Just Business

BlogHer Original Post

When I started writing in this space I was a business virgin. And now I take glee in every business story that happens to cross my path. My interest is most readily piqued when it comes to marketing and blogging because it is such a relatively new phenomenon that I’ve watched blossom before my eyes. It’s hard not to wonder whether or not the geeks who started blogging so early on ever dreamed that a simple online diary would turn into such a marketing tool. And I doubt that anyone ever thought that mothers would be a driving force within the community. But it has happened, ever so slowly and both bloggers and business are learning to adapt to see what works and doesn’t work. Because it is new and there is no other way to emphasize this fact. Like with anything in its relative infancy things need to be tested and tweaked and expecting perfection is a little…and I am so not going to mince words here…well, it’s bit on the ludicrous side.

Over the past week plus I’ve witnessed a rather spectacular blogging and marketing mess of confusion. That’s the only way to adequately describe the debacle that I’ve been referring to as “Camp Babygate”. Before I go on I feel compelled to say that I’m writing this as a complete outsider to the situation (I don’t have children and so it would have been impossible for me to have been included or to feel hurt for not being included). I am Switzerland and I’m enjoying some wine and trying to digest and comprehend.

The synopsis is that Johnson & Johnson invited 50 ‘mommybloggers’ to attend a midweek conference called Camp Baby. I would imagine that the thought behind this melding of the mommyblogging minds was that Johnson & Johnson knew how much of a force to contend with mothers who blog have become. J&J is the ultimate baby company and figured that they could and should tap into this market, offer up some products, and get the word out via the blogging vehicle. In the following weeks more and more women invited started blogging and twittering about whether or not they would be attending the conference. Innocuous enough, as more of their fellow “mommybloggers” heard about Camp Baby the more chatter started as to who was or wasn’t invited and why. All was still relatively fine. About two weeks ago as the event became more popular and women were finalizing details things seemed to unbuckle at the seams.

Some of those invited felt that they had been “uninvited” as they learned that nursing babies weren’t allowed at the camp because it was a “mother’s getaway”. And others were uninvited when Johnson and Johnson who would be paying for women to travel and stay at the event, was unable to accommodate specific travel arrangements as these bloggers were unable to attend the event in its entirety. All I can say about the various arguments for being upset with Johnson & Johnson is that some seem more valid than others but fine.

Julie from Mothergoosemouse was uninvited after she started to make travel arrangements to get to the airport and mentioned her nine-week old Oliver who would also be attending:

Yesterday, I emailed the organizer who’d approved my attendance to advise her of this change to my arrangements, and she asked if I was planning to bring my infant to the conference. When I confirmed that yes, I would be bringing him along and keeping him in a sling with me, she advised me that, in short, I could not attend with my baby in tow. That Johnson’s Camp Baby had been planned - by mothers - to be a baby-free getaway.

Stefania Pomponi-Butler was ‘uninvited’ as she finalized her travel plans and requested a tweak in her travel needs based on a speaking invitation that she had already accepted at the same time in New York City:

Hi there,

I have already purchased my ticket for the BlogHer conference...I would need travel to J&J on Tuesday to arrive the night before the camp starts. Then I suppose I would need travel back to Manhattan for the BlogHer conference. Is that do-able?

MARCH 15

from Stefania
to redacted < redacted @rfbinder.com>,
date Sat, Mar 15, 2008 at 3:55 PM
subject Re: Johnson's Camp Baby Registration Information
mailed-by gmail.com

Sorry meant to say travel on Wednesday to arrive by 6pm. I can use my own ticket to travel home--i just need a way to get to the J&J camp since I hadn't planned on attending. thanks!

MARCH 17 (I am DISINVITED)

from redacted < redacted @rfbinder.com>
to Stefania
date Mon, Mar 17, 2008 at 2:43 PM
subject RE: Johnson's Camp Baby Registration Information
mailed-by rfbinder.com

Hi Stefania,
Thanks so much for getting in touch about Camp Baby! (note: I did NOT contact YOU. YOU contacted me, remember?!) Unfortunately, we can only accomodate those who registered to arrive and leave within the parameters of Johnson's Camp Baby. I will be sure to include you in all future invitations and mailings.

Take care!

Best,
redacted, on behalf of Johnson's Camp Baby.

