Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Business of Blogging at Camp Baby

So, I know it's been a couple of days since I said "I'll post more tomorrow" . . .

I blame my librarian, who made me check out this book, and Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote it. And Spring, for making me need to start seedlings, for my garden.

(And I blame Barbara Kingsolver for making me feel guilty about not starting even MORE seedlings for my garden. All while sort of mocking me for being a vegetarian even though she used to be one. SHAME ON YOU, Barbara Kingsolver. SHAME ON YOU and your glorious descriptive passages and your superior gardening skills. May you be cursed with mountains of zucchini and enough Juliet tomatoes to start a tomato canning factory. Which of course you will never start, because that would be encouraging people to eat processed food. Mwa ha ha!)

Anyway, on to my post.


I went to Johnson's Camp Baby with an agenda. And it wasn't just to escape the family, jump on sleep in a big comfy hotel bed, suck down free booze, snag some fabulous (and trust me, it was really fabulous, as in, free Nintendo DS fabulous) swag, and fall into a fangirl swoon in the celebrity presences of Catherine and Kristen.

(What? Did you think I was going to say Ted Allen? Hah. As if I have time these days to watch Bravo. He IS a sweetheart, though. He's recently started a blog, and he asked us all for blogging advice even though he apparently gets paid two dollars a word writing for Esquire. I thought that was rather noblesse-oblige-y of him. In a good way.)

(Can you believe it? Two dollars a word?

Do you think I could convince Esquire that I have a penis?)

(Where was I? Ah, yes.)

I went to Camp Baby with an agenda, and that was, to ask whatever Johnson and Johnson executives I happened across some serious questions.

As the mother of a young child, I wanted to know what Johnson and Johnson has been doing to address the controversy regarding synthetic estrogen mimics, such as paraben preservatives, and phthalates and BPA leached from plastic packaging, in children's cosmetic products.

I wanted to know what Johnson and Johnson plans to do to reduce the presence of potentially dangerous contaminants, such as the carcinogenic petrochemical 1,4-Dioxane, in soaps and lotions for babies.

I wanted to ask where Johnson products are made, and how factory workers are treated, and how the products are tested for safety.

I wanted to ask whether Johnson's has considered introducing a line of plant-based cosmetic products with organic ingredients to offer eco-conscious parents more options.

Liz wanted me to ask an excellent question about whether Johnson and Johnson has any plans to introduce more eco-friendly product packaging.

And of course, as I mentioned before, given the early controversy about the invitation process, I planned to ask about what Johnson and Johnson's plans to do going forward to make sure nursing mothers don't feel discriminated against at future events.

This may not seem like a particularly long list of questions to ask over the course of three days. But, considering that there were 55 or so other outspoken bloggers attending this event, and considering that the event planners had scheduled the event down to fifteen minute increments, packing each day of the conference with speakers and activities, getting my two ten cents in proved to be a little challenging.

I was able to talk with Lori, the person from Johnson and Johnson's communications division in charge of organizing the Camp Baby event, immediately upon arrival at the hotel regarding the nursing mothers situation. And I do mean immediately: having read my blog post the night before, Lori was actually waiting for me in the hotel lobby, ready to have a conversation.

I must admit that I was so surprised by her eagerness to speak with me that, for a minute, I was fairly certain she was about to lead me out the back door and stuff me into an unmarked van bound straight back to the airport for rousing too much rabble about a free, expenses-paid (and did I mention totally free? Plane ticket, too?) three-day conference/vacation.

However, Lori was actually quite gracious, and spoke with me for a full half hour about what she feels Johnson and Johnson has learned about working with mothers of babies from this inaugural event. She also happily accepted my offer to send an emailed list of suggestions to her (which I have, and which she actually read, despite its being, in typical Jaelithe style, about three pages long).

So, mission fairly well accomplished there.

But what about my other questions?

Luckily, I quickly discovered I wasn't the only blogger there with an agenda.

People like Kristen, Izzy, and Karianna wanted to know about synthetic chemicals and contaminants in Johnson's products, too. Plenty of other bloggers besides myself were interested in asking questions about product packaging, product testing, and product safety. Questions about environmental sustainability. Questions about working conditions. Questions about corporate vision, and corporate participation in efforts to improve local communities.

During every single question and answer session I witnessed, my fellow bloggers did me proud, with many intelligent, well-spoken women asking the same sort of questions I wanted to ask, and offering the same sort of feedback I wanted to offer.

Okay, so I still did hog the mic a little.

