When you don’t want to go: Military Influencer conference 2017

While I was one of the earliest earlybird ticket buyers for Military Influencer Conference 2017 (#milblogging17), I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. It’s been a long year and I admit I was worried. I’ve been on the road for over four months so far this year and it’s only October. Time away means time I’m not spending communicating with my clients.

So what was I worried about?

  1. This would be another  dude-bro fest that spoke only to male veterans.
  2. It would be a waste of time with the same speakers I’ve already heard 4 times this year.
  3. That not being a business that predominately sells to military community consumers it wouldn’t be relevant
  4. That I would regret not spending extra days in Washington D.C. with my husband after the Marine Corps Marathon.
  5. That discussion of being an “influencer” would be all about audience numbers and one-upmanship.

So what was it really like?

It was about a 40/60 split, women to men which was a good start.

Many of those in attendance are the ones shaping the narrative and conversations around military community, veteran, and military family issues. This was a good start and bodes well for 2018. There were a number of female veterans as well (although more would be great for next year) including one of the keynote speakers, Emily Nunez Cavness of Sword and Plough. It is important that events like Military Influencer conference are able to bring together a cross section of voices and “influencers” from across a spectrum of writers, entrepreneurs, and advocates.

While there were still a couple of comments made about “military wives,” on the whole it was definitely better than I experienced at a couple of non military entrepreneurial events where the “little lady” of it all was broadcast in stereo from the main stage! We still need to do better in how we talk about our community within so that we can communicate effectively across a broad spectrum! On the whole, though, it was much more well rounded than I expected in terms of the breadth of experience and background of the speakers – not because I had negative expectations of organizer extraordinaire Curtez Riggs, but because unfortunately there are still attitudes that reek of the 1950s that need to be addressed both within and outwith the military community.

The quality of the speakers on display was on the whole, very high! With Dan Alarik of Gruntstyle, Eli Crane of Bottle Breacher, Matt Griffin of Combat Flipflops, and Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley of R.Riveter (as well as Nunez Cavness mentioned above) sharing practical information as they shared their stories of building multi million dollar companies as military veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs.

Anna Blanch Rabe Lakesha Cole Military Influencer Conference 2017Speakers like Lakesha Cole, Fred Wellman of ScoutComms, Paul Szoldra of DuffelBlog, Wes O’donnell, Josh Elledge, and Ellie Kay all talked about connecting with the media effectively, and how to utilise your own platforms as publishing channels. Judy Davis and Kristine Schellhaas, respectively, shared their stories of building a business as a speaker and turning the model of publishing independently later and traditionally first on its head.

The practicality and transparency of the advice and experiences of the speakers marked this conference out as exceptional. I am pictured, left, with Lakesha Cole.

There were businesses, writers, advocates, and civilian companies of all kinds represented. Will it be more diverse again next year? highly likely and hopefully. There is great information here for advocates too – this isn’t just about making money (although it can be that too) – it is really about communicating effectively.

Honestly, one of the most beneficial aspect of Military Influencer Conference was getting to connect with those business owners and entrepreneurs who understand the challenges of building a company in the midst, or in the context, of military family life. It is not always for the faint of heart. This is a room where you can talk about moving internationally or cross country every few years and people don’t look at like you have two heads.

While there was some discussion about numbers, it was about transparency not “I am better than you”. Wes O’Donnell gave a great definition of a viral article that I will use as a benchmark in the future. O’Donnell defined a viral article as one which “receives 100,000 unique visitors within 24 hours.” We also heard from some of the military community’s own Shark Tank Survivors – pictured below.

Shark Tank Survivors at #Milblogging17 Military Influencer ConferenceImage Courtesy of #Milblogging17

One of the most significant sessions for me was the “Changing the narrative” session led by Madskills (now Instant Teams) founder, Erica McMannes – in a frank session we talked about how to shape and change the narrative around military spouses and military families that highlights what is happening that is positive and ensures we are being honest with ourselves about who we are leaving out or marginalising in that conversation. While she wasn’t present at the session, the article that came out last week from Susan Reynolds about how conversations around military spouse employment are far too often ignoring the needs of EFMP families is particularly relevant to the discussion had in McMannes’ session.

The most emotionally charged session of the entire conference was the Military Storytelling in Entertainment session which was sponsored by National Geographic and gave attendees the opportunity to preview two upcoming television series: The Long Road Home, and Chain of Command. The Director, and two of the veterans whose stories are depicted in Long Road Home were in attendance for a Q&A.

Military Influencer Conference 2017 Long Road Home National Geographic Anna Blanch Rabe

Image Courtesy of #Milblogging17

Long Road Home tells the story of the events of a battle in Afghanistan on 4 April 2004, and the corresponding events taking place at home in Ford Hood, Texas. This combination of the homefront and the battlefield hit very close to home for an audience of veterans and military spouses. Based on the book by Martha Raddatz, this interview with her about why The Long Road Home is so meaningful to her also brought the tears flowing. What stuck me was the importance placed on authenticity in telling this story, and on the value for the veterans who were involved. Eric Bourquin, one of the soldiers who was part of the battle depicted in the mini-series, Long Road Home, talked about the experience of being involved in the production as “healing.” It won’t be easy viewing for military families, but I would encourage you to take some time to check it out. It airs Tuesday November 7, 2017.

Military Influencer Conference Moni Jefferson PR Anna Blanch Rabe Wise Advise and Assist TeamThe conference was ably managed by Wise Advise and Assist Team, with co-founder Laura Early there making sure all went smooth. This military spouse owned company is another example of how organizer, Curtez Riggs, utilised the talent within the military community to make this event happen! I am pictured here with Moni Jefferson who is PR extraordinare for Wise Advise and her own PR company, Moni Jefferson PR.

So, the decision to spend only 27 hours in Washington DC, including supporting my husband as he ran (and crushed) the Marine Corps Marathon was largely made for me by Delta Airlines. It should have been 36 if it had not been for a delay of horrible proportions. But nevertheless, as much as I will always take time with my husband over anything else, the Military Influencer conference was still worth my time. It was worth the time my team had to wait for me to get back with them and the unanswered emails! I hope i am articulating that running a business and attending a conference is challenging, but this conference was worth my time (and could well be worth yours in 2018).

In a final confirmation of my thoughts and opinions on Military Influencer Conference 2017 (#milblogging17), I have already purchased my tickets for 2018. The Military Influencer conference 2018 (#milblogging18) will be held in Orlando, Florida, 23-25 September! You can register here.


There are no affiliate links in this post, except for one for R.Riveter, because I am brand ambassador.

I’d love to see you register for Military Influencer Conference 2018, but i don’t receive anything if you use the link on this page to register!


Anna Blanch Rabe Military Influencer Conference

Anna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, has been working with Law firms, Socially-responsible businesses, and non-profit organizations since 2006 to develop and effectively execute strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, attract talent, and reach new customers.  Anna is an Australian-born speaker, writer and advocate. Connect with Anna on Instagram, facebook, & Twitter.

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