Time again, kids, for inside baseball. Not interested? I don’t blame you! Here’s a weird little post about a character I met in Alaska. You could read that instead or hey, just go outside.
I’ve found it rather difficult to summarize my experience at TBEX Girona. I was so glad to be there and I was almost pathologically cranky at the end of the last day. (I might have been tired.) I came home looking like I’d been in a bar fight. (No, I’m not going to explain, but it’s a big purple bruise and it’s on my face.) I was enormously grateful to get to say some things that are important to me on a big stage. I was deeply annoyed. It was, as expected, a mixed bag. Rather than try to neatly summarize my experience — I don’t think that can be done — I’m going to fall back on the bulleted list and give you the high/low lights.
- An irony choked keynote: Peter Shankman seemed to not care that his talk emphasized the concept of knowing your audience. His speech, to a constituency that was only 30% North American, was littered with obscure references to US politics, weirdly misogynistic remarks, and a vague condescension about “kids these days.” I don’t think it’s okay to say, “She un-friended me, the bitch” in a keynote, no matter how important social media is to the room. It was painful.
- Fun with statistics: When the client for a destination tells me a project was a success, I’ll believe it. When a blogger tells me, I think they’re talking smack. Your blog is not the arbiter of success for a destination’s promotional project. Show me the data. No, not YOUR data. Show me the client’s data. What’s in your wallet, passport, or blog doesn’t indicate success for anyone but you. My traffic spiked when I went to Tanzania with Intrepid, but if their traffic didn’t do the same, it’s hardly appropriate for me to call the project a success.
- Misplaced entitlement: Wow, some people really think they deserve to have their trips funded and that they should be paid for writing about it on their own blogs. Furthermore, tourism organizations seem to be buying this. I’m stunned by the unquestioning acceptance of advertorial as a legitimate content model. The degree to which people are willing to sell out their readership… oh, possibly, I am naive. But I tell you what, if I was going to engage in product placement, I would be particular about where I’d run it. And on the “content creation” side, I’d be striking things right and left from contracts. Sidebar that apparently can’t be said too often: Your audience is not the PR company. They may be your customer, but they are not your audience. Understand the difference.
- Outrageous gossip: I heard my fair share of tales about drunken hijinks and hookups. That’s cute. I’m old, I’m going back to my room, you kids take a cab and be safe, now. But the stuff that shocked me was more, um, professionally based. An almost violent unwillingness to share information. A blatant exploitation of the new kids for self-promotional purposes. Snake oil and pyramid schemes and oh, that’s some bad behavior, I tell you what. It’s gossip, so I really hope it’s simply not true, but if it is… knock that off, you’re making us all look bad. Really, really bad.
- Shocking amounts of ham: By the end of the weekend, I was joking that the real reason the Jews fled Spain had nothing to do with racism or the Spanish Inquisition. They just wanted something to eat that wasn’t pork. My primary motivation for skipping the big party at the beach? I wanted to find a salad.
- Pink slime: On the last day, Chris Gray Faust asked me what my hangup was about bad content. “What’s your deal?” she said. “Why are you so bent out of shape when people create substandard work? You don’t have to read it.” “That shit,” I said, “is pink slime for our brains. It’s bad food and it makes us stupid. Yet we feed it to our friends and family, pollute our diets, degrade our intellects… and then we go vote.” I asked it in my talk, I’ll ask it again here: What do you want your friends to feed you?
- Less talk, more walk: I can only spend so much time listening to people talk at me. And as a presenter, I want to work with attendees. As much as I enjoy spewing my opinions (I have a blog for that), I’d much rather spend time doing hands on workshops that help create a better web. (Yes, I’m vain enough to think I can shift the needle, even if it’s just a tiny bit.)
- An absolute stunner of a location: I spent nearly all of my free time roaming the old city of Girona and you know what? It’s gorgeous. The old city walls, the stone plazas, the chic shop windows… I was admittedly crabby that the conference was not right in Barcelona and required a bit of transit time. But the transit was shockingly easy (if delayed, what the what, trains of Spain?) and it was worth the hassle. I was utterly won over not just by the city, but by the patience and charm of the people I dealt with at the post office, in the restaurants, everywhere. I loved being in Spain. Loved it.
- A controversial co-presenter: “Uh, how do you feel about being paired with Will Peach?” I got this question repeatedly. It seems my reputation for crankiness is exceeded only by his for being inflammatory. How did I feel? Honestly, uncertain at first, but by the time I boarded my flight for Barcelona, I was prepared to say this: “I’m excited about it. He’s super smart.” And I meant it.
- A well oiled machine: Content issues aside, that was a flawlessly organized event. The hall was gorgeous, everything worked, information was readily available, the New Media Expo organizers were kind, professional, and good lord, so patient. Wow. Okay, the closing night event, that was…weird. But whatever. I just didn’t care and the unraveling of that evening allowed me to do something I really love: Walk back to my room, alone, through a strange city, at night. (Yes, I felt safe. Completely.) I hope the TBEX crew is psyched about how it all went down. Also, whoa, the coffee in at the convention center was really good.
- Quality time with excellent humans: There are a handful of folks that I disagree with philosophically, yet I find that I enjoy their company tremendously because they are candid, transparent, respectful, and thoughtful, and that makes for good company and interesting conversation. I also got to spend time with people who make work I enjoy — what a pleasure to find yourself at the dinner table or on a sunny patio or wandering the ramparts of a medieval city with friends you rarely see or have just met.
- A heartening emphasis on good writing: There was the usual stuff about “brand relationships” and ROI, but even the awful keynote included the words “Bad writing will destroy us all. Learn. To. Write.” And I loved, with my whole heart, Chris Guillebeau’s closing remarks. “The world doesn’t need more mediocre bloggers or writers who are really good at Twitter. What the world does need is storytellers.” I thought I might burst in to tears, I was so delighted. (I think I’ve mentioned that I might have been tired.) It was thrilling to end on such a high note.
I’m increasingly at home with cognitive dissonance. TBEX made me crazy. Also, it was great. I’m really glad I was there.