What do bloggers do at a conference? Eat, drink, blog, and be inspired by others to do more of the same except better!
Day 1: Conference
A funeral, wedding and birthday party precluded me attending some of the social events, such as previous night’s welcome drinks at Kitty Bar in the Treasury Casino, the Merlo Coffee cupping session, and celebratory party at 127 Bar & Bistro, (held on Saturday night) so I was keen to grab a coffee and bite to eat on arrival at the venue, provided by Chester Street Bakery and Bar and Emma & Tom’s Juices and catch up with fellow bloggers!
With the expansion of social media platforms, I was surprised how many Instagrammers there were, many of them quite young. But the range of food activities, different camera choices and even the bloggers’ different backgrounds confirmed for me not only that food is a culturally fascinating topic, but that there’s room for everyone to make comment in their own way, in their chosen milieu.
‘Educate and Inspire’ was the theme of the conference, with every session falling under one or both of those two words. Considering the diversity of the audience, it was a daunting task for the EDB organising committee!
Keynote: Food Blogging in the Lion City
The keynote by Nathaniel Ho, of Rubbish Eat, Rubbish Grow, one of Singapore’s most popular blogs, demonstrated the cultural difference of blogging in different environments. He raised questions of who we were blogging for: the general public, restaurants or the general media (and dare I add ‘ourselves’)? He looked at factors which make a blogger popular, while raising the question of what success meant in different arenas. Most illuminating was his Venn diagram classifying bloggers into three generalised fields: Blogger’s Blogger (one the critics admire), People’s Blogger (popular with readers) and PR’s Darling. Try to be a little of each, was Nat’s pragmatic advice. While most of Singapore’s top bloggers fall into the last category, with many earning $3,500 per post, the keynote provided a cautionary tale for Australian bloggers: Stay true to your content, and don’t be bought out!
Session 1: ACCC Guidelines
Food blogger and lawyer, Claire Davies from Melbourne Gastronome dealt with the curly questions surrounding ‘truth versus fiction’, and ACCC guidelines on the transparency of relationships in reviewing. One problematic area is exclusion of information. ‘Be transparent’ was Claire’s advice. Don’t mislead, but give clear prominent disclaimers that you were a guest, with the meal provided as complimentary.
Session 2: The Evolving Media Landscape
Damien Condon, Director of the ground-breaking PR company Lucid Media gave an interesting perspective of working with bloggers, and the unique contribution bloggers can make to a PR collaboration. He distilled successful media down to two core concepts: story and community. His address made room in my eyes for the development of more mutually-beneficial working relationships, finding a fit which maximised the needs, skills and expertise of both bloggers and PR.
Lunch – A lunchbox of vegan paleo wholesomeness had been provided by Wholesome Catering, but I was drawn to the Stella May Fine Foods where duck pate and oat biscuits were calling. Power of Mushrooms was also pumping out some action with the frypan switched to busy. Pick your weapon of choice, everyone! No food appears without a paparazzi swoop. This is what we do!
Session 3: Inspire/Expire
Three foodies (Nathaniel Ho, Instagrammer Tracey Grey of Eat See Meet and Angela Hirst, Director of Wandering Cooks) discussed how to keep motivated as a blogger. What did I take away? Drive your own progress (rather than being driven by others), be true to yourself, accept your own writing style, find and tell the story, write in a casual or humorous tone as though talking to a friend, and don’t be afraid to express the true emotion you feel in the moment of experience.
Session 4: Chef vs Blogger
This illuminating panel discussion featuring four of Brisbane’s top chefs: Josh Okorn of Prive249, Tony Percuoco of Tartufo, Brent Farrell of 85 Miskin Street and Philip Johnson of e’cco bistro, provided a frank, informative, and sometimes uncomfortable insight into chefs’ relationship with bloggers. While they mostly enjoyed and/or tolerated the growth of social media, some takeaway points from the chefs’ perspectives were:
- If you have a complaint about the food, complain to the chef/restaurant, don’t just go away and write about it! Your criticisms may be unjustified or you may be uninformed.
- Remember that you are trying the chef’s palate! – Brent Farrell.
- Many chefs have decades of experience in the industry and are far more knowledgeable about food than the average blogger. Give due credit where it’s due, and make sure you’re really well informed about the meal before you write about it.
- Sometimes it’s counterproductive for chefs to know that a blogger or critic is present. You often won’t get special treatment if you’re recognised, because the chef wants you to share the same experience as every diner.
- Restaurants are part of the entertainment industry. It’s essential to give diners a great experience. Bad service is as offensive as bad food. Look at the whole picture. – Philip Johnson.
Afternoon Tea – After such an intense session, it was ice cream time. Perched like piano keys in black or white chocolate, our afternoon treats were provided by Lick ice-cream.
Session 5 – Ethical Food Head Chef/Owner of Mondo Organics, Brenda Fawdon, provided us with food for thoughts and a reading list which could well take us into next year! She took a simple fish sandwich, constructing two versions of it to demonstrate the difference between commercial and ‘real’ food. The first version used store-bought white bread, frozen fish fillets and packaged slaw; the second artisan multigrain, sustainably produced fish and organic red cabbage coleslaw, pointing out all the differences along the way, peppered by lots of asides and information.
‘We are what we eat’, Brenda told us. Start by buying from seasonal produce from farmers’ markets, organic eggs, chicken and vegetables where possible, pesticide and preservative free, fair trade chocolate and coffee and sustainable seafood. Bloggers, she says, play an important role in educating the general public, so become informed.
Session 6: Blogger Economy
One of Australia’s most successful bloggers, Christina Soong of The Hungry Australian, was the final speaker for the day.
Christina talked about the different definintions of success, saying we must be clear what we want to achieve. She outlined various ways to make money through blogging: being hired to produce content, being paid to write, publishing sponsored posts, publishing, consulting and running courses and workshops, becoming a brand spokesperson, and through advertising and affiliate programs.
Christina stressed the importance of defining your own success, creating a business and content plan to drive you forward, writing great content, being strategic and professional in what you choose to write about, owning your niche and ‘solving a problem’, taking the time to invest in your craft through becoming more informed (books, training, etc.), using good equipment and improving photography and marketing skills, and even being confident enough to pitch story ideas to PR agencies!
In many ways, Christina’s address was complementary to Nathaniel’s keynote address, providing an Australian context bookend to the day’s content.
Day 2: Sunday Sessions
With attendees broken into three groups (Food Styling, Beer Blogging and Beehive Tour), we were off to the Beer InCider Experience at Albion Park, an opportunity to taste craft beer and cider from around Australia, accompanied by some food. Unfortunately ‘taste’ was the operative word, as we were diving home to the Gold Coast that afternoon. Many thanks to fellow blogger Darren, of 250 Beers, for leading our beer tasting.
Congratulations to the EDB14 organising committee for putting together such an inspiring conference, a good range of social activities and, (perhaps the most difficult of all), arranging complete sponsorship of the conference. It’s given me a year’s food for thought!