Upon the writing of both of these posts and given the wildfire like movement of sharing throughout the blogosphere, it seemed as if everyone and their mother knew of Camp Baby and Johnson & Johnson’s faux pas. Posts and twitters and emails (OH MY!) flew back and forth as women tried to get to the bottom of what had happened and just how horribly J&J had screwed up. Whether or not this massive company had permanently ruined their relationship with the ever-growing group of women or if they would be able to rebound and score with a successful event. The comments in these posts speak far better than I can as to the breadth of thought and in the end these two posts summed up how Johnson and Johnson and PR companies could rectify their relationship with bloggers:

From Susan Getgood:

Where did it fall down? Errors of execution.

They didn't really understand the mom's point of view. Lori told me that they thought it was understood that this was an adults-only event with no child care. Well, yes, it was. Part of the disconnect was that J&J thought that meant no children or babies whatsoever. Mommybloggers, however, likely interpreted it simply as no child care.

What J&J didn't understand was that a mom with a very young nursing baby might expect something called Camp Baby to accommodate her and her infant since the whole point of bringing such a young baby was that the mother couldn't be separated. In other words, she didn't need child care.

And from Erin Kotecki-Vest:

It’s a damn shame these companies, marketers, PR flacks and social media opportunists don’t actually READ the blogs of the Moms they target. They would learn an awful lot in a very short period of time if they did.

They would learn you might not want to ask the Mom with the newborn to ditch the baby and screw that whole breastfeeding thing to come try their products for a weekend. They would learn you might not want to ask the Jewish Mom to come celebrate Easter or say, attend an event during Passover.

Like I said, I have had a week to dissect this stuff and read and re-read each time becoming more and more intrigued as to how big it managed to get. The latest being in response to the part where Johnson & Johnson said that bloggers who attended could write about the event if they chose but it was not an obligation. No signatures signed in blood to write, “OMFG that baby oil is AWESOME”. That said many of the women invited and confirmed to attend are part of the BlogHer ad network. It is stipulated in BlogHer ad network contracts that “Any sponsored trips are subject to the $40 restriction. If you'd like to blog about a sponsored event or trip, please make sure you're posting your entry on a page that isn't running BlogHerAds.” That from the most recent BlogHer ad network newsletter. This means that women attending the event who are members of the BlogHer ad network cannot write about their trip since it is entirely funded by Johnson & Johnson and the trip is worth over $40. If these women choose to write about it on another page on their site that does not have the ad network code then they are allowed to do as they please. I don’t know the contracts with other ad networks but from my understanding there is not the same restriction. So women who are apart of Federated Media for example, can blog about the event as they please.

After dissecting and thinking and discussing as a person who is genuinely interested in how one problem turned into rallying cries against the Johnson & Johnson PR machine. I can only say that while J&J is a huge corporation they did screw up but not in the whole PR armageddon style that others have purported. Their main issue seems to be that they didn’t state on the outset their explicit expectations of those who were invited and nothing more. They should have stated that women attending were to attend the entire event. They should have also stated that women were not allowed to bring children. All of this would have saved days and days of agony and writing and I’m pretty sure all of these women now have a royal case of carpal tunnel. Johnson & Johnson should know the general audience of who they are trying to market but it is NOT necessarily their responsibility to find out the details of the lives of each blogger that was invited to know how each would react to the invitation. That isn’t to say that J&J isn’t responsible at all but they’re a huge company and this is business to them not a personal affront on those who weren't invited or those with prior commitments*.

That’s what I can’t stress enough: It’s business. Both bloggers and companies need each other and need to learn to maneuver through the tunnels of the other side. Bloggers still don’t seem entirely sure how they want to be treated and corporations don’t really know how to approach them. There are faults on both sides but like I said, it is nothing personal. Companies need to keep a level playing field for all involved. In the case of J&J it would be impossible for them to give special arrangements for each attendee. It would be nice but completely unfair to those who could attend the entire event. And while they did screw up in not announcing in large print what they needed and wanted from those they invited, several days of reading has led me to believe that it really isn’t that big of a deal. They have admitted to their mistake and now all involved can move on. The end. Both sides can learn a lot from what happened here in this relatively new space and then sing kumbaya. It’s business plain and simple. Nothing more and nothing less.

*I found out that the Passover brouhaha was over a different event aimed at mommybloggers

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