Lessons from StoryExpo 2017 – the conference that didn’t happen

The conference pass was purchased, a room at the Ace Hotel reserved, and flight booked. The class schedule was all set, and a pitch prepared. My custom Storymaker Society tote bag was packed with live video gear, and event-specific business card printed on my favorite paper stock. Three days until the big event. A chance to spend an entire weekend with writers, producers, and story enthusiasts!

Then an e-mail arrives in my inbox that I have to re-read three times before the news sinks in. Story Expo is “postponed” this year. A last-minute scramble to cancel reservations and come up with alternative plans. How could this happen? Story Expo was billed as “Comic-Con…but for writers.” This was the big 5-year anniversary celebration, and the conference had just moved up to a larger space at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Netflix was going to be there for pitches. Amazon Studios. Lionsgate.

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“This year, 2017, unfortunately, we are going to have to postpone Story Expo due to a variety of factors, mostly lower-than-usual ticket sales. This decision was not an easy one and not one made lightly, but Story Expo has become known for being the premier conference for writers around the world and we don’t want to put on a conference where people’s expectations are not far exceeded.”

Announcement from Conference Organizers

I confess that my lesser nature immediately thought, “Well, one way to exceed expectations is to NOT cancel the week before.” But my better self admits that if it must be cancelled at such a late date, it was at least handled graciously. Tickets refunded, a comp ticket to the next conference, and there was still time to cancel reservations without penalty. I’m sure that there is more to the story than we can see on the surface. I reached out to the organizers seeking further comment, but have not heard back yet. I’ll update this post if that changes.

So what could have gone so wrong that calling the whole thing off was the right move?

From the limited picture that I have, I can see several areas that could have made a difference in ticket sales:

  1. The list of speakers was a blank page on the website for months leading up to the conference. I’d hoped to connect with speakers on social media beforehand, so I was checking this regularly. A week before the conference was scheduled to begin, the page was taken down entirely.
  2. The pitching room was originally set to open on August 1st. Then it was pushed back to August 15. Then September 1. I believe it finally went live on the 2nd. This was the first thing that made me nervous about the conference, but I’ve run into my own technical difficulties before so it wasn’t hard to give the organizers some slack on this point.
  3. There was no Facebook page or group for the conference. In today’s digital marketing world, that’s odd.
  4. There is an official Twitter account for Story Expo, but it has 18 followers at the time I’m writing this post, and no tweets.
  5. No one, literally, NO ONE was talking about Story Expo on social media. I tried to jumpstart some conversations by connecting with the few people who had tweeted from it last year, but there were only a couple of tweets about it.

Now, I work in social media and digital marketing, so my expectations might be different than the average conference attendee. And, the only other conference I went to this year was Social Media Marketing World, which was so amazing that it would be hard for any other conference to measure up. Slack channels for specific interests set up months before SMMW, hashtags galore, an active Facebook group for volunteers, a group for registrants, videos from the 2016 conference, space for attendees to easily add their own unofficial social events to the conference schedule… it was done RIGHT.

I keep going back to the promise of Story Expo: “Featuring world-renowned speakers, almost a hundred classes and exhibitors, Story Expo covers all aspects of story and writing – from craft to business to pitching to career.” I feel a little sick that it didn’t happen. I genuinely hope to see this promise fulfilled next time, and wish the organizers only the best.

How great would it be to have a Social Media Marketing World experience for writers? I think “Storymaker Society Conference 2019” has a nice ring to it. What do you think?

 

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