Portland Creative Conference 2009–it’s back!

Having attended this year’s Portland Creative Conference I can confidently say, it’s back–really back.  For all I know, last year’s event was awesome too.  I attended the years 1995-2001 and always found it rejuvenating and inspiring.  (Sure, I could criticize things here and there–but it was a great conference and I was sad when it went away.)  This year’s event indicates there’s so much potential that I can’t imagine it’s not back for good.

I have lots of constructive criticism which I’ll save to the end–first, let me say a word or two about each of the presentations:

On Your Feet:
I tend to hate these “get up and mingle with your neighbor” things.  I didn’t hate this one, but –luckily–the later oyf stuff made up for the slightly uncomfortable morning presentation.  For instance, I LOVED the song (about The Artist’s Way) and the end-of-the-show recap/improv thing.  I am totally going to steal that somehow.

Dan Wieden: big message “you have to fail to learn”. I already knew this of course–but hearing it from him and hearing how it integrates into his agency was nice.  Plus, his comfort level presenting made it very personal. With humility, he both explained that he knows “everything’s changing” at the same time admitting that he doesn’t really know anything.  (Which was another message: you should come to work every day realizing there are game-changers that have taken place while you slept.)  I love the one question he got regarding where have they failed (and he brought up that Nike ad–I think it was Nike–where the woman out runs a crazed killer).

Jen Jako:
Inspiring and very sincere person–but, with all due respect, I have to say that she didn’t fully receive the message (that I personally believe is the point of the conference) that she should talk about how she finds creativity or gets unblocked.  It wasn’t a terrible presentation by any means and I think I learned something but it just didn’t reach me personally.

Flash Choir: I feel totally bad for them because they were probably scheduled (though not on the schedule) but they performed AFTER the scheduled noon break.  Their thing was cool.  But, when they went on to the second song I felt it was more a “flash hostage situation” than a “flash choir”.

Jerry Ketel:
Super effort and very good message but slightly rocky delivery.  He had some hilarious jokes but a huge flaw was that he (nor any presenter) seemed to be in control of the slides.  This affected the timing on his jokes.  Whatever–it wasn’t bad and you have to give him props for cross dressing!

Teresa Drilling: Go RIT Tigers!  She was awesome.  At first I was turned off by some of her biography stuff–sort of hard not to sound like you’re bragging when you have such a record as she does.  And, really, it’s nice to hear a bit about her background as I hadn’t done my homework.  Still, she got into some really great insights sharing what she does and how… and she focused on creativity.  Also, she did an excellent job explaining the time-shift you go into while animating.  (Something very similar to programming–as you program in such tiny steps–but something I’ve never seen explained so well.)  She was perhaps the best communicator–though, Larry Brooks has such a presence… –wait a second–this isn’t a competitive sport.

Emek: By far the most inspiring for me.  What’s interesting is my skills and specific interests aren’t even close to what he does–but still–wow!  I had never seen his work but that totally blew me away.  Then hearing about the process and his research was a great treat.  It was an excellent mix of showing his stuff, with his craft process, with his art process, plus stories about various projects.  It also enjoyed the satire in so much of his work.  And, I like the whole artifact aspect (300 prints per project).  Later I learned that Portland is a bit of a rock poster capital–that’s cool.  One interesting take-away for me was that I actually am into making posters too!  I have been handing out my newsletter for years… and more recently made a wanted poster and a handbill.  (I don’t think I’ll link to the handbill because my rule is I only hand it out in person.)

Larry Brooks: What’s amazing to me is I totally don’t remember meeting him when I interned at CMD in 1988 nor when I did contract work in the mid 90s.  I just think I would have remembered him as I’m pretty sure I met him.  He was an excellent communicator and I think he may have really found his calling by teaching people how to write.  I thought his message about how if you want to go pro with writing it’s equivalent to going pro in golf might be taken as a downer–like “give it up if you aren’t going to be the best” but I don’t think that was his point.  I really enjoyed it and think I learned a lot from his presentation… the big thing I can say is that no one could have been in that audience and not been listening to him.

Bill Oakley: I feel like a bit of a boob because I met him in advance of his presentation and didn’t recognize his name.  Not like I’d bow to him but I’d give him well deserved props and probably point him to my recent Simpsons/39th street parody.  But, as a presentation it was very very good. It was just shy of excellent for reasons I can’t really identify.  I think I learned a lot about his process but maybe not so much about “creativity”.  Maybe I’m nitpicking.  Maybe the intro montage of his work freaked me out too much as it didn’t have clear delineations between the different samples.

Conference overall: Like I said above: great job and great conference.  I think the biggest thing is how they seem to communicate to the speakers that the presentations should be about creativity and process–not “how to” or just showing off their work.  This aspect should continue.

So, for the constructive criticisms (in no particular order):

Make the presenters operate laptops directly… or, if they’re going to have an offstage assistant advancing the slides, do some major rehearsing.  As it was, it was awkward and affected timing and such–plus it messed up some of the presenters.  (Way more than if they had had to monkey with their own laptops.)

Get a real projector–is that the best the Newmark Theatre has to offer?  Geez–not to be a projector snob but that thing was dark.

Get a decent playback computer or figure out why the videos were lurching.  Not a huge issue compared to my other criticisms.

Find a system to communicate elapsed time to the presenters–like hold up a card that says “10″ when they have 10 minutes remaining.  In fact, you stayed on time pretty well–but it’s actually possible to stay on time perfectly.  I think returning to a two-day format would be better for this… plus you could include more networking time.

