Stanfield Gray aimed so high with his inaugural Dig South Interactive Festival that many wondered if he could actually pull it off.
There weren’t just a series of tech-themed panel discussions planned. There were two days of them, four and five at a time. There would be not one, but two exhibitor halls. And then there were the evening concerts and other social gatherings around town.
Gray and his team went for it in a kind of “go hard or go home” spirit, and in the days following the April 12-14 fest, the consensus from tweets to lengthier press reviews seems clear: They succeeded, especially considering this was the first fest. “It went much better than I’d hoped,” Gray said Wednesday, his voice still a bit hoarse from the big weekend.
While some thought the turnout was light, Gray said 454 people attended the main conference at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena and that more than 3,000 people showed up for some part of the festival.
“We were very honored that people believed in it and got behind it,” said Gray, who organized Dig South while holding down his job as director of strategic communications for the college, the host sponsor.
Others found fault with the price of tickets, which ranged from $5 for the exhibitor expo to more than $400 for the whole festival. Gray understood that critique but put it in context. “For some people locally, that may have seemed expensive, but for the amount of events we had and 134 presenters ... it’s much lower than South by Southwest and the Idea Festival,” he said, naming more established events of the same type in Austin, Texas, and Lexington, Ky. “For us, we were trying really hard to keep it low but fund something on this scale.”
The impressive keynote speaker, Robert Tercek, one of the few paid presenters, and the high-quality audiovisual effects throughout the arena seemed to justify Gray’s strategy.
Still, Gray said he’ll learn from Dig South 2013. For next year’s fest, he hopes to get sponsors to cover more of the production costs, and he’s also thinking about spreading the festival around more Charleston venues. Based on comments both attendees and exhibitors, the expo format might also need adjustments.
Gray said he hasn’t received all invoices yet, but he thinks the festival turned a profit — the bottom line for a start-up business with 19 year-round and temporary employees.
“We’re proud of where we are,” Gray said. “I think we’ve created a blueprint of something that will last for many years.”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.