I attended the BlogOnToys conference in Bracknell over the weekend and had a great time. It was my eighth BlogOn event but I’ll still be first in line for the next one.
Here’s my review of BlogOnToys and why I’d recommend it to any bloggers who want to learn more about their trade and network with their peers.
What is BlogOn?
BlogOn is the brainchild of the tireless Laura Seaton. Aided by a team of (slightly mad) volunteers, she defies her blogging moniker of Tired Mummy of Two to make the event happen.
These are conferences created by bloggers for bloggers. They offer a mix of educational sessions covering everything from WordPress and photography skills to maintaining your authenticity and how to get published.
But there’s so much more to BlogOn than just learning. The legendary goody bags contain products worth several times the ticket cost alone. You can talk to a wide range of brands looking to partner with bloggers. There are raffle prizes to be won. In the September edition this included around 240 products shortlisted in the accompanying Toy Awards. (How to get a head-start on your Christmas presents …) And then there’s the opportunity to
network make friends with with around 200 like-minded bloggers covering niches such as parenting, food, travel and personal finance.
With a little help from my friends
This last point is often overlooked by new BlogOners. Here’s the truth that no one tells you. Long after you have applied or forgotten the lessons you’ve gained from the sessions, long after the raffle prizes have been played with, the one thing that remains is the relationships and friendships with people with whom you share the common bond of blogging.
I make no bones about the fact I now rarely attend any sessions at BlogOn. My primary motivation is the social aspect. I may only see my blogging chums face-to-face once or twice a year but we’re always chatting on social media and I’m more aware of their day-to-day lives than is the case for many of my ‘real’ friends. I probably know at least half of the attendess well enough to have a decent chat with, whether it was for three minutes or three hours. There’s huge value in that.
I’m better placed than most to offer a perspective on both the event and its new southern home at the Coppid Beech Hotel. This was my eighth BlogOn, covering two Manchester venues, Winchester and now Bracknell. So here goes.
Conferences can be intimidating for newbies. There are so many people. You may not know anyone, while everyone else looks like they all know each other. But of all the blogging conferences I’ve ever been to, BlogOn is the friendliest. It’s big – but not too big. Groups may seem cliquey initially but will always welcome a newcomer. (You just need to come out from behind that pot plant!)
Let’s move on to the sessions. There were four one-hour slots, each with four options – 16 sessions in all. While I didn’t attend any this time, many were given by people I’ve seen speak before. Their focus is on imparting practical knowledge and not, as you often get at other conferences, a thinly-veiled sales pitch or an exercise in showing how successful they are. Talking to both BlogOn newbies and more experienced hands, the feedback I heard from all the sessions was overwhelmingly positive.
The Brand Den had a huge variety of interesting products to explore. There were obvious big draws such as Nintendo Switch and Batman. But there were also board games, toys and food and drink companies. Something for everyone.
Oh, and retro arcade video games machines, allowing attendees to relive misspent childhoods playing Pac-Man or Street Fighter.
At lunchtime a buffet meal (included as part of the ticket) efficiently fed 200 hungry mouths. There was also an optional dinner in the evening. The food is probably best described as ‘mediocre’. Too much beige food at lunchtime. The dinner lacked variety and was overpriced. But they did the job. No one comes to a conference for fine dining anyway.
Did I also mention the mid-afternon gin sampling? And, that grandest of BlogOn traditions, the cake, this year sponsored by Awesome Bloss’ems. Well, I have now.
At the end of the day the raffle handed out 240 prizes with remarkable speed. And then it was on to dinner and the post-event party, sponsored by gifting retailer Paladone. There we enjoyed a drink (or ten), chatted, played games and (some) danced the night away. Even after it finished at midnight, the hardcore party animals went off clubbing downstairs, while several others chatted elsewhere. I finaly crawled into bed at about 4:15am.
If that seems like a long day, well, it is. But it also flies by. The schedule always includes ample time outside the sessions for people to socialise or recharge. Even so, the day is gone before you know it. It’s a real challenge to fit in all the sessions you want to attend as well as talking to brands and other bloggers.
I think this underlines how much attendees get out of BlogOn. It’s intense and everyone is knackered at the end of the day, and yet so many are still going strong into the small hours. That’s a pretty good indicator.
The venue? A few minuses but many plusses
As a new venue, the Coppid Beech had some flaws and inevitable teething troubles but overall it worked well.
The entire conference takes place on the ground floor – very helpful for those of limted mobility, especially when compared with the current Manchster venue, which is spread out over several levels. There was no faffing about with lifts between sessions. The various spaces are large, well-lit and not overly hot. There are even tables and benches outside.
I’ve mentioned the mediocre food already. This could definitely be better and offer greater value for money but it’s not a show-stopper. The issue is the lack of nearby alternatives. Other than the Shell garage across the road, it’s more than a mile to the nearest shop. If you want a restaurant, you need to organise cabs to Bracknell or Wokingham. Or you can order delivery food or room service.
The hotel does show its age in places – Tom Briggs describes it as chintzy and like something out of Twin Peaks and he’s not wrong. Some bedrooms suffered with noise from the nightclub. But it’s also easily accessible, five minutes off the M4, with direct train connections to Waterloo and Reading. And the cost is low for a hotel in the south-east (although the bar is pricey).
On balance, I thought it was an excellent venue. It ticked the boxes in terms of good conference facilities, while being inexpensive enough to help keep ticket costs down for attendees.
Congratulations to Laura and her team on a job well done. Overall, this BlogOn was quite possibly the best of the eight I’ve attended.
Yes, a similar venue in the Midlands would make it equally accessible to southern and northern-based bloggers alike, but that’s easier said than done. In truth, I enjoy BlogOn so much that I’ll happily travel to wherever it is, whether it’s four hours to Manchester or 30 minutes to Bracknell.
The next BlogOn is likely to be in September next year, with the venue to be confirmed. Wherever it ends up, you can be sure I’ll be there. If you’re a blogger looking to hone your craft, you should consider going too. And maybe I’ll see you there.