It’s taken me a couple of weeks to pull this post together, but it was important for me to document everything I learned. You’re about to get a crash course on Day 2 of the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference. Let’s do this panel by panel:
Bloggers & Brands/PR – Best Practices for a Happy Partnership
As I mentioned in my recap of Day 1, going into the weekend I was really curious about working with brands. My previous judgmental attitude toward this was fundamentally changed by Deb from Smitten Kitchen, when she addressed my question on this topic at her event in Toronto last year. I had an open mind going into this first panel of the day, that included Heather from Canadian Beef, Brittany from Mushrooms Canada, Mary Luz from Sizzling Communications and Mardi, blogger and co-founder of FBC.
I was engaged in this panel right off the top when Brittany started talking about brands and bloggers having a co-beneficial relationship. In my mind, it was always just bloggers taking product and/or cash in return for pimping out a product. As a reader, this would sometimes annoy me, because I would always wonder – do they use that product anyway, or are they just doing it to cash that cheque? It was really refreshing to hear Brittany’s perspective on this topic, as she revealed that her brand won’t work with just any blogger; she’ll complete her due diligence before working with them. She’ll check your blog to see if you’ve worked with the product before, determine if you have an engaged following on social media, find out if you’ve worked with the competition, and get a general feel for your blog (i.e. writing style, quality of photos, frequency of posts). I loved this authenticity, but it made me wonder if American brands do the same. By the sheer amount of sponsored posts I see every week, I’m skeptical that this level of relationship building occurs. Heather echoed many of the same ideas as Brittany, and also said that by building a relationship with a blogger, the blogger adds value to the brand (by writing the post and promoting the product), but the brand also adds value to the blogger (by promoting the post on social media, on their own blog, etc.).
Mary Luz came at the panel from the event perspective, as she works in PR, and represents companies that will often invite bloggers to product launches and other special events. She said that the strongest blog posts that result from her events are more than just a recounting of the experience; they’re the ones that will tell a story about the blogger’s personal connection to the event. She advised that if you’re going to write about a foodie event, go the extra inch to think like a journalist or traditional member of the media to make your post stand out, for example, requesting an interview with the chef at the event. She also said that if you’ve attended an event where you had a bad experience, you should reach out to the brand to do a follow-up and explain why, instead of just not writing about the event or worse, doing a boring post about an event you obviously didn’t like.
Mardi presented the blogger’s perspective, and advised that when she works with brands, she strives to make the post authentic for her readers. She carefully chooses the things she says yes to, and researches all brands she works with. She also says to be bold, and pitch to brands you want to work with instead of waiting to be approached. Finally, when she writes a sponsored post, she’ll always disclose what she was given or invited to, so her readers know the deal.
Compensation was briefly discussed at the end of the panel, which was also pretty interesting to me. The bottom line is basically that if you’re going to negotiate payment, you have to justify the ask, and outline what you’re going to do for that compensation. Heather was really open with the crowd when someone asked her about numbers, and she disclosed that Canadian Beef pays their blogging ambassadors $100/post + compensation from sponsors (i.e. a grocery card to enhance the experience and offset the cost of groceries).
The Critic & The Chef – Two Perspectives on Restaurants & Blogging
This panel was all about the relationship between bloggers and restaurants and featured Alexa Clark from CheapEats and Jason Bangerter, Executive Chef at Luma. I had two main takeaways from this panel. First of all, if you’re going to take pictures of your food at a restaurant TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. Secondly, if you’ve gone to a restaurant that you’ve loved, it’s okay to write a blog post about it, but try to make it an interesting story, rather than just gushing over everything. I’m totally guilty of this, and in fact had eaten at Richmond Station the week before the conference, and was planning on writing a post about it doing that exact thing. So stay tuned for my attempt to make that an engaging read.
