Occasional stories, food and travel inspiration

Occasional stories, food and travel inspiration

Where to next for Eat Drink Blog?

Regular readers will know that I was one of the organisers of Eat Drink Blog 3 (EDB3), the third Australian Food Bloggers Conference which happened in November in Adelaide, South Australia.

Eat Drink Blog began in Melbourne in 2010, when a group of food bloggers decided it was time to hold a national, community-focused, food blogging conference to bring Australian food bloggers together. You can check out the minutes of the first meeting and the programme if you like.

Eat Drink Blog 2 took place in Sydney in November 2011 and I was lucky enough to attend. It was a fantastic day full of learning, inspiration and networking – you can see details of the Eat Drink Blog 2 organising committee and the final programme here.

I was so grateful to be part of Eat Drink Blog 2 I made a point of thanking each of the organisers personally on the day. I told them that I had an events background and could see just how much work had gone into the conference, and that if they needed a hand with Eat Drink Blog 3, to give me a call.

Little did I imagine that six months later they would do just that.

Now I’m sure all the other EDB3 committee members would agree that EDB3 turned out much bigger than we originally anticipated, and there were many unexpected twists and turns along the way. However, the two day conference was a resounding success on a number of levels and I’m glad to have been part of it.

The 2013 committee are now looking ahead to 2013 and we have recently advised that expressions of interest are open for a new (volunteer) team to take on the organisation of EDB4.

So while we’re in this transition mode, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the concept and legacy of Eat Drink Blog, what I believe needs to be retained and where it may go from here. I’d love to hear what you think, too, and welcome respectful debate in the comments below.

To start with, Eat Drink Blog was conceived as a community event. It belongs to all Australian food bloggers and is managed by a team from within that community.

My personal opinion is that the organisers of Eat Drink Blog have no more ownership over the concept or event than any other Australian food blogger. People that take on the organising job must understand that Eat Drink Blog has to be representative of the Australian food blogging community. Yes, organising EDB is a leadership role but it’s a care-taking role, not a star-making one. The community’s interests have to come first.

As one of EBD3’s caretakers, I do feel, and I’m sure many of the other current and past committee members feel, quite protective of Eat Drink Blog. I want its legacy to continue in a way that is representative and inclusive of as many Australian food bloggers as possible. But my time on its organising committee is ending, and after we handover to the new committee, I and the rest of the EDB3 committee will step back and let them get on with the job of organising Eat Drink Blog 4.

So with this in mind, here are my thoughts and suggestions for your consideration.

1) Country-wide hosting and representation

As the national food blogging conference I believe that each state of Australia should have the opportunity to host Eat Drink Blog. Similarly, each year there should be good mix of delegates from each of the states, roughly in line with the relative populations of each state. I also think that bloggers from rural areas should be given preference.

2) Format

Each Eat Drink Blog has been slightly different in terms of format. Eat Drink Blog 1 was  a one-day conference of workshops and talks with drinks afterwards at a bar. Eat Drink Blog 2 was a one-day conference of talks, workshops, masterclasses, demonstrations and dinner. Eat Drink Blog 3 was a two-day event comprising a market tour, tours to different wine regions, a dinner on the first day and then a conference of talks and workshops next day.

There is no requirement to duplicate or expand on the previous year’s conference. The Eat Drink Blog 4 committee may choose to revert back to a one-day format, re-introduce cooking masterclasses and demonstrations, remove sections and/or introduce new components.

3) Cost

Most food bloggers make little or no money from blogging and many don’t wish to; their blog is truly a labour of love. So to encourage the largest possible participation rate I think the cost of attending EDB should be kept as low as possible.

4) Sponsorship and grants

Sponsorship is a contentious subject amongst the food blogging community; some bloggers like engaging with brands, companies and organisations while others don’t.

In the past, Eat Drink Blog has been free for delegates to attend (delegates have paid for their own flights, accommodation and expenses) because of sponsorship secured by the organising committee to cover numerous expenses including refreshments, the venue, printing & signage, AV and sound, documentation and so on. Sponsorship has also been secured to provide gifts for (Australian) presenters who are not paid and do not receive any compensation for travel expenses.

I used to work full-time in fundraising for large not-for-profits so I believe that sponsorship can be a win/win situation. When sponsorship works well, it’s because both parties are respectful of the value that the other party is bringing to the table, mindful of the boundaries and clear about each other’s expectations and responsibilities.

I know some bloggers disagree with the whole notion of sponsorship and that’s fine. The reality is that Eat Drink Blog is a very attractive event for sponsors. If future committees wish to pursue the sponsorship path, they will never be short of takers. However, it will be the committee’s responsibility to ensure that a balance is maintained between sponsors’ wishes and the philosophy and integrity of Eat Drink Blog.

