a peek inside the fishbowl

10 Aug, 2010

BlogHer10: swag and stuff

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Oh! Things!|Publishing/writing/career stuff

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

One of the other reasons I wasn’t planning on going to BlogHer was the swag. Seriously. I remember reading about it last year and the whole thing left a very sour taste in my mouth; the stories of women shoving each other for jars of spaghetti sauce (or whatever it was) were just too depressing and I didn’t want any part of it.

I’m a jaded swag recipient. Part of this comes from the fact that our house is tiny and I am trying to be more mindful of the amount of stuff that comes in here. Part of it is that I’m not under any illusions about why companies link up with BlogHer. They want to sell us stuff. End of story. They’re not reeeeally there to support women in blogging, they’re there to showcase their latest products.

So it was with mixed feelings that I wandered around the Expo Halls. I appreciated the fact that this part of the conference was totally seperate from the actual session. I thought that was a good move. There were two floors of conference sponsors. It looked exactly like a trade show (if you’ve ever been to one of those) except this one was very targeted to women… it had a disproportionate amount of booths devoted to cleaners and domestic duties and stereotypical things that would seem to appeal to women.

McDonald’s used its booth to introduce oatmeal to its fast food menu. The old clown was there himself, which I found kind of creepy. We are grown woman, after all, and the appeal level here is a big zero. (I was tempted to take a photo but chickened out.)

WalMart was there with some kind of “green” display – I’m not entirely sure what it was because I didn’t spend a lot of time there. But it is clear that they’re working hard to change their image of one of corporate greed to “caring” for the world. (Just in time too, now that surveys show that WalMart shoppers have a growing concern for the environment.) They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, really. I probably had the most trouble with WalMart’s link to BlogHer, especially given their business practices. (We’ve been boycotting WalMart for years. There is a great PBS Frontline documentary that should be required viewing for all, so if you feel like calling me out on this issue please watch the documentary in its entirety before doing so.)

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I’m not keen on swag and sponsorship but I do understand that it is necessary. BlogHer could not be what it is today without sponsors, and I totally appreciate that fact. The cost of admission has stayed low. Many meals were included. The hotel costs were inexpensive for NY standards. This is all possible thanks to all the businesses that were there.

Many companies gave out promotional material. Some of it was great, other was less great. Before leaving for the conference everyone was advised to bring an empty duffel bag. I did so, not knowing how I could possibly fill it up with free stuff. But I did. And I didn’t even get/win a lot of extra stuff. People came away with much more than I did. Gah. You should have seen the swag exchange room. It was depressing. All told, I had some pretty basic swag: food storage containers, a Mrs. Potato Head, Playdoh, USB keys, electric toothbrushes/toothpaste, granola bars, gum, ear buds, a neck pillow, kitchen cleaning stuff, and I can’t even remember what else… but I had a duffel full of it.

When combined with the stuff I BOUGHT it made for quite a trip home. I declared $350 worth of purchases. I had receipts for $250 of it.  The customs guy sneered, and asked me if that $350 included the stuff I got at the conference. I was honest and said it didn’t. He said I should have – and implied I was an idiot – and that this was my opportunity to change my total, and so I did. I crossed out $350 and replaced it with $400. And he wrote something on the back of my card and I was done for.

I was taken out of the next line and directed to stand in another – crazy really, considering that other people I knew were going home with WAY more swag than I was. The other customs guy was an older Asian man.

You looked scared, he said gently, jokingly, as I approached. (So much for my poker face eh?) No, I said, it’s just been a very very long day so far. He asked me what I bought. I showed him the long receipt for $250 (it was from Anthropologie) and a small bag of stuff I bought at the MOMA store, which was worth roughly $100. He looked at me questioningly. I think the issue with with this bag, I said pointing down at it.

Is that full of stuff you bought? he asked. No, it’s got stuff from the conference I went to. I unzipped it and showed him all the crap I had. I happened to open it to reveal a coffee mug and a kitchen sponge (I kid you not) and showed him the PlayDoh at the bottom of the bag. How do you attach a value to a sample of teeth whitening strips? Were you at the blogging conference too, he asked. Yes I was. He sighed. Ok. Go.

I awkwardly bundled everything back together and went on my way.

I didn’t really have that much time to shop while I was in NYC. I poked around the MOMA store for a good long time and could have spent mucho dinero there. I picked up some things for the girls including a wonderful paper animal kit which the girls played with for a few hours yesterday. (It is utterly beautiful, and for some reason it’s not showing up in on the MOMA website but it’s over here too.) I also bought Emma these paper robots and a windup toy that shoots sparks.