Tech For Your Blog – Getting Visitors & Keeping Them
Mind blown. Of all the aspects of blogging – cooking/baking, photography, writing – the tech side is my least favourite. Well, not my least favourite, it’s just that I feel that in the limited time I have to spend on blogging, I’d rather devote it to the three things I listed above. Melissa and Dave broke it down for tech-losers such as myself, and kept it simple. They spoke about making your blog mobile friendly by using a responsive theme that automatically adapts to the device that’s accessing the site. They explained what an <h tag> was, and how to insert them in blog posts, and to make sure to change your image titles and fill in the Alt Text on your photos. They introduced the concept of getting indexed by Google, which to be honest, was still a little over my head. I feverishly copied down their list of ‘5 Things to Do When You Get Home’. True to form, I haven’t done any of them yet, but they’re on my list of action items to implement.
Only notable because I got to chat with Julie, and told her how she changed my life with her post on Skillet Strawberry Jam. She said I gave her goosebumps and then gave me a huge hug. She was exactly how she seems on her blog: funny, down-to-earth, and approachable. Love her.
Making Dough – Earning a Living With Your Words
So, I don’t really talk about it here on Planet Byn, but I have a career in the financial industry that’s worlds away from food. I’m passionate about it in a completely different way than I am about baking, and that’s totally fine. I have no illusions that I’ll be walking away from my 9-5 to support myself through my (currently non-existent) blog income. That being said, this panel was really interesting, and presented three different perspectives from people who have done just that. Aimee, Jan and Dan each spoke about their careers in the food industry, and how they support themselves via everything from ad revenue on their blogs, to freelance work with magazines, to projects with Food Network Canada.
Food Photography & Styling For Your Blog
This was a hands-on workshop with a food photographer (Robin Sharp) and food stylist (Adele Hagan), who started off by giving lots of interesting tips and tricks for styling and shooting food. They set up a test shot so we could see in a live demo how Adele styled the food, and then how Robin shot it. There were lots of things that were over my head (i.e. bounce cards) but many that I took note of, in particular:
- Shoot vertically with a shallow depth of field
- Don’t be afraid of negative space
- Use side or back lighting (natural light is always preferred)
- Everything looks good on white plates or wood (i.e. cutting board)
- It’s all about the ooze and the crumb right now; it makes your shots look more inviting
Side note: Adele looks EXACTLY like Connie Britton from Nashville, and I told her so in the workshop portion of the session.
The Changing Face of Food Writing – From the Joy of Cooking to Food52
You know what, if there was a low point of the weekend for me, this was it. The speaker in this session was Lucy Waverman, and she didn’t seem overly supportive of food bloggers. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a well-respected food writer, and I can see why she was invited to speak, but in less than an hour she managed to tell us all we need writing classes, we’ll never make money writing cookbooks, and magazines don’t want to work with us (no worries for me, but I felt for the bloggers in the room who do strive to do those things). She also made a subtle dig at my favourite food blogger and my favourite Food Network personality, which won’t be repeated here. Let’s just move on.
Is Anybody Out There?
This session with Dianne Jacob was an interesting debate regarding how to entice your readers to leave comments, but got a little derailed with a discussion on a fairly morbid article, but back on track with an in-depth review of cinnamon toast (ha!).
Q&A with David Leite
Our wonderful keynote speaker from Day 1 returned to field questions from the crowd. My main takeaway from this lively hour was David’s emphasis on quality of posts vs. quantity of posts; one quality post per week with a good story to tell and a great photo vs. three posts per week just for the sake of posting is ideal. This really resonated with me, as for some reason I think I need to crank out posts multiple times per week, even if I don’t have anything interesting to say.
Got to sit with old friends (Carole) and new (Dara & Erin, Renee, Amy), as well as the crew from Calgary (Dan, Stephanie, Vincci), who basically just make you want to pack your knives and move out west. There was a lot of wine, a delicious salad with pickled beets, bacon jam and goat cheese, and an unfortunate late night food menu that involved tomato soup cupcakes. At the end of the night, Carole, Dan, Stephanie and I moved to the bar and met up with Andrea, Kathy, Isabelle, Connie and Kelly where we continued to chat and eat chocolate goldfish crackers, until we were politely kicked out 1:30am.
There’s still more to come! Stay tuned for Day 3!