M3 Summit: This Changes Some Things. This Changes Others. This Changes Nothing.

Disclaimer: This post is lengthy. It contains strong language. And it will offend people.

So, this past weekend was the Modern Media Man (M3) Summit in Atlanta—the first ever conference intended specifically for dad bloggers (vloggers, podcasters, etc). Seeing as how I was there and all (and a speaker no less), it only seems appropriate that I share a few thoughts. But then again, maybe not. Apparently I didn’t make much of an impression on people. Dave Taylor for instance, introduced himself to me on three separate occasions, which is fine since he doesn’t know I caught him barking into the men’s room mirror, “You’re a winner, Dave. You’re a winner. Mommy’s big boy’s a winner.”

I’ve never been to a gathering of the great blogging minds and had no idea what to expect. Because Donny Claxton was driving a Traverse through this part of the country I rode out with him a few days early, and to pass the time, I pretended the trip was a remake of Trains, Planes & Automobiles. It wasn’t until later that I regretted my movie choice after remembering the part about the two pillows. On the return trip, incidentally, I went with The Cannonball Run which spurred on a good-natured race via Twitter with several others also heading home. We won of course, and all the credit goes to Captain Chaos (aka @DaddyClaxton) for getting from Atlanta to Houston in three and a half hours. (The people at Chevrolet weren’t too happy we turned the Traverse into an ambulance though.)

Things kicked off Thursday evening with baseball hall of famer Cal Ripken giving us a talk on leadership, or that’s what everyone’s Tweets said on my phone which spared me the burden of having to listen. Frankly, I was disappointed. I had been told Chuck Norris was coming and that his opening remarks would be nothing but twenty minutes of round house kicks to our faces for which we would thank him. But no, we were stuck with Cal who was at least gracious enough to pose for pictures and sign autographs. I’m not much of a baseball fan myself, but still, I felt obligated to meet him, I mean he did come all the way over to the hotel. The problem, however, was I didn’t have anything for Mr. Ripken to sign except for my drink tickets. This turned out to be a dandy solution until my seventh beer, at which point I was left with a lone stub adorned with the letters Rip smudged across it.

And then there was the conference…

This Changes Some Things

“This Changes Everything” served as the logan for the M3 Summit. Using such absolute terms in the aftermath would be a bit far reaching. However, a first-ever blog convention dedicated to dads did signify a change in the parent blogging niche, one big enough to attract major brands and sponsors. Were there glitches and drama? Was attendance lower than expected? (Whoever was initially tossing around 700 as a solid estimate obviously partook freely from the Ganja gift basket.) Were some of the speakers so in love with themselves they could a-sexually reproduce? Were there personality conflicts? Yes. Should that overshadow the greater intent of the conference; thus sending a negative signal to brands interested in testing the viability of the dad blogging community? No.

Throw aside all the mistakes and hurt feelings for a moment and consider what a bold move it was for a small group of people to attempt to organize a dad blog conference, and then bring it to fruition on a tight budget. That deserves merit. And to further put this into context, consider this: When BlogHer started in 2005, only 300 people attended, plus it was backed by Azure Capital Partners, The Peacock Fund, and the Rockefellers venture capital wing, Venrock (In case you’re wondering who these cats are, when God needing funding to create the universe, he went to these guys.) That was five years ago, and barring 2010’s numbers, the mega mommy event has yet to make money. [Citation]

Besides, all these conferences have their share these hiccups and heartburn. A good friend of mine who’s also a prominent and respected mommy blogger ran down a whole list of examples with me over coffee after I got back. This then inspired us to found a joint mommy-daddy blogging conference, and to set a proper expectation for attendees, we’re calling it ClusterF#ck 2011.

This Changes Others

By far the greatest benefit of M3 was having the opportunity to meet people I’ve known via social networking for years. I don’t think I laughed so hard over the course of a four-day period as I did last week. Where else could someone sit around with the guys behind Dad Gone Mad, Daddy Scratches, Dad Of Divas, Father Muskrat and Tessa’s Dad, and collectively brag on Twitter about the outrageous M3 swag which included a free Chevy vehicle to drive around for a year and credit at UPS to send all of our goodies home.

It was even funnier to see moms who have been pitching unabashedly for such outlandish freebies get so riled up thinking that we were actually serious. I thought they would’ve caught on when I claimed the massive armload of bags causing me hunch over, contained such coveted swag as autographed head shots of Sylvester Stallone and oversized novelty bottles of Aqua Velva. (Believe it or not, I got an angry DM from a jilted mom wanting to know who to contact about the picture of Sly.)

I could go on and on about how great it was to shake hands with guys I admire like PJ Mullen, or discuss the ups and downs of daddy blogging with DadCentric's Jason Avant, or to act like a high school prankster with my good friend John Cave Osborne. From a purely social standpoint, it was about guys, or as Laid Off Dad put it, "After three BlogHers I found much more opportunity to parrot movie lines drunkenly." Try joking around about someone putting roofies in your drink and then waking up pantless in the hotel alley as the lone male at a mommy conference. On an unrelated note, if you ever run into Father Muskrat, politely refuse his offers to bring you another beer—just saying.