If future committees decide they do not want to have any sponsors they will have to find alternative sources of income (e.g. attendance fees) to cover conference expenses.

5) Number of delegates and future capacity 

I personally believe that any Australian food bloggers who wishes to attend Eat Drink Blog should be able to. However, each year the number of attendees has naturally been restricted by the venue.

In 2012 we found ourself in the unprecendented position of being over-subscribed by 55% for 80 positions. While on one hand this was a clear demonstration of the need and popularity of the event, this meant that a lot of food bloggers missed out.

To those that did miss out, let me say this: we hated having to pick and choose amongst our peers and we agonised over filling those 80 delegates spots (maximum capacity). Eat Drink Blog is all about inclusion so we really disliked having to turn away bloggers who wanted to be part of it. However, we had to find a way to manage the oversubscription and so we did the best we could to make the process fair and transparent.

For future committees, you should be prepared to face a similar situation. Unless, of course, you can secure a 200-seat venue.

One thing that we did not do, but which might be possible in the future, is to get permission from each of the presenters to bundle all their slides and papers into one large document that was then freely available for any Australian food blogger to download.

Alternatively, perhaps some live streaming of selected sessions could be achieved or non-attending delegates could participate by asking presenters questions in real-time via Twitter a.k.a. Qanda.

I certainly think that in the future there will be opportunities to expand the scope and reach of Eat Drink Blog far beyond the physical venue.

6) EDB spin-off group

One thing I loved about EDB2 is how much it inspired me, how I met so many different bloggers and how it meant I instantly had a circle of blogging friends throughout Australia. (Ironically, this year I was either too busy, preoccupied or tired to enjoy much interaction with most of the delegates. *Sad face.*)

I’m not the only one who felt so inspired after EDB either.  After each EDB there has been discussion about setting up some kind of an Eat Drink Blog spin-off group or association to help food bloggers stay in touch with each other and share useful information in the periods between the conferences.

A few years ago the Australian Food Bloggers Group on Google was a good way to share information but nowadays that group is largely inactive. So over the years, alternative possible models have been discussed. However, for various reasons — legal, financial, philosophical, administrative and ethical — the idea of an Eat Drink Blog spin-off group or association has never gotten off the ground, and I appreciate the reasons why.

Bloggers are a diverse bunch with a variety of different styles, motivations, ethical standpoints and philosophies. This is a good thing, no, a great thing. The beauty of blogging is that you don’t have to blog by anyone else’s rules – you are King or Queen of your own domain. So coming up with a model that would please everyone is quite possibly unachievable. (By the way, I am aware of a number of other groups for Australian food bloggers but none of these are associated with or reflect the philosophy of Eat Drink Blog.)

(Edit: I should say, “fully reflect the philosophy of Eat Drink Blog”. Many groups have a similar community philosophy and feel but each group is different in some small but significant way).

In any case, the EDB3 committee discussed the idea of a spin-off group in EDB3 committee meetings earlier this year and the idea of a closed Facebook group was proposed. However, we didn’t take this any further because we decided it could wait until after the conference and we agreed that the Australian food blogging community had to be consulted. If the group was for the Australian food blogging community and would be in some ways representative of it, the group had to be owned by the community and established with its goodwill.

The model we discussed was open access — if you were an Australian food blogger you could join — and democratic — anyone would be able to post messages to the wider group. The only moderation done would be to ensure that the person seeking to join was actually an Australian food blogger and not someone seeking to use the group to promote commercial interests.

For various reasons, including other work commitments, the EDB3 committee will now not be undertaking this consultation. However, the path is clear for any future EDB committees and the wider Australian food blogging community to continue discussing whether the community needs or desires such a group or association.

To end this post, I’d like to thank a few people:

  • To former EBD committee members: it’s been an honour to work on EDB3 this year and to continue your legacy. I know we did some things a bit differently but on balance, I hope that there were more positives than negatives.
  • To my fellow EDB3 committee members: it’s been a massive journey, hasn’t it? Thank you for all your contributions and for showing me what teamwork, community and friendship are all about.
  • To future EDB committee members: steering EDB is going to be a lot of fun, a huge amount of work and an incredible ride. As food blogging in Australia continues to evolve the conference should change, too. Listen to your community but don’t be afraid to put your own stamp on EDB either, to reflect the heart and soul of your city. I wish you all the best with it.

(c) All photos by KK of Parc Studio.

Have you attended EDB or a similar food blogging conference before? If you’re an Australian food blogger, what would you like to see at future Eat Drink Blogs? As I’ve said, I welcome debate as long as its respectful.

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