Julie and I could have spent all day at Anthropologie. It was totally overwhelming. I spent a good chunk of time in the housewares section and bought BEAUTIFUL THINGS I ALREADY HAVE. Like, um, an apron, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and dishtowels. Fer chrissakes. I didn’t need any of those things, but I couldn’t leave them there. They were calling to me!

I also discovered the Swatch store in Times Square and bought a ring – suitably titled Love Explosion. It is jingly and fun and I love it to bits. (Here it is. I got a blue one.)

I also bought Mark and I an anniversary gift (it was on the 7th, while I was away). A tin birdhouse. Behold:

tin birdhouse

That’s about it for the stuff I brought home. Phew. Next up: photos from NYC!

15 Responses to "BlogHer10: swag and stuff"

1 | Loukia

August 10th, 2010 at 9:21 am


The expo hall was huge! I totally felt like I was at the Home show at Landsdown or something! I remember packing my suitcase mad that I couldn’t fit my tortillas in it, and my roommates and I were just laughing, because, TORTILLAS! We get those in CANADA! LOL! Anyway they did fit and my boys ate them in a day.
Swag. I left behind SO MUCH STUFF. The best stuff I got were from the Getting Gorgeous event – webkins for the kids, the HEX BUGS, some nice jewellery, and a new Remington flat iron, curling iron and mini flat iron. The Miracle Jeans I forgot to get, damn it! And a nice scarf from Lands End.
What else? Some cool stuff from SocialLuxe party, and a FREE LG VACUUM CLEANER – full size – from the Mouthy Housewives party! (It’s being mailed to everyone!) So some stuff was cool. Nothing at Nikon, really. Hallmark is also mailing people stuff.
Forget the swag, thought. The entire experience was amazing.
Oh and I was stopped at customs but I declated $300, and I told them most of the stuff were free gifts. Customs girl now wants to go to BlogHer’11!

2 | andrea

August 10th, 2010 at 9:27 am


I didn’t go to the same private parties you did. :) I was invited on the Kodak tour bus on Thursday and I received a free point and shoot camera beforehand. I went to the AOL party – which was gorgeous – and it had some swag associated with it, but nothing huge.

It’s a non-issue for me, really, because I wasn’t there for the freebies and it’s not a focus here on the Fishbowl. Nonetheless it is interesting to hear what everyone got!

3 | DaniGirl

August 10th, 2010 at 9:40 am


Holy crap! (LOL, I suppose that has a double entendre!!) I knew there was swag, but I had no idea it was stuff like that! I figured maybe a couple USB keys and some coupons, but free jeans and free cameras? Yowza!

So would you recommend BlogHer overall, Andrea? I’m thinking yes, based on what I’ve seen so far, but am still on the fence as to whether it’s the right scene for me. I’m very interested in what you wrote yesterday, about knowing more about your admin/stats side, and about having a plan. A plan? I’m surprised that I’m still here after all these years, that’s about as planny as I get!

We need a coffee date! ;)

4 | Bob LeDrew

August 10th, 2010 at 9:46 am


Swag makes me queasy. So much of it is totally unnecessary. I think my un-ease with it was sparked by celebrity gift-bags at awards shows. IF YOU’RE ALREADY RICH, GO BUY THE FRICKING STUFF! I would yell at the TV, prompting slitted-eye glances from the other person in the room.

Then you go to trade shows, and you’re inundated with bumf that almost always goes in the hotel-room wastebasket. I’ve tried when working on shows to suggest to people that if they want the package of stuff I was hawking, I would be happy to take their name & address and get it mailed to them so that by the time they got home, they’d have it. Dunno if that was a great idea or not.

5 | andrea

August 10th, 2010 at 10:12 am


Dani: I would recommend it, but it’s one of those things that turn out to be a different experience for everyone. I would also add that you get out what you put into it too. Next year’s event in is San Diego. I don’t think it’ll be as cheap an easy to get to as NYC, and unless something BIG comes up I don’t think i’ll be able to go.

I’m not surprised I’m still here. I love blogging and writing – and everything that comes with it. And can’t imagine life without it!

Bob: Related, it’s the waste that gets me down. I wish that sponsors would be better at realizing what works and what doesn’t work. For example: I saw a LOT of heavily branded mousepads in the swag exchange area. And Jimmy Dean alarm clocks. (That being said, Mark said he wished I’d kept mine, but I found it tacky.)

6 | Scatteredmom

August 10th, 2010 at 11:04 am


I love reading your take on the swag. I’m planning to go to Blog Her ’11 because it’s on my side of the country, and I’ve been wondering about it as well. I’m not a huge fan of “stuff” and it would really have to be something I would use and want before I’d take it.

