Seattle and I have been friends for a very long time. Both the city itself and the luscious, green areas surrounding it, stretching out to the Olympic Mountains in the Pacific North West, hold a special place in my heart. Almost twenty years ago, my sister made a small city named Sequim, within Washington State, her home. Since then, I’ve flown into Seattle-Tacoma Airport many times, extending the journey downtown into Seattle, right by the iconic Pike Place Market, picking up the Washington State ferry across to Bainbridge Island and beyond. My first visit was as an adventure-seeking sixteen year-old, in the summer before I started Sixth Form College. I was instantly captivated by American life, there was so much space and everything seemed bigger and better. My sister and I made the most of every second we had together, knowing that the physical distance between us had become so great. I looked forward to going back again two years later before starting University. Almost ten years on from that first trip, I happened to sit next to a tall British man on the plane from London to Seattle, who would later become my husband. Fast-forward another ten years to the weekend just gone, and I find myself sitting on the place once more, but this time, as a food writer and blogger, with a ticket to attend a food, writing and technology conference called IFBC 2013 the International Food Blogger Conference. Whilst it’s probably fair to say that most bloggers wouldn’t make a 4,800-mile pilgrimage to a blogging conference, I had lots of reasons for wanting to make it there, including the chance to see my family. It was an opportunity that I simply couldn’t miss and it turned out to be one of the most valuable weekends of my food writing career so far, and the most memorable in terms of family-firsts!
IFBC was founded in Seattle in 2009, by a Seattle-based company called Foodista. It was hailed as a pioneering gathering of food bloggers and was the first of its kind in America; at a time when food bloggers were beginning to raise their game and were eager to find ways to make their food writing hobby into a career. In 2010, Zephyr Adventures joined in as conference organisers and in the following years, the conference moved around a little, to New Orleans, Santa Monica and Portland in 2012.
This year, ifbc was back with a bang in its hometown of Seattle, presented once again by Foodista and organised by Zephyr Adventures. With over 320 food blogging and writing attendees as a captive audience, the conference attracts some huge global brands, which this year included Amazon.com and Urbanspoon, alongside regional supporters such as Alaska Seafood and Pastry Smart, and international players such as Bordeaux Wines and Scottish-based LoSalt, amongst many others. I’ll be weaving in some stories about the brands and sponsors that I met at the conference in future posts.
It’s interesting to look back at the conference agenda in 2009, and to see that the sessions focused on blog etiquette, how to handle freebies, digital photography, food writing for publications, drafting book proposals, food styling and SEO. Whilst the themes were very similar five-years on, I got the sense that food blogging has become even more hard-core, with many hobby bloggers now settled well into bona-fida careers as food writers, cookbook authors and photographers.
On the flip-side, I also met some people from within the food profession, in many guises, including chefs, food authors and photographers, who had more recently taken up food blogging as an extension to an already successful career. The keynote speaker Dorie Greenspan (an amazing food writer who worked with Julia Child!) was a perfect example of this; her work began in traditional publishing, which she affectionately referred to as ‘old media’, but she now has an incredibly strong online media presence, making the transition into ‘new media’ with a blog, an active Twitter following and so on. Dorie’s strongest message focused on working hard and building a community, turning to the example of community groups, such as Tuesdays with Dorie and French Fridays with Dorie that have taken on a life of their own; fuelling her cookbook sales and on-going international success. Food Photographer for the New York Times, Andrew Scrivani, also very much works in the world of new media, defining himself as 80% business man, 20% artist, with an online presence and a blog functioning as an extension of his photography and a promotional tool. Again, there’s much more to come on learning from Dorie and Andrew in upcoming posts – they were both wonderful speakers and extremely generous with their advice.
The IFBC13 agenda was very tightly packed, and this year, the conference came complete with its very own smartphone ‘App’ designed by 47 Degrees, offering the schedule, speakers, sponsors and even social media tweets from in one handy portable package. Personally, I loved the ifbc App and referred to it many times during my stay at the conference host hotel, the very swanky and modern W Hotel in downtown Seattle.
Agenda highlights included a pre-conference excursion to Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, an exclusive documentary pre-view, exhibition-sized food and gourmet fairs, including a Taste of Seattle dedicated entirely to conference attendees, a gift suit, highly-acclaimed speakers and many other break-out sessions focusing on Technology, Writing and Tech.
Some of the bloggers I met were taking part the conference for the fourth or fifth time, others, including myself, were ifbc first timers! There was also a very friendly (closed) Facebook group set up in advance of the conference so that people could start to introduce themselves, make connections as well as share blog posts and make plans for the weekend. After the conference the group was opened up and became ifbc Attendees & Alumni. The conference itself must have been pretty overwhelming, since I had a huge list of people from the Facebook group that I really wanted to meet, but never actually found. Other people were perhaps better at recognising avatars than I was, or possibly simply had a more water-tight blogger recognition plan! I did, however, meet some really wonderful people; my American food blogging counterparts, who all made me personally, feel incredibly welcome. “Oh, you’re the girl from London!” most exclaimed – as if to suggest that somehow I was a little bit crazy…!
Together, we ate, drank, chatted, networked, live-blogged, scribbled-down notes, Tweeted #ifbc or #IFBC13, took obsessive amounts of photographs. Above all, we learnt, we shared and we had so much fun.
I have lots more to write about so stay tuned for more of my Seattle-based adventures.
With thanks to Foodista and Zephyr Adventures for organising the conference. This trip was self-funded and all posts are completely free of any payment, commercial sponsorship or existing brand relationships.
IFBC, Foodista, Zephyr logos and App screenshot taken from conference website.
This is post #1 of 3 – attendees were asked to write 3 posts as part of the$95 ticket deal.
You can find post #2 of 3 here – Arrival, Opening and Keynote by Dorie Greenspan