BlogHer ’09 (a sorta recap)

BlogHer ’09: “Women of Color and Marketing”
Originally uploaded by jasmined

Sometimes, I play this game in my head where I think of the words I use to identify myself, and then reorganize them in order of, something, I’m not quite sure:

  • Asian
  • Woman
  • Funny (I don’t think it’s conceited to think of yourself as funny, to know that you are.)
  • Fat
  • Writer
  • New Yorker (Note: So what if I’ve lived in Chicago for 15 years, give or take a summer back in Queens during college? This is totally a topic for another time.)
  • Democrat
  • Single (I think my patron saint is Eleanor Rigby.)
  • American (Naturalized in 2008, baby!)

I’m not sure why I do this. There’s a sense of anticipation I get while I play my game. As if somebody, on the street or on-line, were to all of a sudden pop up and say “Hey Jasmine! What’s the first word you’d use to describe yourself? Don’t think! Go go go!” Yeah, because that’s a completely realistic expectation to have.

I keep these words in mind when I go about my business. I don’t know if it’s because I use these words as tools to navigate and understand the world. Or perhaps these words explain, or don’t explain, how I’m treated by others. They’ve been on my mind all my life. Some words have always been there, like “fat”. Some are replacements — “woman” instead of “girl” though personally I prefer “lady” because I just love the way the word sounds. “Asian” has been important to me, though I never thought I had to re-enforce that notion until this one time in college when a friend admitted that sometimes she forgot I was Asian.

Say what?!

I tell that story now as a point of indignance (if not exactly pride). Who was she to forget? Didn’t she see me in all my Asian splendor? I may not speak Tagalog, but I certainly exhibited most (if not all) of the signs of typical Asian-ness: a proclivity for flip-flops, rice at every meal. I rep for Asian, I bleed for Asian, I eat for Asian, because I am Asian.

So thank goodness I found my way to the internets when I did. True, there are so many goofy-ass sites clownin’ on Asian people. But for every bullshit story about Asian women as trophy wives to goofy White dudes, there are awesome sites like You Offend Me You Offend My Family, Angry Asian Man, 8 Asians, and, of course, DISGRASIAN™.

Holy shit, DISGRASIAN™. You can take your This Is Why Your Fat’s and your Shit White People Like as long as I get to keep DISGRASIAN™. Jen and Diana just kill it when it comes to Asians (and yes, even non-Asians) behaving badly, or “disgrasians”. I am so glad to be their intern. Even if I am, like, the laziest intern ever.

I wish the ladies of DISGRASIAN™ could have been with me at BlogHer ’09 (you see? I finally got to the recap portion of the event!). Not only so we could collect as much swag as we could in a coordinated team effort, but also so we could hang out and learn some shit.

This was my first BlogHer conference and I’ve been telling folks it won’t be my last. I was lucky to have my friend Liz show me around and introduce me to, like, everybody. One of the folks I met through Liz was Megan Smith, who writes a blog about television called Megan’s Minute. We were able to talk a bit at the first keynote, then a bit more when I crashed the “Women of Color” (or was it “Bloggers of Color”?) table at lunch. I say crashed because I didn’t know you had to sign up for these special tables where affinity bloggers — green, LGBT, political — could connect. I felt kind of intimidated as I didn’t know anybody else at the table, though everyone was super-nice and took my cards when I remembered to pass them out.

I didn’t see most of the ladies from the table until the next day at what was my favorite panel of the weekend, “Women of Color and Marketing”. The panel was borne of a question that Kelly of Mocha Momma brought up during a panel at BlogHer ’07:

[M]arketers and PR companies don’t often approach women of color (any color) and it seemed as if these companies didn’t know how to speak to this particular group of women. In those two years have companies gotten better at approaching bloggers of color? Are these women being offered similar opportunities as their counterparts?

How should companies approach bloggers of color and have any of these women who have been presented opportunities have anything to share on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with PR companies?

I was eager to attend. After all, I was curious to hear from other people about their own perceptions regarding how they were or were not pitched to, as bloggers, as consumers, as parents. Also, I was curious about how people got in touch with PR and marketing folks. Was it just as simple as you write “I love Crocs” on your blog and all of a sudden a box of the rubbery footwear appeared on your stoop?

“They’re gonna need a bigger room.” I got to the panel early and immediately sat my ass down in the chair nearest a power strip where I promptly plugged in my laptop. The laptop that I proceeded to ignore for the next 90 minutes as the room filled with people (yes, there were a few guys — hi, Joe Schmitt!) eager to begin. The room was filled to capacity, even beyond as the back of the room was full of folks standing.

Heather Barmore of No Pasa Nada acted as the moderator for the panel, which consisted of Kelly, Karen of Chookooloonks, and Stefania of CityMama™. Heather and Kelly filled in the crowd on the 2007 panel where the question of marketing to women of color came up, and then the conversation just flowed.

Heather, in her post-panel recap, put it more eloquently than I could:

In front of a packed room discussing how women of color and marketers can engage one another. How the way companies have come to women of color since President Obama became elected (you know that ‘post-racial’ era that we’ve entered) (obviously) (WTF is post-racial?). And how marketers still screw it up.

