The Craft and Hobby Association (CHA) announced last week that they’ve added a new membership category specifically for bloggers.
Founded in 2004, CHA is an international, not-for-profit trade association consisting of thousands of member companies engaged in the design, manufacture, distribution and retail sales of products in the nearly $30 billion U.S. craft and hobby industry. Each January they hold a trade show, termed the Mega Show, in Anaheim, California. It’s the largest craft trade show in the world and is intended for manufacturers and retailers to write orders and make connections with one another. Membership to CHA gets you free admittance to the Mega Show, a subscription to Craft Industry Today magazine, plus other benefits.
Until now, the two membership categories were Suppliers and Retailers. The new category, Industry Professional, is offered at a lower membership price ($13/month) and is specifically designed to welcome bloggers into the association.
“We are very excited about the blogger membership type added to our offerings this year,” says Andrej Suskavcevic, President and CEO of the Craft and Hobby Association (who, by the way, took my call and talked to me for nearly half an hour late last week). “Professional bloggers are a valuable asset to the craft industry and this is our way of recognizing their contribution and welcoming them. As the industry evolves, we need to evolve with it. Given that blogging has become part of the social fabric of the craft industry we felt it was time to highlight this community with its own membership category.”
Each applicant will be vetted before they’re approved for membership. The criteria dictate that a blogger member must post on their blog at least once a week with content that extends beyond “personal diaries” and have a blog that’s been in existence for at least six months and gets over 1,000 pageviews per month (Google Analytics screenshots are required as proof).
“We are looking for bloggers to be multipliers and influencers for the industry and not go to the [CHA Mega] Show for free stuff,” Andrej explained. “We are additionally developing Show guidelines to help blogger members better understand the do’s and don’ts of networking and business development at the Show.”
Andrej told me that even before the new blogger membership category, bloggers would join the CHA as Suppliers (supplying information to the craft community through blog content). He says a few hundred bloggers already attend the CHA Mega Show. With the lower priced membership tier, the association expects that number to rise.
Jennifer Perkins has been blogging since August of 2005 and has attended the CHA Mega Show multiple times as a demonstrator for companies like I Love to Create or as a host for HGTV/DIY Network. “Each time I have attended CHA I have walked away not only inspired by the vendors and my fellow crafters, but also with an arm load of new contacts and possible crafty business partnerships,” Jen said. “Attending CHA has always been good for my career as a crafter whether I was promoting my book, my jewelry line, my TV show or my blog. If you want to truly learn about your industry and network within the handmade community there is no better place. The after parties and informal meetings at the hotel bars are almost as much fun as the event itself.”
Jen is not actually a member of the CHA, but she says she should be. “I love attending CHA and would go to every one if I could.”
What’s motivating the CHA to welcome bloggers?
I think it’s two-fold. First, the CHA is working to produce a blogger directory of its blogger members to help connect them with brands, and vice versa. Providing a list of vetted bloggers to brands for sponsored posts, giveaways, and other marketing opportunities is a valuable asset to member companies that don’t have the time and resources to search through blogs on their own. And second, bloggers are paying members to the association.
Not everyone is so welcoming
Another established industry institution and host of trade shows has gone in the opposite direction when it comes to blogger relations, however. Last year, Quilts Inc., the trade show company that owns and runs Quilt Market, decided to tighten their credentialing process with the effect of weeding out bloggers who might attend the show.
Prior to last year, all that was needed to prove your credentials as a member of the trade was a business card and a URL, both things any blogger could easily provide. With the tighter credentials you now also need to show either a business license or proof that your work has been published. Instead of creating a place for serious bloggers at the trade show as CHA did, Quilts, Inc. seems to have gone in the opposite direction. The two Quilt Markets that have taken place subsequent to the tighter credentialing have been described by attendees as quieter and more business focused.
Quilts, Inc. is not a membership-based association and bloggers aren’t attending the show to place large orders with manufacturers. Perhaps there was a feeling that bloggers were there to meet-and-greet, but not to do business, and therefore didn’t belong at the show. Was that the best move? Was there a missed opportunity here for shop owners and manufacturers to meet bloggers and set up mutually beneficial partnerships?
I reached out to Bob Ruggiero, Director of Publications and Public Information for Quilts, Inc., to find out how whether the new credentials were indeed intended to keep bloggers out. “Bloggers are certainly not barred from the show floor,” Bob explained. “Some are able to attend Market under the new ‘Industry Professional’ category.”
“We also credential a smaller number of bloggers as media – after looking at and monitoring their blogs to see if they are offering consistent legitimate editorial coverage, and not simply writing about quilts as an addendum to their personal blogs or just covering the products of any sponsors. Or using their blogs as their own commercial endeavors exclusively.”
“We also had a number of complaints from exhibitors because some bloggers were very aggressive about asking for either samples for review or free items, then threatening to write negatively about them if they didn’t comply.”
His statement makes me wonder if, in the long run, Quilts, Inc. might be missing out on possible marketing and partnership opportunities for their exhibitors by not recognizing the the power of reach that bloggers have. Bloggers might not have $25K to spend on bolts, but they do have the audience to buy up those $25K of bolts in the coming months.
It’s interesting to note that over the past six months the two largest and most established trade shows in the craft and sewing industry have had to confront how they want to interact with craft and sewing bloggers and have updated their policies accordingly.
Why is this happening?
Craft blogging is certainly not a brand new phenomenon. The first craft blogs appeared nearly 15 years ago now. But over the past five years there’s been a huge surge in the number and popularity of craft and sewing blogs. Although it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly how many craft blogs there are currently, what can be quantified and not easily denied is the tremendous followings that popular bloggers have amassed, and the tremendous power of their reach and influence.
A craft blogger’s influence over their community is an attractive commodity for many craft companies. That’s why we’ve seen such a flood of companies paying for sponsored posts and offering bloggers free product in exchange for a review. We also see calls for “design teams” like this one put out by Glue Dots, searching for bloggers who are willing to work for free (Glue Dots is a CHA member and I hope that this is not the model that the CHA is condoning when it comes to companies working with bloggers). It’s become clear that traditional advertising models are now much less effective than a more organic recommendation from a trusted blogger friend.
The powerful influence of bloggers can also feel threatening to some sectors of the industry, though, who see things changing and would prefer that they didn’t. Quilt shop owner Karen Montgomery of The Quilt Company, a local quilt shop in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, perhaps see bloggers in a different light. Karen wrote in the June issue of FabShop News, “Is it possible that in this age of technology, some businesses are so concerned with blogs and tweets and other up-to-the-minute online access points that they have lost sight of what we here in the trenches see as common sense? After 20 years as a shop owner, have I become a dinosaur? I find myself asking these questions again and again.”
Do bloggers belong at industry trade shows and in industry associations?
We are now a critical mass and, as Andrej mentioned, part of the social fabric of the industry. In fact, I would argue that we make up a sector of the craft and sewing industry that’s all our own. We’ve built our own communities on platforms that we own and we are influential. Just as these established institutions are having to figure out how they’d like to interact with us, we need to think about how we will interact with them.