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You know how some people always seem to find themselves smack dab in the middle of all the action? Wherever The Next Big Thing is, whether it’s a great party, a hot event or a new scene to be discovered, they’re already there, and you can only hope they remember to invite you. How do they do it? What instincts do they possess that always lead them in the direction of fun? Us mere mortals can’t quite grasp it, but I met somebody who epitomizes the gift of In The Know: Kelly Ryan O’Brien.

Her name isn’t just really fun to say (seriously, try to say it ten times fast), but it also carries quite a bit of weight on the Chicago blogging scene. She’s been on every hot scene in the country, and it’s safe to say that everything she touches turns to glam.

Her latest project is the Chicago Blogger Network, an online collective showcasing over 450 blogs in every category from fashion to music to food to parenting and everything in between. The CBN works to give exposure and opportunities to its members through creative partnerships, brand integration and sponsorships while hosting events all over the city so members can meet, mingle and make new connections.



I sat down with the PR master to talk about the Network and during our conversation I also found out about her insane stacked portfolio, why she’ll always love Detroit and what life changing experience taught her to relax (as much as she’ll allow herself to, anyway).

What led you to start the Chicago Blogger Network?

Okay, it’s a long story so get ready. I had a PR career in New York City working at the Donna Karan Madison Avenue Collection store. I helped launched the store and was working there doing promotions, event planning, VIP styling and working with Donna Karen herself. That experience exposed me to working with celebrities and I fell in love with event planning. Then 9/11 happened and I got laid off because nobody was shopping and money wasn’t coming in.

At that time, my then-boyfriend (now husband) was going to move to New York but after I got laid off I went and moved in with him in Chicago. There, I got a job at the Gen Art Chicago office showcasing film, fashion, art and music.

It was at Gen Art that I made the bulk of my connections because the project was innovating and exciting; I was even on the first Chicago Board of Fashion with Mayor Daley to help raise the visibility of fashion in the city. By the time I left I was the National Marketing Director and didn’t really have to report to anybody, which kind of ruined me because now I’ll never be able to work for anybody again.



A few years later I moved to L.A. and worked as the Director of Marketing and PR at Billion Dollar Babes, which specialized in sample sales. They were trying to create an online presence but by that time Gilt City and other sites were already pretty established so it didn’t end up working out.

At the same time that this happened, I got really, really sick for five years and it changed the way I looked at everything. My doctors made it clear that my stressful schedule and stressful lifestyle definitely contributed to my illness, so I had to stop letting little things get to me. I still let them sometimes, but not the way I used to.

I was couch-ridden for what felt like forever, and I found social media as an outlet so I could still communicate with the outside world although I was cut off from society. I started a blog and wrote about everything I was going through, which was really therapeutic for me.

My husband was getting transferred back to Chicago and I realized that the L.A. blog scene was so interconnected and this city didn’t really have that, so in August 2011 I decided to launch the Chicago Blogger Network.

What are the goals of the Chicago Blogger Network?

The first goal is to get Chicago bloggers to network. They don’t know about each other, but they want to meet each other so we set up events every week to get them in the same room. We’re also working on marquee events such as an annual Blogger Awards Show and we’re figuring out a monthly educational series so our members can learn from each other.

Secondly, we want to help our members monetize their blogs. I work as a brand consultant so companies will contact me and ask for blogs that are tailored to their specific audience. Brands like New Era, Topshop and Nike have contacted me to have their products reviewed on a blog. It works to maximize exposure for both sides.

We want as many people as we can get—seriously, the more the merrier! We think of the Chicago Blogger Network as an incubator for talent that wouldn’t otherwise be showcased, so we gladly accept anybody who’s been blogging for a few months, has a unique voice that’s their own and has what we call “common sense morality.” That’s an important point because we have lots of events for bloggers to meet each other and we don’t want someone there who will alienate the other members with extreme views.



What’s next?

I’m being very careful to launch in other markets organically. I’m helping on an “as-needed” basis, meaning that brands will reach out to me, usually through social media, for help with events in other cities. I’ll reach out to my personal network and help get some people there to promote the event, wherever it may be.

We’re looking for up-and-coming cities to launch in. I’m working on launched the Detroit Blogger Network. It’s an inspiring, strong city with no exposure!

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Gabrielle Belavsky
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