That last point has nothing to do with women of color it has to do with every niche in the blogosphere. Sometimes companies don’t read a blog, sometimes companies call bloggers by the wrong name and in my case, sometimes companies ask me about my life as a busy mom and ask that I test out some home dry cleaning product. Which, cool, because I do in fact dry clean my clothes. I also swiffer and drive. I shop at Target. I buy snacks. I wear makeup. I do all of the things that white women do. I do all of the things that women in general do. But I’m never pitched to. That will always be my chief complaint; while I feel the issues with race and will never understand what it means to ‘sound more black’ when speaking of a product on my blog. The blog of a woman who lives in Upstate NY and therefore this is about as black sounding as I get. Though that doesn’t hit me as hard as feeling like just because I am a single woman in the blogosphere that I don’t matter.

Before this session I spoke with one of my favorite PR companies. The chief reacher outer (totally not her job title but you get my point) said that women come to her all of the time. They beg to be included. They want the free product. They provide stats, Alexa ratings, hard numbers that say they can get the word out. I don’t do that. I sit at No Pasa Nada and I write about my little life. I blog not because I’m looking for fame and fortune but because I cannot imagine not writing. Regardless, the woman at the company said that numbers don’t matter. It’s influence. I have influence (I assure you it isn’t much) but that’s what many companies are looking for. And it made me feel better to know that a) I had influence and that b) I was a great blog to work with given my readership and this current life I lead.

This is the heart of the matter for me — I write a blog because I have to. I have to write about my life, my choices, my habits because I am compelled to do so. If I amass some kind of influence, where people read me because they care about what I write (and by extension care about me), that’s awesome. I am grateful for those folks who started reading this blog back in 2000 (!) when it was an e-mail I sent on a bi-weekly basis to my friends, friends of friends, friends of those friends, and other folks who just asked about whoever it was sending the e-mails that made their friends crack up.

I think of myself as a woman of color, a blogger of color, because my ethnicity is my heritage, my identity, and is important to me. More than anything, it was important for me to be in that room to see the diversity of women bloggers of color and White folks who are supportive and genuinely interested in what they, in what we, have to say. It’s gratifying to know that I’m not the only Asian funny lady blogger out there in the world, and that people, whoever they are, give a shit about what I have to say.

But some important takeaways, if only so I can be useful (and not completely blathery), from the wonderfully attentive Christine Koh at Pop Discourse:

  1. Some bloggers just want to be pitched like any other blogger, irrespective of the color of their skin. As Kelly and I chatted about at a separate time, if you’re pitching toothpaste, race and ethnicity are irrelevant and it just seems bizarre if you put a racial/ethnic spin on it. However, pitching hair or skin products is another matter entirely.
  2. Some bloggers clearly feel more comfortable being pitched by someone who reflects their culture.
  3. Many bloggers of color feel marginalized in outreach; some traced this to the fact that some agencies have or are developing niche departments to specifically target women of color. However, these branch arms are underfunded and thus go untended. (Mel, A Dramatic Mommy suggested that cash-strapped agencies hire bloggers for hourly social media consultation instead of trying to build a separate, salaried division.
  4. Marketers need to cast a wider net. Dig deeper and go beyond the best known bloggers of color.
  5. On the flip side of above, bloggers of color also need to step up and be their own advocates if they hear of something going on and have not been approached. (But please, I urge you to do so with taste and grace and an understanding that campaigns may be full. Acknowledge that fact up front, and that if the campaign is full, you’d appreciate being considered for a future campaign.)
  6. Related to point #5, bloggers of color also should go to bat for one another. Spread the good karma and recommend fellow bloggers of colors for niche campaigns, or just other awesome bloggers in general for non-niche campaigns.
  7. To appeal to consumers of color, brands must have images on their site that reflect diversity (seems like a no brainer but a lot of companies do not do this).
  8. And possibly the most important lesson of all, do not try to adjust the dial of a writer’s voice to make it fit your campaign. Carol of NYCity Mama didn’t appreciate being asked to blog more Latina. Oh yes, she really was asked to do that.

I felt like people in the room got “it”, whatever “it” was. Some folks talked, more people laughed, but most importantly everybody listened. Which is why this had to be my favorite thing at BlogHer ’09.

Well, that and all the free food.

One last thought: Kelly recalled being asked at the BlogHer ’07 panel who the top African-American blogger was at the time. I believe she said that she had no idea who it was. Naturally, this got me thinking: who’s the top Asian or Asian-American lady blogger? Please, Jebus — don’t let it be Tila fucking Tequila.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “BlogHer ’09 (a sorta recap)

  1. Pingback: odds & sods « This Is Jasmine

  2. Pingback: Women of Color Marketing Panel at Blog Her at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  3. I really need to search for my name on Google Blogs more. I totally missed this until today. I wish I could have spent more time hanging out at BlogHer like you did – especially after reading this – but unfortunately my job is more than just blogger outreach. Thanks for the shout.

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