14 October, 2009  |   30 Comments

Broad Summit Recap

Like I mentioned last week, I was part of the team that worked very hard to put together an event for a small group of people.

One of the ideas behind it was that there weren’t enough events for smart women to get together and feel cared for.
Women can be quite good at good at caring for each other.
This isn’t often celebrated.

We are so often only set up as consumers.
We are set up to take each other down.
We are set up to compete, judge and gossip.

Conferences had become this blinky fritz of overwhelm, pushy sponsors and handshakes.

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30 thoughts on “Broad Summit Recap

  1. 1
    Ariel says:

    Sounds like it was a wonderful weekend!

    Sorry to hear about the back-lash you’re encountering. Not that you asked, but here are my thoughts: So, for the last four years I’ve hosted a bimonthly reading series that sells out within minutes.

    Although my reflex is to share my excitement leading up to the show, I’ve learned the hard way that people get triggered and angry when you show them something they are excluded from after they’ve learned they can’t go … but before the event happens.

    In other words, I’ve learned to keep my mouth closed between tickets being sold and the show happening. I turn down press opportunities. I don’t tweet or blog or talk the show once everyone who CAN come IS coming. The people with tickets to a sold out show are already excited. The people who don’t have tickets are only going to get further frustrated and triggered by my excitement.

    It’s hard, of course. I don’t like keeping my mouth closed when I’m excited about something. But I’ve dealt with enough hurt feelings and frustrated non-ticket holders over the years that I’ve learned that when people are excluded from something, it makes things even more challenging for them to show them what they’re going to be missing before it happens. After it happens? Meh: it’s water under the bridge — a cool thing you didn’t know about that happened without you. But beforehand? People have time to stew and get frustrated.

    Obviously, my show is different from a sponsored conference. But it sounds like some of the same difficult lessons may apply…

  2. 2
    Helen Jane says:

    Thanks lady! And if the worst backlash (much like your show) is “*I* want to go!” Then I’ll take it – grin.

  3. 3
    whoorl says:

    I’m still basking in the mellow glow. Thank you again, Helen Jane! Such a memorable event. xo

  4. 4
    JenB says:

    You know i love you and s lot of the people who attended, but it did seem very exclusionary. The public website for a private party with an RSVP on the page. The invitation to sign up with the hopes you MAY be chosen for the next summit. The appearance of everyone already knowing each other already. I have spent years defending the non cliquey-ness if BlogHer and the summit seemed to undermine all of it. It DID look like all of the “cool” kids were invited and it was well sponsored just like BlogHer. I hate to even post thus comment for fearbig backlash from those who did attend and feel so positive about it. A “summit” implies something more open than 30 special chosen bloggers.

    That said, everyone did seem to have a great time and it was obviously well organized. So, good on you for that.

    JenB

  5. 5
    Helen Jane says:

    I threw my own kind of party because I wanted to do something small and special and get to attend.

    I encourage you to throw your own kind of party too.

  6. 6
    JenB says:

    I would love to throw a similar party, perhaps in a different way. Small gatherings are a beautiful thing. You clearly enabled those who attended to have a great time.

  7. 7

    Wow—it looks like it was an amazing weekend, and I’m not going to lie: I am JEALOUS that I didn’t get to go, and I certainly put my name in that little email box :)

    What I would love to see as a spin-off is this is perhaps you, Maggie, Aubrey and Laura giving us your tips on *how* to make this happen. I am in total agreement that we should support one another, and throw our own parties. In life, I tend to shy away from what I refer to as “idle bitching” (no offense meant, whatsoever!) where we complain but don’t change. But, I’m a smallish blogger. I’ve never been sponsored. I wouldn’t know the first thing about securing people to cover costs and things like that. Would any of you be willing to write about that?

    I would love to see this event mark a change in the way that the blogging world operates—enabling others to take charge, throw their own parties and encourage even more communities to grow.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I am genuinely curious. Glad you guys had an amazing weekend together.

  8. 8
    Heather B. says:

    The only thing I’m feeling right now is the need for wine and a massage. And milk and cookies.

