Over the years I’ve been to a variety of conventions across the country- all different genres, sizes, and locations.¬†Cons can be similar, but I’ve never been to two that areexactly the same. Each are unique and can vary from year to year thanks to different locations, venues, dates, guests, vendors, volunteers, attendees, promoters, and other variables.

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I’ve¬†on been on both sides of the table¬†as an attendee, guest, volunteer and vendor,¬†and I’ve even put on a few small shows. Some were successful, some not.

 

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Recently I heard a lot of negative things being said about Fandomfest¬†(which began as the Fright Night Film Fest¬†in 2005) know as in Louisville, KY. I’ve never attended the convention, but have heard some shocking things- some from people I know who attended¬†and it really shocked me.¬†No convention I’ve ever attended or been a part of running has ever gone perfect and some ran smoother than others. Things happen and according to the show organizer (and I use that word loosely) “you can’t please everyone”, but what I read was inexcusable. Many of the negative reviews I’ve been reading online mentioned a lot of poor planning by the promoters, an uniformed staff, conflicting program guides, little to no signage, and just plain bad customer service and guest relations.

Here are some of the reviews of the show that I found…good and bad.

Pure Geekery- the good.

Pure Geekery- how not to run a con.

Pure Geekery: How Not to Run a Con, Tweets about the mess that was Fandom Fest 2013.

Kentucky Geek Girl- Fandom Fail.

Vortex of Geek- Open letter to Fandom Fest.

Reddit- Fandomfest Complaints.

Kimberly Dunaway art- Fandom Fest Review and Warning.

Wave3- Fandomfest blames problems on no-show volunteers.

 

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The big daddy of all cons, Comic Con International: San Diego¬†or the San Diego Comic Con¬†(as most know it) was last month as well. I’ve attended it 3 times as a comics pro, and had a table there in the small press pavilion for 2 of those times.

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It continues to grow and change each year. Some things get better, some things change for the worse. For me it’s just gotten to expensive to travel to or set up at, and the focus is more on movies and TV shows than comics. I did always enjoy running into friends and celebs, seeing some great cosplayers, getting sketches and autographs, picking up cool toys, getting freebie buttons and swag, and just being a geek with 130, 000 or so other geeks. Had more positive experiences there than negative ones.

 

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Wizard World Chicago was this weekend. I’ve seen some folks post online that they’ve had a good time, and I’ve seen some complaints by pros- some local who have been to the show in the past. One well known artist said he was charged to attend, even though he was signing at a table/booth during the show. One comics creator who had a vendor badge was denied access to the first floor where the artists alley and celebs were set up, but said he knew someone else who was able to go to that floor with no problems. Another comics creator attended one day and said, “Wizard Chicago felt more like traffic court¬†than a con…”

 

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Dragon Con, another biggie, is comic up soon. Haven’t been to it, but have enjoyed being in Atlanta before and hope to check it out some day. It has had some drama in the past, but I noticed recently they have revised their convention policies and addressed some past problem areas, most importantly their stance on¬†offensive or harassing behavior.

 

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The Phoenix Comic Con in Arizona has had some amazing growth in the past few years and seems to almost double in attendance each year. Do they have growing pains? Yes, but they have a great staff, volunteers, and a huge local creative community and fanbase. When I first went to it back in 2005 it was in Mesa, AZ and there were maybe 2500 attendees- now it has over 55,000 attendees and is now the 7th largest con in North America. Phoenix rocks, and not just because I got engaged there!

 

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Running a convention can be a huge task- even for the small shows or “dealer room cons”. If you want to run a successful convention there are a few things that I think are a must…it’s my two cents on the subject and it’s free…

 

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1) “Location, location, location!” A good location can make or break a show. A venue that has the right combination of location, space, price, and accommodations is essential. Being in the same location each year can be a big help, especially if you have a place with room to grow and expand. Moving from location to location can make it hard for people to keep up with your con. Speaking of locations, pay attention to where you put vendors, artists, and other tables. You probably don’t want to put two or three of the same type of vendors together, or ex-creative partners if there is bad blood.

 

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2) “What’s going on?” Before you set your date in stone, do some research. Are there other shows happening at the same time? Are there other events going on in town that weekend? Is there anything else scheduled at the venue you’re interested in? Picking a date that doesn’t have similar conflicting events can be tricky, but not impossible. Picking a date that doesn’t conflict can not only help attendance at your show, but can also help in getting guests that aren’t booked elsewhere. Sticking to a particular week/weekend can help build attendance each year. Changing dates each year can make it difficult for attendees and potential guests to plan to attend. Also, teaming up with another show or event can help. Do a combo pass for both events or offer a discount if they show a coupon, badge, ticket, or wristband from the other event. Try flyer swapping and/or banner ads with other events. Look at getting a fan table (some are discounted or free for conventions) at other shows to promote your show, and offer one at your show to other conventions and fan groups to set up at.

