The Creator Economy Expo (CEX) held its inaugural event at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix May 2–4, 2022.
Who participated? And what exactly is a “creator”?
What does it mean to be a creator? Whether you’re a writer, a YouTuber, a podcaster, or Instagram influencer (even if you find that term super cringey), being a creator is about making something and sharing it with others.
We used to rely on gatekeepers like television studios or publishing companies to make and distribute creative projects, which meant that only a small number of people could actually make a living as creators.
But now, provided we have reliable internet and a smartphone, we’ve all got access to tools that make it much easier to create, distribute, and build a community. This means that it’s possible to make a living as creators without relying on someone else’s permission or approval to do so.
At its core, that’s what CEX is about: taking this ragtag group of misfits who know creativity is important (for problem-solving and rule-bending or breaking as well as sharing your knowledge and perspective with the world) and giving us a place to connect and learn from each other.
At its core, CEX is about taking this ragtag group of misfits who know creativity is important and giving us a place to connect and learn from each other.
This was the first event, but I was willing to buy a ticket before I even saw the agenda because I was familiar with organizer Joe Pulizzi from his tenure with Content Marketing World, which I attended back in 2014 and 2015. This meant I trusted him to curate an impressive lineup of speakers and look after all the details. And I wasn’t disappointed!
What was it? A quick overview
Day 1 was a single track of mainstage sessions covering everything from cryptocurrency and NFTs to content marketing and podcasting. We ended the day with a chat between Brian Clark (previously of Copyblogger fame) and Dan Pink (New York Times bestselling author of multiple books). Their conversation really helped place the creator economy in the context of larger societal trends like the move away from full-time employment and the need for greater autonomy and agency in our work.
Day 2 was organized into four breakout tracks, and you could mix and match sessions in different tracks depending on what you were most interested in:
- Audience attraction
- Community commerce
- Revenue models
- Collaboration strategies
- Content operations
What went well? A few highlights
- The small size meant that it was easy to connect with other attendees and speakers.
- Since most attendees were business owners or freelancers, they wanted to be there, so the audience was engaged and excited to meet other people.
- The speakers were all world-class practitioners at the top of their fields. Also, it was great to see diversity in the gender, age range, and race of the speakers.
- It was held at a resort in Phoenix with a water park and a lazy river. Attending a conference where you can take breaks between sessions to lounge in a pool? You don’t have to ask me twice!
What wasn’t so great? A few things I’m “meh” about
- The breakout sessions on the second day caused some serious FOMO. It was hard to choose between something more immediately applicable and something that was brand new to me. The conference organizers also encouraged people to leave a session if they didn’t like it, which felt icky to me and disrespectful to the speakers. On the plus side, the recordings will be available in the future, so I will have the ability to catch the sessions I missed.
- The conference organizers leaned heavily into Discord as the social media platform of choice for the event. I wasn’t super excited about having to download yet another social media platform to begin with, and I found Discord chaotic and hard to wrap my head around.
- Attending a conference during COVID is weird and hard. We received notification that at least one person tested positive after the event, and at the time of writing I’m waiting to see whether I am clear or not. It’s a risk I knew I was taking on by attending, but it would still be a bummer to get sick.
- This last point is no fault of the conference organizers, but one of my biggest challenges at an event like this is getting overwhelmed with all of the things I could be doing. And then feeling pressure that I’m not doing the right thing or making the most of the connections I’ve made during the event. But one thing I feel like this conference helped me see was that you can plant seeds today that don’t flower until many years down the line. The first professional conference I attended, Copyblogger’s event in 2014, inspired me to sign up for World Domination Summit, led me to meeting the members of my Mastermind group, and introduced me to several speakers who I’ve seen at other events in the years since (and many of them, like Ann Handley, Brian Clark, Chris Guillebeau, Jerod Morris, and Sonia Simone were here at CEX, too). Having this realization helped remove some of the pressure and reminded me to just be open to possibilities.
What’s next? A few questions and themes I’ll be pondering
- Consistency is critical, both in terms of cadence and format. Is there one place where I can commit to showing up in a consistent manner?
- Values are at the core of what we do. Sonia Simone introduced us to the VESPA framework, where V stands for values. What do I stand for? What do I say no to?
- Having a clear voice separates you from everyone else. Ann Handley prompted us to consider if the branding was removed from our website whether people would still know it was us. How can I do a better job of defining my own voice?
- Make every day matter. Chris Guillebeau talked about the concept of time anxiety and how many people feel either they don’t have enough time to do everything they want to do or it’s too late for them to do something. One of the best cures for this is spending time every day asking yourself, “Did today matter?” Over time, you can start to identify what makes you more likely to answer that question with a yes and how you can prioritize more of those types of activities.
Were you also at CEX? What were some of your impressions and takeaways? I’d love to hear what you thought!