On the whole, I think the bloggers in attendance presented a fairly united front in favor of:
  • Better product labeling, with full ingredient lists available on the internet
  • More information about company history, factory locations, employment practices, and production processes on the internet
  • Safer, more environmentally-friendly production and packaging methods
  • More transparency in all corporate communications with the public regarding product information and product safety
  • More options for consumers, including fragrance-free products for children with allergies or sensitive skin, and more eco-friendly, plant-based options for environmentally conscious consumers
  • More corporate recognition about how production practices affect the surrounding communities
Honestly, it seemed to me that some of the Johnson and Johnson execs and guest speakers were a little taken aback at just how much thought most "Mommybloggers" really do put into their everyday purchases.

During one presentation by a Johnson and Johnson scientist focused on product safety, the presenter quipped that by the end of her presentation, she'd have turned us all into amateur scientists. And I had to stifle a laugh, considering that I was sitting three feet away from a former neuroscientist, and couldn't glance in any direction without my gaze falling on current or former nurses.

To be sure, the non-scientist, non-health-professional members of the group were a majority. But many of them, I am sure, were teachers, or lawyers, or reporters, or professional freelance writers, or ad execs, etc., (and many others, I am sure, had been such, before they became stay-at-home-moms).

The type of people who read Newsweek in addition to People and Vogue.

The type, in other words, who are in fact already pretty comfortable with bar graphs.

During one feedback session, when a PR expert asked the crowd what they look for when visiting corporate websites, I said, "I go to corporate websites to find out more information about the philosophy of the company. I also try to find out where the company's products are made, and how the company's employees are treated, and whether the company tries to use eco-friendly production practices. I also look for ingredient lists, and product safety information."

And the PR expert responded, somewhat incredulously, "Really? Do you really look for all that information before you make a purchase?"

To which not just I, but about half the women in the room, answered, Yes, of course we do, when we are looking for products we plan to use long-term for our kids.

And why wouldn't we? Bloggers tend to be intelligent, educated, curious, opinionated, and tech-savvy as a group. We like the internet, we're comfortable on the internet, and we know how to use the internet to pull up vast amounts of valuable information in seconds with the click of a mouse.

And most mothers I've met are concerned much more than the average childless person about things like product safety and environmental protection, and most mothers I've met make an active effort to educate themselves on such subjects.

After all, it's our kids' health we're protecting with information on product safety. It's our kids' future we're protecting the planet for.

I think most corporate marketing departments have a bit of an unfortunate misconception about Mommybloggers.

They see us writing about chronic sleep deprivation, picky eaters and potty training, and perhaps the prevalence of such quotidian subject matter leads them to believe such mundane matters are mostly what we think about.

But our brains are quite capable of multi-tasking, and many of us are well accustomed to typing research questions into Google with one hand while we rock a baby with the other.

And so it happened that, during the very last question and answer opportunity, this time at Johnson and Johnson corporate headquarters, when Ray Jordan, Corporate Vice President of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications at Johnson and Johnson, asked the bloggers for final thoughts on how Johnson and Johnson can continue to build good social media relations, my last message to Johnson and Johnson was not something that had been on my original agenda.

I said, "Don't underestimate us. There are scientists in this room. There are health care professionals in this room. The bloggers in this room are smart, and educated. We like having access to detailed statistics and scientific information. We can handle it."

To which Ray responded, "So, are you trying to say that Moms have a branding issue?"

Which I think means he totally got me, actually.

So I'm feeling pretty positive about the business side of this event. I hope we bloggers who attended did a good job of representing the concerns of today's moms to Johnson and Johnson.

And I hope Johnson and Johnson was listening to our suggestions.

I really do think that Ray and Lori were listening.


By the by, here are some encouraging facts you may not know about Johnson and Johnson that I learned while attending the conference:
  • A founding partner of the EPA's Green Power Partnership program, Johnson and Johnson is one of the largest corporate users of solar power in the United States.
  • Johnson and Johnson sponsors the nonprofit group Safe Kids Worldwide, which promotes public awareness campaigns to educate children and parents on how to prevent accidental injury, and supports legislation designed to reduce accidental injuries in children.
  • Johnson and Johnson helps fund InfantSEE, a nonprofit public health program that provides free eye exams to kids under the age of one.
I especially encourage my readers to check out the InfantSEE program. The program director spoke at the conference, and I have never seen a man more sincerely dedicated to a good cause.

(I'm still using Burt's Bees lotion on my kid until Johnson and Johnson comes out with an eco-friendly, plant-based line in recycled plastic packaging, though.)

(Are you taking notes, Ray?)


Awesome Mom said...

You go girl! I think that Burt's Bees smells so much nicer anything that Johnson's has out. I love that the baby powder (which I purchased to use on me and not my kids) has rose buds crushed into it so that it does not have that awful baby powder smell. I am glad that you helped drive home the idea that moms do not just look for pretty packaging when they buy stuff.