  9. 9
    Helen Jane says:

    Amy, I love your comment — we’re rounding up this week to see what we want to do in the future and y’all will be the first to know.

    And Heather B. AMEN, I’d like those things too. ESPECIALLY the wine. Ahem.

  10. 10
    Alyce says:

    It looks like an amazing weekend. I am enjoying reading about it and seeing the wonderful pictures.

    And while I do wish I could have been there, I don’t begrudge you one iota. I wouldn’t dare to presume…

    From what I read, you (the organizers) did an incredible job from concept to execution. And it is a lovely concept – inspiring and generous and intimate. I’m glad it was successful.

    So now you’ve got me wondering about what I could do to apply the ideas to my own life. It’s a lovely daydream.

  11. 11
    abdpbt says:

    It does sound like a fantastic weekend and a lot of fun. Perhaps one way to encourage people to organize similar events would be to share your resource contacts (names of sponsors and contact numbers, etc.) so that more bloggers are in fact able to throw their own kinds of parties with sponsored massages and taco trucks. Because I’m not sure that all bloggers will be able to foot the bill for that kind of a get together. But then, perhaps that is not their kind of party, right?

  12. 12
    KT says:

    I love the spirit in which this was created. Looks like you did an amazing job of pushing that spirit through to the last drop & not losing sight of your intentions. Well done!

  13. 13
    jenB says:

    HeatherB, I think we would all like the cookies, the massages and the wine on a regular basis. Helen Jane deserves them especially.

    xo to you my friend, thanks

  14. 14
    jonniker says:

    Hm. Okay, look. I know that you know that I said something on Twitter, and there’s no point in being passive-aggressive about it, so I might as well say it here: What JenB said is not a unique feeling among many. I’m only in touch with a small corner, obviously, but when I made one idle comment, I received quite literally dozens of e-mails and comments about it from people who were afraid to say something out of fear that they would seem petty or jealous, and also out of fear of offending the attendees, many of whom are accessible and well-liked. I’ll admit, I struggle with this myself, because a few of the attendees are people I consider friends, and I don’t hold their attendance against them. However, it seems disingenuous of me to stay quiet when my Tweets are dangling out there in the open air, and everyone knows it.

    That being said, Ariel’s point is excellent. There are a thousand ways this could have been managed up front to mitigate the backlash of which you speak — much of which, I hasten to add, is not “sad feelings,” but rather shocked indignation that something that seemed so tacky was happening before their very eyes. A private party that appears to be MARKETED towards the very people who were not included? Surely that cannot be … and yet …?

    It was handled in the exact opposite way Ariel describes. Come on, you gals are in marketing. You branded it. You publicized the website. You put up bios and adorable little photos of everyone going. You got sponsors. Maggie encouraged people to follow along via Twitter. To FOLLOW ALONG with the happenings of a retreat for which they were not invited, and likely never would be. And then, to rub salt in the wound, there was a little sign-up for a newsletter that seemed to ask people to prostrate themselves and say, “Pick me! Pick me!”

    All that considered, I have a hard time believing that branding it and behaving in an exclusive, envy-inducing manner wasn’t deliberate, whether it be for future events or to satisfy sponsors or … I’m not sure. And intellectually, I can understand why that is — I like to think I understand what you guys were trying to accomplish, and I have no doubt the event was lovely.

    And yes, there were a few sad feelings — that’s, quite honestly, what made me speak out. I didn’t have sad feelings, frankly — my feelings were more of shock and mild amusement at first, but when I saw that there were a not-insignificant number of people, a few of whom I care about very much, whose feelings WERE hurt by the very nature of how it was carried out? Then yes, I got pretty angry.

    With that in mind, I sincerely hope this is not the future of conferences. To truly foster community, an event should be open — yes, you can make it more intimate by limiting the number of potential attendees, but by hand-selecting them, you are, in fact, self-limiting, and deliberately so. That’s not community-building.

    To be honest, I am a little insulted that people are surprised by this reaction. If backlash like this wasn’t the goal, albeit in a friendlier form, I’m not clear what was.

