I attend a lot of conferences, and blog about them while I’m there. This is good for me in a couple of ways: it gives me lots of things to write about, hence increases my blog readership and therefore my exposure to potential customers and networking contacts, and I usually learn something by attending conference sessions. It’s also good for the conference organizers, since my blogging becomes publicity for the conferences or for related conferences or products. This symbiotic relationship is why I don’t expect to have to pay for admission to any conference that I’m blogging about, and why vendors not only give me free admission but also cover my travel expenses to attend their user conferences.
Some of the large software companies are starting to treat bloggers as regular members of the press, or as analysts, hence are including them in the expenses-paid press events such as conferences without special requests.
It surprises me, after that, to see the old-fashioned way in which some conferences still view the media credentials process. For example, there was a conference recently in Toronto (where I live, so no travel costs) that had a couple of interesting tracks on SaaS and Web 2.0, although large parts of it weren’t of interest to me. I received the standard attendee invitation, and emailed back to say that I was a blogger and ask for a press pass to the conference. Usually when this happens, the immediate response is “sure”, so I thought that it was weird to receive no response after a week. A friend of a friend recommended a different contact, I emailed again, no response. The friend of a friend then poked them directly, and finally I had a response from the conference organizer with a link to the media registration form on their site: a PDF that I’m supposed to fill out and fax back to them. No, that’s not a typo, I said “fax”. Welcome to 1985.
I then checked out their required press qualifications:
|One of the following:
• A business card with your name and title from an industry publication
• The masthead page of a current industry publication with your name listed
• A copy of a current by-lined article
|• A letter from the editor of an industry trade publication stating your assignment is to cover the [conference name] Conference for that publication.
|Web/Internet media representatives
|• Printed proof of the site demonstrating content to Linux/Open Source and/or Network technologies and/or Storage/Security technologies
• Proof that the site has subscribers that are qualified and the site is secure.
|Videographer Reporters & Magazine Producers from recognized broadcast media
|• Business card with your name and title from a recognized broadcast media organization.
|Press members w/press cards
|• A photocopy of your press card
I assume that I fit into the web/internet media representatives category, so checking out the qualifications… printed proof? As in printed on paper? This is starting to sound like a joke. And the second requirement: “proof that the site has subscribers that are qualified” — qualified for what? — “and the site is secure” — secure from what, in what way, or by what standards? Add to that the fact that the part of the conference that I want to cover has nothing to do with Linux/open source, network technologies or storage/security technologies.
I duly sent off an email to the publicist explaining that I’m an analyst and blog about a number of topics, including SaaS and Enterprise 2.0, and pointing her to relevant posts and articles of mine online. Of course, I didn’t fax it in, and I linked to the posts and articles rather than printing them, so I may have risked disqualification for those reasons alone.
Several days later, and only a couple of days before the event was to start, I finally heard back from the publicist:
There are some bloggers who request media badges, but they only blog every now and then and they just use it as a guise so they can attend events like [event name] for free. That’s why providing media badges to bloggers is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Um, yeah. I really wanted to blow off two days billable time in order to not get paid to go to a conference where I would pretend to be a real blogger.
The best part happened a couple of days after the conference, when the organizer (the one who couldn’t be bothered to answer my original emails) called me to complain that he felt my blog posts cast the conference in a negative light — although I had been mostly positive — and wanted me to change them, but was unwilling to post a comment on my blog because, as he said, “some things should just be settled in private”.
I don’t want to pick on this little conference or its organizers, since I see the same thing from much larger conference organizers and from vendors. In the past month, I’ve had a vendor ask me to change a post that I had made about their product but refuse to comment on the post themselves, and another vendor pay my expenses to be at their conference but not let me blog. Vendors and their PR people are coming under a lot of heat lately, and for good reason: the new world order of press is about transparency, and many of the big guys aren’t quite comfortable with that yet. There are many exceptions to that — I have to say that SAP’s blogger relations is a stunning example of how to do it right — but there needs to be a lot more open communication in the industry to make things better for the consumers of the technology.