Why I had to cancel Flash unplugged

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

Today I had to make the very sad decision to cancel the Flash unplugged conference that was scheduled for November. As a number of people had already bought tickets for it, I figure I owe them, and anyone else who’d expressed interest in the event, an explanation.

One of my key aims with Flash unplugged was to have Adobe involved with the event. To this end, I sought their early permission to use their trademark “Flash” in the name. I did this by applying through the Adobe Camps route. Unfortunately, that’s where the problems started. There appears to be an undocumented set of rules on what an Adobe Camp can and can’t be. Everyone in Adobe seems to know these rules as does anyone “in the know.” Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of these rules and Adobe assumed I was. As such, I was given permission to run something very different to what I had planned.

The day before tickets were first due to go on sale, I worked my way far enough down my “to do” list to contact Robin Charney, head of marketing for Adobe Europe, to ask for some freebies to give away at the conference. This seems to have been the first time she was made aware of the conference and she immediately got back to me to point out I’d not got the right permission. So ticket sales were put on hold whilst I sorted out what to do next.

After a few heated emails and a then – at Robin’s suggestion – a calmer telephone conversation to thrash things out, we agreed I had a number of options:

  1. Change the structure of the conference to make it comply with Adobe Camp rules.
  2. Apply for a license to use the name Flash and delay the event until next year to better fit in with Adobe’s own conference schedule.
  3. Apply for a license to use the name Flash and go ahead with the event as planned, but without Adobe sponsorship.

To my mind, number 3 was the best option. I’d already agreed the date with Skillsmatter and the conference budget worked fine without Adobe sponsorship; there would simply be less freebies. So I took a couple of weeks break from conference planning and awaited the contract. When it arrived, I duly filled it out, sent it back and started planning for a new ticket sale start date.

Tickets went on sale at 11am last Friday. Twenty minutes before this, I received an email from Adobe marketing that said “Unfortunately I did not receive a positive reply from our legal department, which means you cannot use the Flash brand for your conference name.” with an offer of help to re-brand it so that it made no reference to Flash or Adobe. No further explanation as to why it had been declined was offered. For those of you who have seen the TV show “Little Britain”, this was such a “computer says no” moment, I almost laughed.

Over the weekend, around a fifth of the tickets were sold. I’ve no idea if this is good or bad compared with other conferences. Having sold tickets however, I took time to have a think about how I could re-brand the conference to avoid legal issues with Adobe and balanced up “going it alone” versus admitting defeat.

Today, I decided that it just didn’t make sense to me to run the event without support from Adobe. I therefore ensured that everyone who had bought a ticket already received a refund and then set about cancelling things, letting Skillsmatter and the the speakers know what was going on and writing this to explain it to everyone else.

At the moment, I’m feeling a mixture of disappointment, bitterness and guilt over the whole thing. Clearly my often infamously bad communication skills are to blame for part of the mess. With hindsight it’s now obvious that I really should have spoken to Robin from the start and should not have assumed that “applying for the license ought to be a formality” (not a literal quote) meant that as soon as I’d “signed” the license agreement when it was sent to me, I could proceed with confidence. These are lessons I’ve learned for the future.

As to what will happen in the future, I do not know at the moment. Will Flash unplugged or something similar occur in 2012 instead? Never say never; but for now I’m in no mood to consider it.

I shall finish with my deepest apologies to those that have been let down by this cancellation; especially those that supported it through buying tickets. Sorry folks.

4 thoughts on “Why I had to cancel Flash unplugged

  1. Thanks for the explanation David,
    we can hardly imagine how frustrating this must be for you.

    I would just file this one under ‘lesson learned’ and would love to see you organizing a similar event next year. I for my part was really looking forward to a conference which focusses on the technical aspects of Flash & Flex.

    All the best from Amsterdam,

    Dominic

  2. I hate it when big companies are so inflexible as to totally turn you off the idea of having anything to do with them. Adobe should foster a good relationship with people willing to give it what is essentially free marketing.

    Chin up David, given the interest you had before the big foot of Adobe squashed it I am sure you’ll come up with a better conference in future learning from false assumptions made this time.

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