One of the things that I'm most proud of regarding AdoredAustin.com and my time in Austin is the Texas Style Council Conference.
I'm a gatherer. I love getting a crowd together to have a good time, so in 2010, when I found myself lamenting the fact that I could not afford a SXSW Interactive badge, I decided to go rouge and throw my own thing for likeminded women. I sent out some emails to some women I admired for a get together at my friend Tracy's place for quiche and crafts. News 8 tagged along, fellow blogger Grechen suggested that a learning component be added for the following year, and boom! Before we knew it, Texas Style Council had become a full blown three day conference, with attendance from all over the world with amazing sponsors and lovely attendees and knowledgeable / nationally known speakers, including The Glamourai, Susan Koger from Modcloth, Lucky Magazine, Kendi Everyday (keynote in 2012), and Emma and Elsie from A Beautiful Mess (keynotes in 2013).
And although I love gathering a crowd, the minutiae that's involved with planning events escapes me. Event planning is not my forte, it's not something I enjoy, and never in my wildest dreams did I think TxSC would grow the way it has. I have been very fortunate to have the hardest working support team come alongside me since year two to help put it on. This cannot be said enough!
After every year's conference, I ask, "If we do it again, how can we do it better and differently than what we just did? How can TxSC be different from what's already being done?" And every year, I'm flooded with emails from happy attendees and a handful of emails with really honest and helpful constructive criticism. I'm proud of the work we've all done-- all of us! And best of all, I have found something I really care about: helping people use their online presence to create offline connections. Some of my most lovely friendships have been born from TxSC and I've watched women meet through TxSC to partner together to form new businesses. It's been a trip!
At the conclusion of TxSC 2013, there was this moment where I was thumbing through the program, marveling at all the people who had come. We had nearly 400 attendees, an amazing set of speakers, three very full days of programming, and incredibly supportive and well received sponsors. My staff was so hard working and so well balanced. We had found our stride. Despite the hard work and how personally I take every bit of criticism, I wanted to do TxSC14 for sure.
But as the year came along, I couldn't find an answer to my annual questions. "How can we do it better and differently than what we just did? How can TxSC be different from what's already being done?". I had already scrapped the panel format. I had already provided smaller workshops.
The landscape of blogging has changed a lot since 2010. The amount of resources out there for bloggers is astronomical. Aside from the networking part of the event, I couldn't figure out how TxSC14 could be something that added anything new to the conversation or provided anything of value to the attendees. There were other conferences out there doing what we did, but on a professional level.
Potential sponsors kept emailing me. Would be attendees kept emailing me. Wannabe speakers kept emailing me. But TxSC was dead in the water. Add in that my family is moving from Texas to Georgia and I have a new baby (and two other kids!), I just wasn't able to get the inspired idea that would help me flesh out what TxSC14 could be. I took the website down and was bummed.
On top of this, TxSC had a branding problem. We had pivoted. What had started off as an event for the fashion-minded, evolved into something that in 2013 was attended by 2/3 bloggers and 1/3 business owners and brands. Of the bloggers, a less than half were solely fashion focused, whereas the other half+ were bloggers who identified as lifestyle bloggers, parenting bloggers, photographers, or food bloggers. "Texas Style Council" had become a misnomer. If some kind of TxSC rebirth happened, I knew I'd have to rename it, thus risking losing any brand equity we had in the TxSC name. But it could not be denied: TxSC desperately needed to evolve.
At my going away party at Langford Market, I was chatting with some fine folks about the possibility of doing TxSC like a retreat. Strip it down of all its glitz and glamour and dial in on what's important: content and connections. I didn't think the fancy TxSC crowd would go for it, but the amount of enthusiasm that people had for my little glimmer of an idea was unreal. Best of all Melissa Massello, who had run TxSC's clothing swap in 2011 and 2012 had recently moved to Austin from Boston, and she felt she had the time and energy to join me and Kristin as a partner. And because I'm relocating, I needed another set of feet on the ground here in Austin.
I sent a feeler email out to a group of women I loosely refer to as the TxSC advisory team (they always get these long, rambling brainstorming emails from me at 2 am). It said this:
Like a zombie, TxSC has risen from the dead.
It's going to be different... REALLY different... from our past events. Less polished. Less stiff smiles. More dirt. Hopefully more authenticity. We're pitching this as a "retreat".
Blogging has changed A LOT since we started TxSC in 2010 and so many of us feel stuck in a weird place of being inspirational / adding value to the web vs. being real and authentic and not deemed a sell-out because we work with brands. I've felt stuck and stagnant for years and I'm just now coming out of that fog. I think some of you feel the same way, too.
I think the best way to get wind behind our sails and the best way to remember why we started blogging in the first place is because at our core, we're story tellers. We have stories to share and we want to hear the stories of others.
So... that's the theme this year. Story telling. How can we do that as best we can, via photos, social media, branding, writing. We're really taking a step back and focusing on content.
If I have to sit through one more talk about "How to make money from blogging" or "How to gain more followers" I am going to pull my hair out (incidentally, these are great questions, but they are questions that have been answered at ad infinitum on forums such as IFB and Blogher).
This TxSC (Texas Storytelling Camp?) is not the place for THAT. It's a retreat to refocus and re-energize.
I want to scrap the idea of doing a day full of presentations. Instead I see us offering a bunch of very small, hands on workshops, so casual and so simple that it's more like a gathering around a campfire versus a seminar.
The initial response to this has been very warmly received. I feel confident saying that TxSC15 is ON. We're looking at March 2015, and we've scouted out a venue about 45 minutes northwest of Austin. There will be camping. There will be s'mores. There will be bunk beds. Did you ever go to summer camp as a child? It's going to be like that but with a bunch of post-college internet ladies, okay?
We are currently dreaming up a new name for this thing, and I think taking 2014 off was good. It gives us the space to say that this is something completely different.
Our theme this year is CAMP: Create A Meaningful Presence. It's an event for any woman who has a presence online, be it a blog or simply social media as part of their brand. We're a little biased, but we really think TxSC15 (or whatever we rename it) is going to be awesome.
Plus it's given me the opportunity to watch Troop Beverly Hills and Moonrise Kingdom on repeat. If you have any questions or just want to give me a virtual fist bump about TxSC15, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.