  15. 15
    kris says:

    I’m glad to see some honest discussion about this event — and truly am glad all went well with the weekend. I will confess to being shocked when I saw the main invite page — and only found out about it through a series of contacts with fellow bloggers who seemed reticent to express that they were offended by this being publicized. I think people knew that they would be accused of being jealous, when there’s something much more substantial to our reactions.

    In my view, women on the Web do not support each other enough. I’ve been at this for a while now, and am shocked that we seem to be moving in a direction of being more exclusionary than inclusive. How does that serve us as a group? In my mind, supporting this community involves personal emails, attending seminars at which fellow writers speak, reading and commenting openly. At this moment, I’m hard pressed to see how a closed event with a very open Web page can be interpreted as supportive. What am I missing?

  16. 16
    Laura says:

    Hi there. Laura here. One of the people who worked to organize this. Thanks for reaching out on this. At the risk of hijacking HJ’s comments section, I’d like to respond to some of your points.

    I can definitely speak to the motivation… which was honestly and simply just to have a get together of friends. We all have people who have helped us with a lot and through a lot over the last year or two, and this was a celebration of them. Pure and simple.

    Why a public website? I get that question. It

  17. 17
    jenB says:

    Laura,

    I get all of this. I understand the spirit of the weekend was to have a nice time with friends, and yes, it is understandable to have limits, so does BlogHer. Yes, a lot of women around the country are having their own meetups, perhaps not all expenses paid, swag bag meetups,with sponsors and beautiful public websites. I would say we all support smaller, more intimate gatherings of friends we have met online. I think it is good you cleared up that this was a get together of friends, people you guys knew and chose to invite. Certainly not a broad spectrum of bloggers. However, the “thank you gift” nature of the weekend seems like a stretch. I appreciate your honesty in every aspect of your comment, but I feel placated to that the idea was to thank thirty women. It is now ok to tell us it was a handpicked, invite only event of friends who got an awesome free weekend to wine country.

    I would be remiss if I did not tell you (and Helen Jane and Aubrey) that the weekend looked spectacular and by the write ups and photos, it was a fabulous event,enjoyed by all.

  18. 18
    Leah says:

    I agree with Ariel’s wisdom re: publicizing an event that people aren’t invited to BEFORE it happens. I remember when Maggie hosted a gathering of blog friends several years ago, and from what I recall, it wasn’t publicized beforehand, just mentioned afterward as simply a group of friends who got together for a weekend (which it was, since it wasn’t a sponsored event). Although I looked through the pictures that were posted after that event and thought, “Gee, that looked like fun. Wish I had been there,” I definitely didn’t get the yucky, why-not-me feeling I did looking at the Broad Summit page the day I found out about it. (The reasons I felt yucky are mostly specific to me, so I won’t go into them here.)

    I think, though, that publicizing the attendees was done the way it was for a reason, and that’s the same reason people are getting bent out of shape over the whole thing: because that’s not just a list of girlfriends, it’s a list of highly respected, widely-read, influential women–the type who will get the biggest return from sponsors, yes, but also the type who will make non-attendees wish they could be part of that group, if only to say I Am Part of This Group. Obviously, this is great for the attendees and the sponsors, but I think it’s proven to be not-so-great for the larger community, no matter what the intent was. Even more, I wonder how much of the hurt feelings stem not just from people wanting to attend the summit but from people wishing they were good enough to at least be invited. Those are kinds of yucky feelings are the worst, and unfortunately I think those are the ones that are going to stick around.

    That said–and I told Aubrey this–having a super-exclusive summit the first year pretty much guarantees that people will be beating down doors to get into any future summits, if only because they want to be tapped as a Chosen One, and although it’s obviously a brilliant and likely-to-be-successful marketing strategy, it definitely has some consequences that I don’t think further the goal of gatherings like this in general (i.e., community).

    Because I know three out of the four organizers at least casually, I never suspected any of you of ill intent (least of all you, HJ, because I know you and adore you), and reading Laura’s comment above makes me feel even better about that, but I do think that just because the intent was pure doesn’t mean the organizers can dismiss the fallout. (You’re obviously not responsible for how people feel about anything, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be sensitive to the possibilities of how you might make them feel.) If anything, everyone (all of us) should take a step back, chalk a lot of this up to first-time flubs, and try to avoid the same mistakes next time, and then we will indeed emerge as a stronger community.

