Managing a micro-business has its advantages. I make all the decisions and I get all the micro-money. One disadvantage is there's no one to talk to. So, I talk to my cats. They show only minimal interest, being cats, but sometimes I use them as a sounding board. And when they suffer from insomnia, I tell them stories such as the following.
I'd always pictured conventions – I mean conferences – through the lens of Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners: mostly a lot of drinking with fellow Raccoon Lodge members from all across the country. Once again, cold hard reality disappoints. Conferences are a lot less fun that you might imagine.
In June, I attended Bulldog Reporter's Media Relations Summit 2007 in Washington, D.C. It had been a long time since I experienced a conference as an attendee instead of a worker. Attendees totally have it knocked. All they have to do is spend a small fortune in conference fees, endure the post 9/11 air travel gauntlet, choke down mediocre hotel luncheons, and stay awake during sessions of uneven quality.
I came away with information of varying degrees of utility, a nice zippered bag, a giant paper-crammed binder I will never open, and a whole bunch of giveaway pens. I like pens.
The Bulldog happened at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, which appears to be a series of unrelated buildings connected together by demented contractors. The place embodies the word "sprawling," accommodating several conferences simultaneously. I sat through a half day of fascinating sessions on dementia before I realized I was missing the PR conference.
I came away with a better appreciation for social media, blogging, and immersive "metaverse" environments such as Second Life. (If you ever want to hang out there with me, look for a naked furry named "Norm.")
I also learned that there are a whole passel of "wires" you can use to distribute your news releases. There's PR Newswire, Marketwire, Medialink, Business Wire, PrimeNewswire, HighWire, GuyWire, and MarkMcGwire. All of them gave out very nice pens.
As with every conference in my experience, I left with more questions than answers.
• Did you ever notice that everyone you meet at a conference seems to be younger and smarter than you with a better job at a cooler company?
• What did people do to look important before they had cell phones, PCs, and Blackberries to fiddle with?
• How do the exhibitors in their cheesy booths just outside the main conference hall keep from cutting their own throats from sheer boredom?
• Why don't I ever win any of those I-Pod drawings?
I also observed the decidedly mixed grill of those at the conference including:
• The old pros wearing suits desperately trying to hang on,
• The high energy types who already know everything and apparently don't need to be there,
• The exhibitors, desperate for eye contact, watching you eyeing the giveaways which you hope to grab without having to talk to them, even as they wish you'd take more of their crap away so they don't have to lug it home, and
• The folks working the conference, handing out tote bags, checking AV equipment, and smiling as they not so secretly wish everyone would just go home and leave them alone.
The hotel staff especially amazes me at these events; serving hundreds of salads, entrees, and desserts with cool efficiency; herding the conference goers into and out of meeting rooms; all the while pretending not to hear table talk about immigration reform.
Long after you return home, a conference continues to make an impact on your working life. Everyday I'm reminded what a fool I was for tossing my business cards into all those fishbowls for all those I-Pod drawings. Extremely friendly exhibitors call me regularly, offering free demonstrations of their amazing newswire services.
If I needed a newswire – and I don't – choosing one would be tough. They all have such nice pens.
I like pens too... Really, they're good for jotting stuff down which makes you look more important than all those a**holes with PDAs because you come off as eccentric. And before people had those toys to make them look important, they had to spend their time in a concession area, looking like they didn't need to talk to anyone, smoking nice cigars and drinking expensive scotch.