Not sure. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Now having said that, there is a Lunch Revolution Blog Party happening over at Notes From the Cookie Jar from August 26-29, and there’s lots of awesome prizes. LOL!

7 | Mark

August 10th, 2010 at 12:34 pm


Come on! Who wouldn’t want a Jimmy Dean Sausage alarm clock ? I mean really. Give your head shake. It’s a Jimmy Dean sausage clock.

This falls into the same category as the Cast Iron Mr. Peanut I gave you for Christmas. Who can pass this stuff up?

Let’s go to San Diego next year….

8 | James

August 10th, 2010 at 5:21 pm


Worst customs experience I ever had was coming back from a conference. I think it’s a trigger for Canada Customs. Consider yourself lucky; I got sent to the “little room,” where you definitely do NOT want to go. Guy in front of me was being busted for coke smuggling, girl to my left was having her dirty laundry — underwear included — examined closely, guy to my right had boxes and boxes of cigars (what was HE thinking?). No fun at all. Now, I carry a NEXUS card and avoid the whole thing.

9 | coffee with julie

August 10th, 2010 at 8:19 pm


I am left feeling very conflicted … on the one hand, I was amazed at how low the conference fee was, but on the other hand, I did start to feel kind of insulted that the companies were really only there to sell us stuff — very traditional, stereotypical stuff to women like kitchen sponges and dinner ideas — not to partner with us (as you noted).
p.s. Anthropologie was heaven. We need to find one again soon!
p.p.s. Mark’s comment made my day! :)

10 | BeachMama

August 10th, 2010 at 8:42 pm


I think we had the same feelings about swag. Now had I been invited to some of the splashier events and gotten the jeans and curling irons and I may have kept them and been very, very thankful. I did, however, give the lady making up our room a bag full of fun stuff. She was so sweet and mentioned that she loved a certain bag, I hadn’t even gone through it yet, so I pulled out a couple of things that I wanted to keep and gave her the rest throwing in a few extras from around the room. And as we packed up we had another two bags that we left for them, with a note so they wouldn’t get in trouble. They wanted what we didn’t want so it was the best of both worlds.

I think Mark is right, San Diego Baby.

11 | Capital Mom

August 10th, 2010 at 9:00 pm


I liked that the sponsors were away from the main conference area. You really didn’t have to go there if you didn’t want to. I did take home a bag of stuff too, all of which we will use. I didn’t pick up anything I didn’t love. I was also impressed that you could take stuff to the swag room if you didnt want it or if you wanted to trade/ pick up more stuff. I got an extra Potato Head there. There was a stack of 40 or so of them. My understanding was that all the extra stuff was being donated.

12 | Lara

August 11th, 2010 at 7:24 am


You could also opt out of all the swag… the room drops, you didn’t have to take the initial bag and you didn’t have to go to the trade show.
I agree there was too much waste though – I didn’t want everyone’s paper. But I also admit that for the most part very few people tried to give me a whole “press kit”.
The swap room was great but I plan to give blogher feedback that it needs to be open much longer. We need that room once we’re packing our bags and closing it at 6 the previous day left us with lots to give the cleaning people, who may or may not have wanted it, as opposed to it being given to charity.
Barbara convinced me to keep the alarm clock to help teach Kiernan to tell time (there are few working clocks with arms I was told) and both Kiernan and Eric were pretty thrilled with it! :)

13 | Laura

August 11th, 2010 at 7:27 am


I had no idea what swag was…thanks for the explanation. I feel like Danigirl…would love to sit and chat with you about it one day. Having been to both cities – San Diego is beautiful. The total opposite of NY, but worth seeing. If you can swing a trip I would encourage you to go. p.s. Mark: Nothing says thoughtful like a cast iron Mr. Peanut (or a Jimmy Dean sausage alarm clock!)

14 | andrea

August 11th, 2010 at 7:34 am


Lara – opting out of swag is definitely an option. But opting out of something like room drops (when they deliver stuff to your room) is hard for me since I don’t know what it’s going to be. :)

Best room drop ever was at an online media event at Walt Disney World. Everyone in the group received milk and cookies before bedtime. Loved that. So thoughtful.

15 | DaniGirl

August 11th, 2010 at 6:27 pm


Hey again! Hmm, just thought I should clarify, based on your response, that I never in a million years imagined when I published my first blog post that I’d end up where I am today — but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ve read a LOT of post-BlogHer posts this week, and it’s been fascinating seeing everyone’s experiences. Thanks!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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