Bea said...

I wouldn't necessarily check a company website for ingredient lists, but I do read the ingredients on the product. And when a product is labeled "Naturals" but has a cloying odour and is full of parabens - I don't bother picking up products made by that company again.

Jaelithe said...

The Naturals line was indeed specifically mentioned by some bloggers at the conference. Perhaps in fair proximity to the word "greenwashing."

Kim said...

My baby is nine but I still care about the products and packaging that we are using as we grow up. (Yeah, I said we, we're both a work in progress).

Anonymous said...

Jae, you kick rock hard ass. And I hope that not only J&J were paying attention, but other corporations vying for our hard earned dollars. It's not about just the products anymore, but their impact on the planet, and our children. And we're no dummies believing marketing copy anymore without a little research of our own.

Her Bad Mother said...

When you made that comment, the last morning, about companies - about anyone - not underestimating moms, I fell in love with you. More.

Mom101 said...

Jaelithe my love, I wish I had been there if only to see that final question...and the astute response.

I'm still amazed at the fact that they really didn't know who they invited. It's liking lumping TMZ reporters and WSJ reporters together as all being the same.

You go girl, like you always do. Outstanding wrap-up - and glad to hear about some of the great programs J&J are involved with. They need to get the word out!

Leighann of Multi-Minding Mom said...

I took the baby for a free InfantSEE exam this morning. His eyes are healthy and normal.

Every since reading AVM I feel guilty about buying bananas. Damn Barbara Kingsolver! But it doesn't keep me from buying them because they are a staple in our house.

We can only do what is possible and reasonable and shouldn't feel guilty where we fall short.

I have an opinion about "greenwashing." For instance with Clorox. I would like to support their efforts to make better products. Every time someone opts for their greener product over their traditional cleaners, it is a vote. I like that they are greener products at a reasonable price point and people who don't normally go for the green option might try them out. I feel that people should support a company's effort to change.

(It was so great to meet you by the way!)

Jaelithe said...

Actually I fully agree with you that we all ought to support both small and large steps by companies toward greener products. That's part of the reason I made a point of mentioning J&J's solar power usage, which I was not aware of before this conference, and which I think is an excellent example of fairly easy, but meaningful ways big companies can go green.

I just wish more companies were more clear, in their product packaging and their ingredient lists, about what goes into their so-called "green" alternatives.

There certainly are cases where companies are basically just pouring petrochemicals into a green bottle, slapping some floral imagery on the front, and calling the end product "natural" or "green." And it's hard to tell the good products from the bad when so many companies refuse to give comprehensively detailed ingredient lists (especially in the case of cleaning products, but this happens with cosmetics, too-- who knows, for example, what goes into a "fragrance" or a "stabilizer"?).

Jaelithe said...

P.S. It was awesome meeting you, too :)

Debbie said...

your brilliance, as usual, is unsurprising.

I esp. appreciate that you pointed up the moment where they kind of went, "wah - moms can multitask?"

why does everyone in the non-parent sector always underestimate the skills of mothers? multitasking and otherwise?

great coverage of the event, Jae. I wish I could have been there, if only to hear you speak. I'm sure it was impressive.

Anonymous said...

Jae, thanks for the InfantSEE(R) mention! You blog-ladies are amazingly connected. I hope that everyone will help increase the awareness of this program, which aims to detect infants with at-risk eye status so eye doctors and other health specialists can take care of issues before they become serious. I truly appreciate the post.

Scott Jens, OD
Middleton, WI
Chair, InfantSEE(R)

jorray said...

Of course I'm listening, Jaelithe... But "taking notes"?? That just seems so... so... well... boomer.

You've done a wonderful job capturing things that are critically important for us to keep in mind for the future. So, instead of notes, I'll pass a link to your post along to our senior communication leaders. Great stuff!
Ray (from J&J)

Jaelithe said...

SEE WHAT I MEAN? Now that is dedication.

It's a pleasure to write about InfantSEE, Scott. It's an excellent program, and I hope you get your wish that eye exams become as much a commonly accepted component of routine health care for infants and small children as physical exams are now.

My own nearsightedness wasn't caught until a teacher noticed I was squinting at the chalk board from the front row. So you can bet I'll be getting my own son's vision checked regularly.

Jaelithe said...

Ooh-- sorry Ray-- for some reason your comment got hung up in my moderation queue and I didn't get a notification on it until just now. I'm sorry I didn't publish it and respond earlier.

Thank you very much for passing on my post.

(I guess I'm just old-fashioned about note taking.)

Lisa said...

Great recap, lady!

JessiTRON said...

Moms have a branding problem.

That is insightful. And yes, sounds like he gets it. Moms have a branding problem... hmmm... what can we do about it?