For almost three days, I had the pleasure of spending time in the wonderful and searingly hot city of Atlanta thanks to BlogHer and Coca-Cola. This was my first sponsored trip so I wasn’t sure what to expect, let alone what to wear. I knew it would be in the 90s, much different than the 60 degree weather I left in Seattle. I knew I would have some access to Coca-Cola beverages, but there was much unknown. Would anyone like me? Would I be the woman everyone would wonder how she got an invite?
Our days were lined with sessions about social media, how we fit into that ever-changing orbit, and what Coca-Cola and McDonald’s wanted us to know about their brands and what they wanted to know about us because of our unique positions as mothers, bloggers and consumers. It was a working summit that was luxurious and empowering. I never felt for a second that I was being sold to or lured into the exalting any brand because how phenomenally well I was treated. Like Mochamama said, “I came here with my brain.” Conversations with Coca-Cola was just that: a true conversation with the most powerful brand in the world. It was about understanding ourselves in the space that Coca-Cola and BlogHer generously provided and at least for myself, emerging as an energized woman.
During the first day, Elisa led us through a vision board exercise. We decorated poster boards with cut out pictures and words and presented to the group images that represented our lives. Elisa had shared earlier that another blogger described her wildly popular food blog as not being about food, but being about love. That line stuck to me, especially as I searched for images of chinese food, women drinking wine, and any words about struggling. What was my blog about? Love? Poop stories? Being married to a man 27 years older? Losing 30 pounds since the beginning of the year? What was I trying to impart to my readers? As I cut and taped and glued, I knew that it was all of these things. For the first time ever I asked myself these probing questions about my online identity, my off-line one and the brambles and bright spots that live in both spaces.
Each one of us opened up honestly. We were mothers, bloggers, divorced, single, exposing the raw underbelly of our lives–our days undergirded with struggles and successes. I was able to open up to a group of women, most of whom I had just met that day about how my brain races, how I love to be on stage making others laugh, but I don’t get a chance to and food makes me happy. I told them that I know I’m a funny lady, I need to be a funny woman. We hugged, thanked each other for sharing, connected, laughed and cried.
We also learned how some female leaders at Coca-Cola conduct their lives as titans of industry while still being mothers, caregivers and individuals. Wendy Clark, senior vice president of integrated marketing communications and capabilities said, “Balance is a myth.” I nodded so much that I thought my head was going to fall off. Everyone talks about work-life balance. But it doesn’t work, no matter what we say in interviews or self-help books, and here was one of the most powerful women from the biggest brand in the world confirming that.
I needed to hear that. I needed to hear that I couldn’t balance anything, but rather reframe my life into manageable slices and remain present wherever I am. I need to be entrenched in what task I am doing rather than trying to wash my son’s hair and checking my email at the same time. I learned how Coca-Cola uniquely empowers women through a leadership council that meets all over the world and its leadership program that has graduated 240 women.
These women discussed how the company keeps the tug-of-war between work and life from happening. They make phone calls by the pool so they can work and watch their kids swim. They put the phone down when their kids need them. There’s more ownership and transparency and less heartache when companies like Coca-Cola allow their employees to have lives outside the workplace.
During a lunch sponsored by McDonald’s (I had the Asian Chicken salad which I didn’t even know existed and I’ll be definitely seeking out because it was delicious!), we heard about efforts in sustainability and social media from McDonalds’ directors of public affairs and social media. We learned about the sustainability efforts in its products and packaging, how they work toward marine stewardship and sustainable fisheries.
It was a short presentation, however, and though I appreciate how McDonald’s has saved many of my rainy Seattle days alone with two kids with its indoor playlands or how there’s a new app that locates these rainy day gems or lets me assess how many calories are in a meal, I didn’t get the idea that they knew what power bloggers had and what we could provide them as a brand. Though social media is a relatively new territory for such a historical company, I wanted to hear how we were valued and not just about a new app.
The conference wasn’t just about learning about brand strategy or the science of the beverages I consume almost daily, we were able to let loose and experience the beverage wizardy that is THE WORLD OF COCA-COLA. We were provided an exclusive tour through the Coca-Cola museum by the Coca-Cola expert and chief archivist, Phil Mooney.
I saw the most expensive and precious Coca-Cola item—a glass bottle with a rounded bottom, one of only two in the world. I also got to try out the original bottling mechanism and treated the entire tour to my BIG BEEFY LEG.
Oh and my favorite activity in the museum: DRINKING COCA-COLA. There was a new soda dispensing machine called a Coca-Cola Freestyle which allows you to perform magic, or select a beverage with an enormous amount of flavors. Have I mentioned it was magical? I was able to have a glass of Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke. IT WAS MAGICAL.
The days I spent in the wonderful company of these phenomenal women was amazing. I drank happy fizzy drinks, yelled too loudly about my husband’s follies and laughed so hard over and over again. I was so fortunate to meet each one of them, learning about what made them tick and leaning on them when I was feeling far too vulnerable.
One of the Coca-Cola executives also talked about a phrase she learned from one of her colleagues from South Africa: “Lift as you climb.” I love that phrase. Of all the good that Coca-Cola is contributing to the world with its millions spent on student scholarships, community projects and water conservation research, that line is what shaped my experience the most. It’s what I want to take with me from these few wonderful days–I want to be fortunate enough to climb and lift others, and hope that I also am extended a hand that says, you are not alone in this, let me help.