CJ University 2014: After Action Review

On September 9 through the 11th, I attended the CJ University conference at the Fess-Parker Doubletree Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA. CJ, short for Commission Junction, is an intermediary for affiliates such as me. Advertisers wishing to advertise their products through the power of word-of-mouth, such as blogs, go through CJ, who in turn connects me with them.

Being an aspiring blogger, I attended the CJ University, hoping to gain more insight into the world of affiliate marketing. Instead, I discovered CJ is really more for the big boys than it is for small-time folks such as myself.

My Expectations

First, everyone attends conferences with a different set of expectations. I enrolled, expecting the following things.

  • An educational experience on how to incorporate affiliate marketing with blogging, such as seeking new advertisers or new promotional techniques.
  • Pow-wow sessions with small groups of people to help each other overcome limitations and fears
  • Networking opportunities with other bloggers such as myself
  • Introductions to advertisers who may be interested in seeking new publishers

It may surprise you to learn that even self-improvement minded bloggers still have fears and limiting beliefs they contend with. Self-improvement is a life-long process and journey. You get comfortable, then you get stagnant. So, it is important to continually challenge yourself and bring yourself out of your comfort zones. It is only in being out of the comfort zone that we are able to achieve great things.

Activities Breakdown

CJ University took place over the course of into three days. The first two days were full-day affairs. The last day was only a half-day affair. Seminars officially started at 1:00 p.m. Interspaced throughout the day are what they call the Zone, where attendees go to hold meeting with other attendees. These are typically folks who work for large companies, such as Home Depot, CitiBank, and Walgreen.

Day 1

Seminars, each allocated in 50-minute blocks, ran from 1:00 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. The seminars were largely advertiser-centric, rather than publisher-centric.

CJ University Publisher Focus For example, one would think a seminar entitled Publisher Focus, hosted by Jodi Ford, Devon Miller, and Amanda Noodell (pictured left), all account managers with CJ, would be an educational talk targeted towards the aspiring blogger. Instead, this speech was about the things that advertisers may do to better work with publishers.



Meet Your Advertisers and Publishers

For only the first day, the Plaza was transformed into an area where advertisers and publishers alike gathered to give away free stuff and, of course, promote their companies. Note that I said companies. I neither saw any individuals nor bloggers running booths. For example, super affiliate publisher SlickDeals.net was present to look for more advertisers. In all, I saw around 50 booths.

Party at the Beach

After the last seminar was over, there was a 100 minute break, allowing people to catch up with their last meetings of the day or go back to their rooms and freshen up for the Party on the Beach.

CJ University Day 1 Party on the Beach - ManSpirational.com

We literally had a party on the beach, just across the street from the hotel. Here, they served us cocktails and food. After the beach party was over, we reconvened back at the open-air Plaza of the hotel, where we had smores, complete with firepits and propane tower heaters to keep the cool air coming off the Santa Barbara coast at bay.

It was a formal affair, and almost all attendees showed up in formal attire. I had assumed that this was a conference for affiliates, so I showed up in little more than polo shirt and jeans.




Day 2

CJ University Day 2 Magic Johnson -ManSpirational.com

The highlight of every attendee’s day, Magic Johnson was the keynote speaker.

The day finished off with three 50-minute seminars, each once again more advertiser than publisher centric.

At 5:30 p.m., CJ held a cocktail party on the front lawn of the hotel. At 7:00 p.m. was the CJYou Awards dinner. It is here that awards are given to select CJ Performers. A CJ Performer is an individual who has earned at least $10,000 per month for the past three months.

I went into it thinking that I would see individuals, small business-minded folks such as myself, get awards. Instead, it was large corporations such as Home Depot and Citibank that won. The attendees representing these companies walked on stage to accept their awards.

Afterwards, there was an after-party party. The grand ballroom of the hotel was transformed into an informal Vegas-style club. Outside, in the foyer area were casino games, such as blackjack, roulette, and craps. We played with chips and at no time was actual money used in these games.


Day 3

This was the shortest day of the week, with just two 50-minutes sessions to close out CJ University, followed by lunch.

My Impressions

As an independent blogger, I had attended CJ University with an entirely different set of expectations. I honestly expected more self-improvement centered activities that are designed to help bloggers overcome their personal and professional obstacles. I also expected much more intimate networking opportunities. Instead, the entire thing was quite impersonal and cold. Many attendees collected in cliques and only socialized with people they knew. It was hard to break into conversations because the groups had closed-off body language, not very inviting of strangers such as me.

I had also expected many more advertisers than the 50 or so present.

Would I Attend Again?

The short answer is no.

CJ University is great if you work for super affiliates or are a super affiliate yourself. This conference represents a great opportunity to network with other companies. To be fair, the after-hour parties, such as the Party on the Beach, the smores gathering, and the cocktail parties are informal, relaxed affairs, designed to help break the ice and get people talking to each other. But even with the best of intentions, things can still go other than planned. For example, I saw people clustered together in cliques, just like in the high school days. Whereas I was expecting to meet many bloggers and small-time folks just starting up, many attendees worked for large corporations.  Overall, I just had a different set of expectations.

The CJ University website could have done a much better job explaining and clarifying expectations. For close to a grand just to attend, it was just not worth it for me.

Note: Many of the pictures here are not my own but from #cju2014 at Twitter.

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  1. That’s too bad that at the end you weren’t overly happy with the overall conference but I hope you took away a couple of gems to help improve your blogging! Kudos to you for going, I have yet to go to a blog conference!
    Cori recently posted…#CatchTheMoment365; Week 35My Profile

    • There are other conferences that target the blogger more specifically and relevant than CJ did. I would suggest Googling them, then reading the reviews to see if it’s worth your time going.

  2. Sounds like a great event for bloggers. Lucky you
    Manu Kalia recently posted…Low Back Flexibility Exercise Using Tennis BallsMy Profile

  3. Ah, it’s a shame that the conference wasn’t what you were expecting!

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