    (Note to HJ: When I say “you,” I don’t mean YOU you, but the organizers in general, and as a group rather than as individuals.)

  19. 19
    jonniker says:

    Thanks, Laura, I actually appreciate the response, and it was very kind and, I believe, honest from your perspective. Given the amount of e-mail I AGAIN received after my comment, I feel a weird sort of responsibility to respond for many.

    Okay, look: I love blogs, too, and I love reading about other people’s lives. And I fully — really and truly — understand that weddings and the like have public websites. I’ve planned many an event myself. But generally those websites and Facebook invites and the like are only announced to the attendees.

    One thing to remember is that as leaders in this space, and I’m loath to say it, yet again, there is a certain … if not responsibility, but necessary awareness that people are watching you, and that things are going to be interpreted a certain way. And I don’t believe for a moment that there wasn’t knowledge that this was going to play out the way it did in the public eye, and yet it was thrust forward anyway. I realize that you can’t please everyone, but doing something you know is going to be offensive on some level to a large amount of people is … tough to swallow for a lot of people.

    I understand the motivation and I really appreciate the sentiment behind it, but that doesn’t take away the fact that publicizing an event — an event that is, quite obviously, a gathering of Internet celebrities of sorts, of people who were hand-picked for a reason that almost everyone could conclude individually, right or wrong — and asking people to follow along with it on Twitter is a bit tacky. This isn’t Ryan Seacrest live-Tweeting the Emmys, you know? It seemed a little … self-important.

    (BAH, there I go with the bluntness, but truly, I can’t think of a gentler way to say it, though I’m sure there is one. But then again, I have just come from dinner with friends where there was a lot of beer. That I consumed.)

    I recognize that you wanted it to be a thank-you (though I’m not sure I buy it entirely), but the risk of obtaining sponsorship was offending a great deal of people, and truly, I don’t think there’s any denying that that is precisely what happened.

    For me — and here, I can legitimately only speak for myself — I am not sure hosting such an event would be worth it, particularly with the understanding that the vast majority of people following along don’t have the means, audience or power to obtain the level of sponsorship to put on an event of similar caliber. That kind of feels like we’re supposed to take inspiration from Jennifer Lopez’s birthday party. Yes, I would love a $10,000 cake (or WOULD I?), but no, I do not have JLo’s wallet. It’s not really apples to apples.

    Are you familiar with The Blathering? A group of bloggers hosted a similar event in Sacramento about a month ago, and it was really beautifully done. It was open to all who were interested, yet very intimate. And while it was publicized, it maintained a very open, inclusive atmosphere, even as we watched the attendees enjoy themselves from afar. Something that Broad Summit, it seems, lacked.

    I don’t expect we’ll agree on this, and I fully expect some defensiveness on the part of the event organizers and attendees — I understand that completely. It’s very likely how I would feel if I were in your shoes. Also bear in mind that some of my response was to Helen Jane’s suggestion that this be the future of events and conferences — a notion I strongly disagree with.

    I also hope that it’s clear that just because people objected, whether publicly or privately, it does not mean that they are somehow not supportive of other women, competitive or tearing each other down. I like to think that women are multi-dimensional enough to be able to object to something without being labeled petty traitors of the sisterhood.

    And yet, I really appreciate the dialogue — to me, it’s much better to discuss directly than have you guys watch a bunch of people rant and rave on Twitter. If it’s being said, much better to own it, I think :)

    I hope you all have a great week.

  20. 20
    Helen Jane says:

    Thanks to Ariel’s helpful and constructive comment, I get that we could have communicated it differently — I agree! Also! Poor UI on the RSVP button! Agree! These were preventable and I’ve learned from them!

    But, I would not have been invited to this event were I not throwing it.
    Period.
    You can do it too.

    It will take all your free time for months, you may have a few public missteps, but you can do it too.

    And Jonniker, you misunderstood me, I did not say this was the future of events and conferences. I said it “could be a new model.”

