We are nearing convention season again and it seems like there are more and more conventions than there have been for years.
And a lot of them should not be occurring.
Full disclosure, I do a fair amount of hosting/moderating duties for the Fan Expo chain of conventions. I will be the first to tell you that I enjoy their shows but I am also treated rather well by them. Despite this, I am not a shill for their company. They have done things that I have been openly critical of in the past and there’s a good chance they will do something that I don’t like in the future that I will have no problem calling them out on. I am a shill for no one but myself, Geek Hard and my brand new podcast, True North Nerds, now available on Soundcloud and iTunes.
While I have a great time doing Fan Expo, I would love to have other huge shows to fight for my attention in Ontario. It would be nice to have other shows to go to or to decide between two great cons on the same weekend. The sad truth is there are a ton of shows starting up this year that should maybe pay attention to at least some of the things Fan Expo does in terms of their business and history. I’ve already watched one show postpone because they very much didn’t do their research. The good news for them, they probably stopped themselves from losing a ton of money, can regroup and hopefully put on the show that they want to put on at a later date. Unfortunately, there looks to be a ton of shows about to occur that are going to have issues because they don’t know what they are doing.
I have never run a convention but I have attended many as both a fan and as press, so you can take or leave this advice. I’m hoping there’s a promoter or two that will heed some of what I say.
The biggest issue I see with a lot of startup conventions is that they want to be Fan Expo or C2E2 right out of the gate. This is a mistake. Find a small venue, book a reasonably priced guest and aim for a one-day convention. Don’t book five or six guests and pray that you will be overloaded with con-goers so your bills will be covered.
Find a good spot for your convention that is easily accessible by as many people as possible. This is easier said than done. If the city/town that is hosting your event has public transit, find a place on the transit route that is as easy to get to as possible. In conjunction with that, make sure there is parking for those driving.
This is the hardest one for some people. You may love comics, toys, sci-fi and everything that comes with it. But, a convention is a business. Treat it like one. That doesn’t mean you have to be a dick but treat people as if your business depends on it. Because guess what? It does. Don’t lie about the amount of table space you have in order to jack up rates and make sure you fill out your con because you desperately need vendors. If someone asks you a simple question about something and you don’t know the answer off the top of your head, don’t make it up. Tell that person you will get back to them with the answer. If someone accuses you of something, true or not, don’t yell at them. Whether it be in person or social media. The comic community in North America is a small one. If you are unprofessional, word will get around pretty quick that your small convention shouldn’t be dealt with.
Make Sure Everyone Gets Paid
Anyone know what the over-under is on how many conventions we’ll hear about this year where the promoter “doesn’t have the money” to pay his guests? If I’m not mistaken, there were two or three last year and I’m sure there will be some this year. This goes along with the “Start Small” suggestion. If there’s a chance you won’t have the money to pay all of your guests or you are betting on attendance to come up with the money for guests, don’t run a convention. Book fewer guests or a smaller venue. Once again, the nerd world is small. If you want to run another show, you may find it harder to book guests if you have a history of not paying them.
The Press is Your Friend
So this will sound biased and I will fully admit that I am with “the press” in a manner of speaking but the thing is, if you’re running a convention, especially a new one, I WANT YOU TO DO WELL. I love Fan Expo. I get lots of great material from their convention. You know what would be great? If I had a bunch of these conventions to get a ton of material from. When I’m at your convention, you know what you get? A bunch of free advertising. I will tweet and post on Facebook that I’m going to your show. If I have half decent reception, I will tweet at your show. After the show, I will more than likely talk about your show in the following week’s column. If it’s a show I enjoyed, I will always mention that.
To some promoters it may look like I am just angling for a free pass into your show. For me, it’s the pure fact that the press pass makes my job easier. It’s a weird case of perception. A pass with the word “Press” on it will get me considerations from publicists and guests that a general admittance badge won’t. Depending on how large your convention is, it might make it easier for me to get in and out with my gear. For example, when Geek Hard covers these shows, it’s usually as a team of three people. It’s Andrew, Mr. Green, and a camera person. And in a the camera and a bag of mics, lights, monopods and filters. We end up taking up a chunk of room in any lineup or crowd we are in. Avoiding a crowd with the press pass helps us and we also don’t get in the way of your paying customers.
And as for the free pass aspect, yeah, it’s nice but more often than not, we end up working the entire show. The last convention I helped Geek Hard cover, I think each of us maybe got a grand total of 20 to 30 mins to walk the floor for pleasure. That’s over the entire weekend, from open until close of the show.
Give Us Something/Someone Different
Booking guests is a fine line between art and commerce.You need to get a guest that appeals to your masses and their money. This, in turn, assures retailers that they have made the right decision getting a table at your show. That being said, try not to copy exactly the same guests that everyone else has. One or two is fine but make sure you’ve got someone different. Someone that will catch my eye. Don’t just trot out the usual suspects. This will be hard to pull off but if you can, it will be worth it.
Look, I know I’m not a promoter but I’ve seen many shows collapse because they didn’t do the things I mentioned above. Remember, I want there to be more good shows, especially in Ontario. I also want them done right.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!