PluginsCon is a conference dedicated to WordPress themes and plugins scheduled for September 8-9 in Salt Lake City, Utah, organized by Janet Thaeler and Joel Otterstrom. The event is geared towards developers, users, and marketers and was announced in April but has been pushed back to September 8-9 of 2017.
I reached out to the organizing team to find out why it was delayed and received the following response from Otterstrom.
We wanted to give ourselves more time to plan an amazing event and not conflict with our local WordCamp. So we have pushed it back from this year to next.
While browsing the site and researching information related to the event, I discovered a number of things that concern me.
Inconsistent Event Date
PluginsCon’s main page says the event will take place in 2017 but on the Why Attend, Registration page, and the PluginsCon Twitter account, the date says 2016. Having two different years is confusing to members of the media and especially to those interested in speaking or attending.
Lack of Venue Information
The most important part of hosting an event is the venue. The PluginsCon website says the event will take place in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, but doesn’t list an address or specify a physical location. There is a physical location listed on the Contact Us page but it’s unclear if it’s the venue or a point of contact for the organizers.
An Empty Blog
While the event’s Twitter account has been semi-active, the blog is empty. Typically, the blog is used to provide updates and information to the public regarding the event. For speakers and attendees, communication is paramount and can be the difference between success or failure.
The Speakers Page is Inaccurate
On April 4th, the organizers put a call out for speakers.
— pluginscon (@pluginscon) April 4, 2016
Unlike WordCamps, speaker’s whose applications are accepted are required to go through an audition process. Nine days after calling for speakers, PluginsCon announced on its Facebook page people they confirmed would speak at the event.
One of the people listed was John James Jacoby, project lead for bbPress and BuddyPress, who on April 14th requested that his name be removed from the page as he didn’t confirm anything with the organizers.
Hey @pluginscon folks, since I haven't confirmed anything with y'all, can you please remove me from your speakers page? Thanks! ?
— John James Jacoby (@JJJ) April 14, 2016
The organizers responded with an apology and promptly removed his name from the page.
@JJJ So sorry John – embarrassed. Thought it was confirmed. Will have Joel do that asap.
— pluginscon (@pluginscon) April 14, 2016
Another name that’s on the speaker page is Pippin Williamson, founder of Easy Digital Downloads, who knows a thing or two about plugins and would make the perfect person to keynote the event. I contacted Williamson and asked if he confirmed his speaking engagement with PluginsCon.
Not only did he say no, he acknowledged that he had no idea the conference was taking place. Williamson didn’t receive any emails or communication from the event’s organizers on speaking at the event. After being notified that his name is associated with PluginsCon, Williamson published a tweet requesting that the organizers remove his name from the speakers page.
@pluginscon I never confirmed my speaking position at this event. Please remove me until you email me and actually confirm
— Pippin Williamson (@pippinsplugins) June 30, 2016
Williamson and Jacoby are big names in the WordPress community that can generate ticket sales for an event dedicated to WordPress plugins and themes. It’s troublesome that both were added without actually being confirmed to speak at the event.
The Ticket Registration Page is Confusing
The regular price to attend PluginsCon is $599 but the site is advertising an early-bird special where attendees can save $300 on tickets and pay only $299. The registration page is labeled as PluginsCon early bird registration but the description says the tickets are for PluginsCon and ThemesCon.
I’ve browsed other parts of the site and this is the first mention of ThemesCon that I discovered. There’s also a graphical banner advertising ThemesCon on the page. I sympathize with potential attendees who reach this point and have no idea what conference they’re purchasing tickets to.
People Can Still Access The Checkout Page
Despite the lack of information, any mention of a venue, and the event being pushed back to 2017, visitors can still access the ticket registration page.
I don’t have the courage to see if a payment will go through but I don’t see why not as there’s no information indicating otherwise. Access to this page and payment processing should be disabled until the organizing team finds a venue and clarifies the date.
Even With Prior Experience Organizing Events, PluginsCon Appears Disorganized
According to her bio on the PluginsCon site, Thaeler has used WordPress since 2007, attended multiple conferences including WordCamps, and has experience organizing them. She was part of the organizing team for the Build Your Blog Conference that had more than 600 attendees.
With at least one of the organizers having experience putting together conferences, it’s incredibly worrisome that this event appears to be anything but organized. I reached out to Thaeler on Twitter who, at the time of publishing, has not returned my request for comment.
A Marketing Opportunity for Otterstrom
Otterstrom’s bio on the PluginsCon site says the event is a way to bring users, developers, and marketers together to showcase their work and learn how to get the most out of plugins and themes. Otterstrom is the founder of Otterstromcorp.com which provides education and cloud-based services.
In a post on the company’s site advertising the conference, Otterstrom said, “This convention opens up the way to reach more developers for its ipprentice products and services. We are excited to have created this unique event for specific WordPress developers and marketers.”
While the conference is focused on plugins and themes, there’s a marketing element tied into Otterstrom’s services. Considering he’s organizing the event and doesn’t have to follow guidelines from organization’s like the WordPress Foundation, marketing his site and services is kosher, if not expected.
A New Event’s First Impressions are Important
For the reasons I outlined above, I advise speakers and attendees to use caution not only for this event, but any WordPress related event that doesn’t have a solid reputation or the WordPress Foundation backing it. I don’t think speakers and attendees should write it off completely as all of the issues I presented are fixable.
Organizing a conference is tough and requires dedication and a devoted team of organizers. I asked Kiko Doran, co-organizer of Prestige Conference, how important first impressions are for new events.
“I think they are super important,” Doran said. “I always say you have three customers: attendees, sponsors, and speakers. You need them all to make it work so you need to make them all happy.”
I don’t have a good first impression of PluginsCon. However, a conference dedicated to WordPress plugins and themes is a great idea which is why I hope the organizing team listens to my feedback, improves the site, and puts on a great event.