    I think it could be a more comfortable way for guests to share their interests in a meaningful way.
    You think it’s exclusionary.

    We do agree that it could have been communicated differently.

  21. 21
    Leah says:

    Now THIS is community–the ability to talk about tough things, with our names attached, and to come out the other side feeling okay about ourselves and others. THIS is what it’s about, so THANK YOU, Helen Jane, for letting this be a welcoming forum for discussion!

  22. 22
    Jennie says:

    I’m enjoying this comments forum because — as Leah said — this feels like community. Communities don’t always agree, but they do listen and learn. This is a very inspiring and graceful discussion. We’ve all seen disagreement be met with fangs and nastiness and it causes so many people to slink back to their corner of the Internet and never speak up, which just plain sucks and doesn’t encourage anything, really.

    I was a part of The Blathering, an open-to-all blogging meet-up in Sacramento at the end of September. It was an out-of-pocket event, so not everyone who wanted to come could, but everyone was welcome. A block of hotel rooms were reserved and we each brought a 99-cent swag gift, so we all left with overflowing bags that made us feel special without any bank accounts being damaged in the process.

    There was a host who paid out-of-pocket to make dinner for 15-or-so bloggers. We all sat around and drank wine and … bonded on a level that words don’t really do justice to. None of us were hand-picked, but the spirit of community raged that night, and it was incredible. I think the host would whole-heartedly agree that whatever she paid was returned to her. And then some.

    The great part was that no one sat at home and thought, “why not me?” We inspired a sense of community without anyone feeling they were overlooked for a specific reason other than the unfortunate our-economy-is-shitty one.

    I am a cheesy, corny woman at heart. I love inspiration and building women up and coming together for a sense of community and unity and changing the landscape of women in media and in creative arts. I think a weekend get-together is amazing and SHOULD be admired, and there are many things about the Broad Summit that were lovely AND inspiring, but as we sat around our own blogging meet-up, bloggers asked about this Summit and asked, “Well, why can’t I go? I live just up the road?” It’s perfectly understandable why they couldn’t/wouldn’t go if it’s a weekend for friends but as a marketed, publicized event it isn’t JUST a weekend for friends and shouldn’t be branded that way. The sponsors understandably expected something, and I think it would have been more respectable to be upfront about that obligation. This post and comments section is the first time I’ve heard anyone say anything about needing the sponsorship and therefore needing it to be closed. I respect honesty way more than fluff. It was a weekend for very well-known (for a reason; you’re all incredible!) leaders of the blogging community to come together. That’s different than a weekend for friends, it really is.

    With all that said, I think the backlash and the way its been handled is incredible and it HAS started something new and necessary: a way to communicate as a blogger without worrying about being ostracized. Disagreement is not jealousy and questioning does not make someone a traitor. It’s fantastic that some are both strong enough and smart enough to realize and acknowledge that.

  23. 23
    jonniker says:

    HJ, I gotta say that though we disagree, I don’t want my comments to negate the hard work that you obviously put into it. I can imagine that hearing only negative things about it really and truly sucks, and I’m sorry about that part. The event itself — and all the work you put into making it lovely for the attendees — is entirely beside the point.

  24. 24
    Leah says:

    Ditto what Jonna said. I know from experience that you can throw one hell of a party, lady! xo

  25. 25
    kris says:

    Agreed — while we might not always see eye to eye, I appreciate being able to have an open, civil dialogue about these issues. Really listening to one another? Something else that doesn’t happen enough online. Happy weekend, all!

