amazing group of people. I look forward to getting together sometime in the city!!

    1. Laura, I can’t wait for you to be in NYC!! It will be great to hang out more soon 🙂

  12. This is a FABULOUS post detailing some of the fears/expectations of going to a blog conference, and I have to say, you are lucky that you chose Blend as your first. I have been to one other type of conference–blogging specific that is…I have been to a culinary professionals conference before–and Blend is NOTHING like them. Although there were a few more sponsors this year, and it was a lot less like summer camp than last year, it remained true to its core goal of being a place to meet, become friends, spend time together, and yes, try new products, but it wasn’t/isn’t about ‘building a brand’ or ‘becoming a better blogger.’

    SO happy to have met you….and I definitely didn’t realize until MUCH later in the weekend that you have accomplished so much with your running. I am in AWE. Completely. (And I might be in NYC this summer….)

    1. Sarah, it was AMAZING to meet you – you were one of the first people I met at Blend and got so excited about your amazing energy, warmth, and kindness. PLEASE keep me posted on your plans to come to NYC and I’ll look forward to keeping up with you via blogs in the meantime 🙂

    1. Brittany, I’m glad we got to meet even briefly and hope to get to know you more over the coming year… that will just help us spend more time together at next year’s BLEND 🙂

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