On a serious note, though, I was absolutely blown away talking with guys like Angus Nelson and Jayson Gaddis who are doing so much to help men by sharing their personal stories. And it was hard to not get a lump in your throat listening to Kevin Metzger (The DADvocate) open up about the challenges and painful struggles in his own life, and then see the joy in him the very next day as he walked around with his beautiful daughter. It was little experiences like these that personified the real reason behind why we write blogs about our lives as fathers.

This Changes Nothing

The biggest disappointment of M3 was to see the ongoing exploitation of bloggers by those seeking to use blogs for pimping products, services, events, etc. This is nothing new as it’s been going on in the mommy world for a while, and so to see it being carried over into the dad realm as standard practice brought on the sudden urge to jam a pen into my eyeball. Still, by the same token, bloggers who eagerly accept these trinkets like the Indians who gave away Manhattan or who badger major brands for freebies like bratty kids bare a responsibility here too. (I will be railing on all of this more in future as part of another project in the works.)

Together, these practices are unfortunately why parent blogging is becoming synonymous with consumerism, a point well made by Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer in his informative presentation on Brands and Blogging. I thought it ironic that Stacy DeBroff, founder of Mom Central Consulting, took exception to this point midway through Jason’s talk. But of course she would have to given that her company retains a stable of bloggers hocking the wares of companies such as Mattel and Clorox. For DeBroff to say otherwise would send a message to her business partners that Mom Central’s primary resource—word-of-mouth marketing via mom blogs—is in danger of becoming caustic. In a certain sense, this would be like Heidi Fleiss admitting to clients that her D Team has STD's. (And for the record, I’m not inferring that DeBroff is running a blogging bordello.)

But DeBroff’s presence at M3 was not merely because the pastries offered in the lobby between sessions were kick ass. Mom Central Consulting is launching a Dad Central branch headed by John Porcaro who successfully spearheaded X-Box’s blogging campaign. Together DeBroff and Porcaro shared the results of a survey intended to show rising influence of men as consumers.

Interesting as their findings were, what had me reaching for a BIC ballpoint with one hand and stretching my eyelids open with the other was the method in which Dad Central plans to entice those writing from the male chromosome perspective. In a nutshell, they’re going to toss out a product to their bullpen of dad bloggers and then see who will take a bite out of such dangling carrots as gift cards. An even worse version of this tactic could be found in an informational handout offered to attendees by another dad-focused consulting business. Their idea for rewarding involvement is to automatically enter participating dads in a sweepstakes for fun prizes. Okay, yeah I realize they are trying to avoid bias advertorials (that’s a topic for another day), but a drawing that could mean busting my hump for nothing? Well f#ck me! My naughty parts are tingling all over. Where do I sign up?

Let me stop here for a second to make a something very clear. For those daddy bloggers looking to partner with brands, you need to understand that consultants, marketers, PR firms and so on, are paid by brands for their services and thus their loyalty resides with their clients, not you. It is therefore up to us to seek commensurate compensation of some form (not necessarily cash) in exchange for what we offer in our blogs. Yet, keep in mind that not everyone is out to take advantage of bloggers and companies like Chevrolet and T-Mobile who were conference sponsors are attempting to demonstrate this in their efforts.

One of the big riddles trying to be solved throughout the conference had to do with how to get men to engage. There are ways to do this, but I’m of the opinion that handing out paltry treats on par with Happy Meal toys isn’t the magic bullet. Thankfully others like Caleb Gardner of Edelman Digital and Weber Shandwick’s Alan Kercinik, both of whom I had long discussions with, see this too. The same goes for Craig Heimbuch, Editor-in-Chief of Man of the House.com who lead a roundtable discussion meant to explore ways in which to effectively reach today’s man with realistic messages that represent who we are.

When it came to the business side of blogging, I felt that aside from several exceptions, there were few takeaways for dads to use in helping to substantiate the influence of the daddy blog niche. It was apropos (and hilariously so) that “creative freak” Ted Murphy in his presentation, Making Money on your Blog, closed the M3 Summit by telling an audience full of hopeful dad bloggers that there was no real money in what they were doing. Then someone handed Ted a large bag of cash as he walked out the door, after which several now purposeless attendees proceeded to go off and either slit their wrists, step in front of buses, or jump from the 11th floor of the hotel, crushed over the notion that 2010, the year of the Daddy Blogger, had ended before the apocalyptic destruction of the planet predicted in 2012 by the Mayan calendar.

I hate to finish on such a negative note, especially after having had so much fun in the conference. In fact, I’d go again simply for the social aspect, and most of the guys I talked with said the same. However, as more and more dad bloggers start jumping into things midstream, these issues which have been the source of debate and frustration among the mommies for a while now, need to be brought to light in collective forums. So, despite all the opinions, politics, and drama endemic to the conference itself, the real value of the M3 Summit was that it served as a starting point for dads to take part in these discussions in order to bolster the credibility and value offered to brands by professional parent blogging community as a whole.

For a great recap from other dads at M3, go here to Man Of The House.com where you can also learn about "The Bison Incident."

This post has been approved by Chuck Norris

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