  26. 26
    denise says:

    maggie did mention, prior to the event, that the invitees were all people that have inspired or supported her. she seemed just as eager to meet them as any of you would be to meet her. why would anyone want to spend 8 months organizing a retreat for people they don’t know? i understand the concept of a “thank you” weekend. i understand wanting to connect similarly minded people. just because you weren’t invited doesn’t mean you’re not “good enough”. i would have loved to have attended the event, but a. i don’t know any of the organizers though i have read maggie’s blog for over 6 years, and b. i’m not a writer nor do i keep a blog. i don’t, however, feel less about myself for not having been invited.

    the ladies used the resources available to them, as anyone else would do. they happen to have access to sponsors. some of us may have access to a vacation home, florists, a yoga teacher friend, etc.

    anybody can do this. keep it small – 10 people instead of 30. invite 5 friends and have each of them invite a friend that you don’t know. keep it local so airfare and other transportation isn’t an issue. work with vendors on an economy of scale basis. a massage therapist or mani/pedi people might work for less if there is volume involved. i’ve lived in louisville 3 weeks and i already know a bourbon expert with a connection to a distillery that i know would send someone out for education and probably also bring some pints of bourbon for everyone. do the “have everyone bring items for the gift bag” option. use a local bed and breakfast or timeshare rental. figure out the total costs and divide it evenly. if there’s someone that can’t afford it, chip in, share a bed, buy a meal, etc. the spirit of the retreat is for bonding and sharing. the external trappings are just frosting.

    perhaps if there is a similar invite only summit, it could be 4 days and one of those days could be a meet and greet that’s open to everyone.

    just my .02 cents.

  27. 27
    Monica says:

    Maybe I can provide a little different opinion. I’m not a public blogger, I have a private blog for friends and family only. I’m not a writer and have no desire to be one. I’ve never attended BlogHer or Mom 2.0. I went to a Dooce booksigning once but that’s about the extent of my “real world” interaction with any of this. However, I read and subscribe to most of the attendee’s blogs and also most of those that have left comments on this post.

    So coming from that background, my reaction was very different from Jonniker, Leah, JenB, etc. that actually have public blogs that are widely read and who personally know and are friends with some of the other attendees. I can see where maybe because of that, the feeling might come of “why wasn’t I invited or even given the opportunity to be included?” But that isn’t necessarily the same feeling held by me.

    What I mean is, while there is the group of bloggers that were invited and the group of bloggers that weren’t invited and felt some aspects of the event were handled wrong, there are probably a lot of women like me who are just readers, who have no public blog but still enjoy reading these women and seeing what they are doing and able to accomplish in their lives. I don’t think I’m explaining myself well, but basically because I had no expectation of being invited or attending even it was open to all, or even wanting to attend this particular event (spa and wine tasting weekend with 29 of my friends? Yes please! Spa and wine tasting weekend with 29 people I only know about from the interwebs? Not so much.) that I didn’t feel that it was wrong or insulting to publicize what was basically a private party. But that might also be why one of my favorite sections of Vanity Fair is the collage of photos from all the fabulous parties in NY and LA. :)

    So in that sense I loved reading about this, how it was organized, who was coming, looking at all the pictures of the activities and hearing about the little details. I did follow along on Twitter and searched for the #broadsummit tag on Flickr. For full disclosure, I was an event planner before I decided to stay home full-time with the kids so I love hearing and seeing all the attention-to-detail planning that went into it.

    I was inspired by the idea of hosting a retreat (probably for about 5 or so friends and not sponsored) or if I really decided to go for it, why not something bigger? Not with a bunch of popular bloggers but maybe with all the women from my local mom group? Toyota might not be interested but maybe some local companies that would love the exposure to a group of 30 local women and moms? I don’t know, but it definitely got me thinking. I like the idea that these women could use “the business of their blogs” to secure companies to pay for something like this. I love the idea that companies are actually willing to work with women on something like this and not just big sporting events or high-profile parties.

    I’m not trying to invalidate any of the above commenter’s opinions or feelings about this event but just wanted to provide my point of view since I have a different background with not being a public blogger. I was glad I was able to poke around the website, see the pictures, read the twitter comments and “follow along” on a weekend that looked so amazing. For me it was more inspiring then insulting. I am happy there are people out there doing things like this just because they decide to and then actually make it happen.

  28. 28
    Kimbie says:

    Broad Summit 2009; The Bohemian Grove of the Internet. Hysterical!

  29. 29

    Well done, Helen Jane, well done indeed!
    Thank you for being a catalyst of support for us women bloggers. Thank you so much.

  30. 30
    Helen Jane says:

    Thank you Denise and Monica.

    You get the spirit of what we were trying to do.