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!)
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.)
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.
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?