Consider moving to a weekday
.  I think it makes for a more professional crowd.  Not saying the crowd was a bunch of yahoos–but, especially if it’s going to be a one-day conference, I’d personally prefer a weekday.  Just my preference.

Lose the “no video recording” rule.  What’s up with that?  Don’t you know, it’s the you-tube-ic age? Please don’t explain how there’s copyright issues because unless someone shows up with a tripod and heavy duty video equipment it’s not like anyone’s going to steal anything.  I could go on–but the bottom line is that I know most speakers would like the exposure as should the conference itself.  Exposure that can only be achieved by a bunch of people posting clips of what happened.  In fact, I think it’s valid to question whether the whole event actually took place if there’s no video of it online 24 hours after the fact.  If there are truly some difficult issues that lead you to this policy please consider finding a nice alternative–I’m sure you can.

Consider a bigger auditorium if you need to resort to taping off special seats for the VIPs.  Geez–how many seats did you have taped off anyway?  Maybe a reminder that this is Portland is in order.

Finally, the following is hard to say, but maybe don’t have so many (in this case I think all) presenters from Portland.  The problem saying this is that none of the presenters this year were anything less than industry leading luminaries.  Seriously, they all deserved to be there.  But, still, I think it’s worth getting some perspective from outside Portland.  It turns out, if every year you could have the same quality lineup then I’d say don’t change it.  But, just as you shouldn’t require the speakers come from outside Portland, please don’t require they come from here.

Don’t anyone hate me for this or my other suggestions.  First off, most people know to say thank you for any sincere criticism… plus, I’ve been wrong–so I could be wrong on many of the points I made here.

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4 Responses to “Portland Creative Conference 2009–it’s back!”

  1. Gabriel Mathews Says:

    nail just got hit on head.

  2. Joe Says:

    Thanks for the review! Here’s a couple of points I’ve mentioned elsewhere, and I’ll add them here…

    First and foremost, the speakers were all amazing pros! And presenting together, I doubt many conferences would come close to matching the heaps of world-class output and accolades we all benefitted from hearing speak here…lucky us and lucky PDX!

    Oddly, it is for this very reason that I found fault with the conference – that the vast majority of this group of tenured speakers are legends in their fields whom had already reached the apex of their careers over 10 years ago… As a thought-leadership conference on the creative eco-system of Portland, can it be believed that we have no more recent examples of credible success-stories out of our creative community here? I take nothing away from this set of excellent leaders, and hold each and every one of them in highest esteem and respect for their past, current and future contributions to our community and world. I simply feel that this conference should, and certainly could, feature more of our younger creatives with inspiring stories of overcoming the obstacles to success (or whatever is the related topic), which we face in this current era, with their fresh perspectives offering more relevance today and to today’s audience…

    It was simply shameful that the A/V utilities and technology could not even work to support support the simple sound, video clips and slideshows of the presenters! I’m proud and impressed by all of these professionals for working-through the problems presented by this amateurish A/V offering, and hope next years’ conference will prove to better serve both the presenters and the audience…

    The ‘flash choir’ performed at the end of Jennifer Jako’s talk. That they considered interrupting Ms. Jako’s heartfelt and touching moment, where we all recognized she finally found some comfort on-stage in the Q&A session, as the most opportune time to ‘flash’ up was both unfortunate and disrespectful to Ms. Jako and to the audience. This frustration was exacerbated by the fact of their at-best vapid performance of two insipid songs…

    There were a few presentations which appeared to be largely, if not completely, unrehearsed. Having given many public and professional presentations myself, I know how difficult this can be, and that sometimes no matter how much you prepare they occasionally don’t read as you intend. But I found this perplexing when considering the list of presenters are all tenured professionals with many years of experience giving talks, lessons, presentations and pitches… That said, the content was rich and amazing with all, and I feel fortunate to have experienced it from them!

    Moving forward, a few more attendee tips to consider for next year in addition to the ones you posted already: we’re not cheap, but a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks – how about a simple lunch spread? The apres’-networking for 2 hours was not nearly enough, and keeping us all together for an hour and a half sandwich lunch would have afforded another opportunity to learn and share amongst ourselves…this is a primary reason we go to conferences, to meet one another and build community. I agree for all your reasons that filming and video-ing the events is a base requirement – here’s a reminder: its 2009 not 1999, and this is how we do things nowadays… Wifi for the iPhones and laptops! We have reporting to do, and trust us – you want us to do it live and thrive!

    I, for one of many, am so glad for this event. Live, learn and love…

  3. Jerry Ketel Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I absolutely agree that the slides wrecked my timing but what the hell, I’d do it again. I like the rest of your comments as well and I’ll make sure the right people see them. Let’s make it even better next year.



  4. Cory Huff Says:

    I am the guy who asked Dan Wieden that question at the end of his talk. I was surprised there weren’t a million hands up. I meant to finish the questions with, “and what did you learn from it?” but…eh. It was awesome to ask him a question.

    Yes, the A/V stuff was annoying. Yes, the flash choir should have been over faster (sorry Pat), but all in all, it was a lot of fun.

    I loved: asking Dan Wieden a question, Emek (everything about him), and Larry Brooks telling us not to suck – so much like my acting teacher in college.

    What I’d like to see: more networking opportunities (isn’t that like 50% of the reason people go to these things?), Wifi & allow video/pictures, and finally I would love to see some break out sessions for at least part of the time (though this would require more work on pre-registration).

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