Most Innovative Meetings 2012: #11 BlogHer Conference

Working closely with its backers to dream up creative, targeted activations, the conference helps sponsors better attract attention.

By Jenny Berg July 19, 2012, 2:50 AM EDT

Campbell Brown moderated PepsiCo's "sofa summit."

Photo: Courtesy of PepsiCo

Since its inception in 2005, BlogHer has received support from a seemingly endless list of big-name corporations, including Microsoft, Pepsi, Tide, Wal-Mart, Jimmy Dean, and Procter & Gamble. The conference—created to recognize, connect, and educate female leaders in social media—demonstrates how sponsors can connect with their target audience in meaningful ways.

“We enjoy a wide range of attendees that provide diversity and unprecedented buying power,” said Lori Luna, BlogHer’s San Francisco-based events manager. “Our attendees are primarily women who drive most of the decision making in their household. Our sponsors know this and are eager to engage.”

BlogHer has an in-house, two-person sponsor-relations team that meets with companies to discuss key objectives prior to the conference. The BlogHer team shares best practices, tips about capturing its audience’s interest, and encourages creativity. “We don’t limit our sponsors to simply a booth activation,” Luna said. “We encourage creative and innovative ideas and thoughts. Almost nothing is discouraged.”

Armed with an understanding of what makes the attendees tick, and the bigger-is-better tone set by the sponsor-relations team, “large brands have brought in buses, 2,500-square-foot homes, gardens, cooking demonstrations with celebrity chefs and personalities, and more educational activations such as health and wellness discussions,” Luna said.

One of the event’s more memorable activations was in 2009, when Tide brought affable spokesman Tim Gunn to the trade show floor to offer attendees tips on revamping their images. In 2010, Sara Lee-owned food companies Hillshire Farm and Jimmy Dean created an 80- by 20-foot kitchen on the trade show floor, where Top Chef star Padma Lakshmi hosted a sandwich-building competition.

Also that year, the Hershey Company and Kraft Foods took over a 42nd-floor suite at host venue the Hilton New York. The suite let guests make their own s’mores in four separate areas designed to look like a campsite, a backyard grill, a kitchen, and a living room with a fireplace.

“From 2005 to 2009, BlogHer produced one annual event with steady growth,” Luna said. “However, since 2009 we have grown our conference business exponentially, both by launching new events and enjoying considerable growth in sponsors and attendees at our annual event.”

Last year’s event, held in San Diego, drew 4,000 registered attendees and more than 100 sponsors; the 2010 gathering in New York had 2,400 attendees and closer to 80 sponsors. This year’s conference will take place in New York in August, and planners expect attendance and sponsorship to stay on par with the record numbers of 2011.

In 2009, BlogHer launched a food conference in San Francisco targeting food bloggers that drew 200 guests and more than 12 sponsors; this year, it takes place in Seattle in June and organizers expect 500 guests and 24 sponsors. Three new events also launched in 2011: BlogHer Entrepreneurs, BlogHer Handmade, and BlogHer Writers. In all, “BlogHer conferences have seen an enormous increase in the past few years, both our annual and our targeted vertical events,” Luna said.

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