 

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3) “You just can’t find good help these days!” A good staff and volunteers are the backbone of a show. Pick your people carefully, train them on their duties, educate them on your guests, give them a chance to take some time to enjoy the show, and be sure to feed and reward them. I’m amazed when cons expect their volunteers to pay their own way into a convention. If you are wanting free help, you better be willing to at least comp a badge, and some snacks and drinks. A free tee is a good way to promote your con and identify your staff/volunteers. Look for groups and organizations that do events to help out. Offer to donate money to their organization or charity for “X” amount of volunteer hours if you can afford it. Offer to help at one of their events. If you have to draft some of your family and friends to help at your show, great- just make sure they are the reliable ones. (The folks above are Papa Cliff and Mama Wanda Helm, the parents of the Superman Celebration organizers.) Have a party/get together/BBQ after the con as a thank you for your staff and volunteers. Heck, throw a casual social before the event so people can get to know each other or at least recognize faces before working together. A staff that is knowledgeable about the venue, surrounding area, schedule, policies, and guests is one of your most important assets for running a successful show. Treat them as such. And please don’t encourage or allow your security or staff to walk down the halls yelling/barking orders at attendees. If you have polite security, an informative staff, and¬†good clear signage¬†things will go much smoother for you.

 

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4) “Here’s your sign!”¬†There’s a song called “Signs” that goes, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…”, well- that’s not the case for many cons, and one of the big complaints I read about Fandomfest. Signage is something that is often overlooked at conventions. Good signage can answer questions, control traffic flow and lines, inform about changes, and promote your dates/location for next year’s show. Sometimes placing a sponsor’s logo on the sign can help cover the cost of the signs, or some sponsors will donate the banners/signs. It should have a simple layout, bold font, and¬†be placed where people can see it. That sounds like common sense I know, but I’ve seen busy, poorly designed signs that can’t be read at a glance, and some placed so low that they are blocked by the sea of people standing in front of them. And a sign that’s fallen down on the ground doesn’t do anyone any good. Having signs for the hours of a room, open/closed signs, or the panel schedule posted outside each programming room can be a big help. If the venue you’re using doesn’t have stanchions for queue line/crowd control rent some or make some. They really do help with traffic flow at shows.

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And if your venue is a bit off the beaten path or not very visible from the street put a few signs out front and/or have some costumed volunteers help direct traffic in. Professionally printed signs and banners are a great investment and are a good indication for con-goers your con is professionally run. But having hand written, or preferably printed ones from your home computer, are better than nothing. Keep them bold and simple. Black type on yellow or white is usually the most visible and easily read. Why do you think many street signs are..?

 

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5) “Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and update your damn website!” ¬†Some shows have only a Facebook page. I recommend getting one, but not in place of a good website. Social media (like Facebook and Twitter) is a great tool but should be used in conjunction with a website to promote con announcements, con-related events, guest appearances, schedule changes, contests, and other updates before, during, and after the con.¬†Again, if you are going to do a show a website (with an easy to remember url address) is a must have. The site needs to have the current dates, location, and name of the con on the home page- preferably in the top banner. Again, sounds like a given, but I’ve run across more con sites that that didn’t have the dates or even the city/state that it was taking place in! I’ve had to dig through several pages of the site to find where the venue was, how much the admission fees were, and if any guests were listed. Many times the info on the site was from their last con, almost a year ago! So keep your website current and use social media to promote your show, keep folks informed, and drive fans to your site. Be sure that whatever promo items you put out there always have your website address on them. Folks can always find out more info on your site, but they need to know about it or be able to remember it.

Along with dates and location, make sure your website has registration pricing info, hotel info, special events info, a guests page (with correct bios and links), con history info, a FAQ page, and vendor space info and pricing, volunteer sign-up info. Maps and directions are great, list of local restaurants and tourist spots are helpful, and if you can put your programming info on there that’s always appreciated. If you know what prices guests are charging for autographs and/or photos that can be very helpful. You can do preregistration on your site, which could help you fund your con early and cut down on lines the day of your show for at the door ticket sales. Offer a discount on preregistration, and maybe even other perks like early admission, tee shirt, free comics, or other swag.

Also have some kind of contact info on your website- phone#, email address, or contact form and make it easy to find on your site. Volunteers, potential guests, vendors, and the media¬†will need it. Don’t make them search for how to get in touch with you. It’s frustrating, and sends a bad sign.

 

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6) “Be our guest!” When you have people come to your event- creators, celebrities, attendees, etc., treat them all as guests. They are visiting your town and show. You invited them, so treat them well. If they are an “official guest” make sure you have a guest liaison to help your guests with their travel arrangements, accommodations, programming/appearance schedule, meals, and any questions they may have. Good communication with your guests can help keep guests happy, and a happy guest can make your life easier and leave them with good memories of their experience at your con. Work out any appearance fees before hand- how much, when they get paid, and how they get paid. Do you expect them to do any media interviews, panels, signings, etc.? Do they have any special dietary or medical needs? Do they need table/booth space? Will they be traveling with a spouse, child, or assistant? Do they want to do any sightseeing while in your city? Do you have any charity auctions or drawings/door prizes they may be willing to donate items to, or sign items for? Ask and answer as many questions as you can beforehand. If you have a lot of requests for people wanting to be guests or acquiring press passes, try creating an online guest application or press pass request for your website. If you do offer press passes be sure to give the media packets on your con. Don’t have a media packet? Create one and be sure to send out press releases before your show.

 

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7) “Print is dead!” Maybe so, but having printed convention guides with accurate programming schedules, maps, guest info, operating hours, rules, art/toons, and more can be a big help, not only for attendees, but for guests, staff/volunteers, and the media as well. They also give attendees something to get signed by guests. The San Diego Comic Con requires any celebs that set up in their Sails Pavilion and charge for autographs to sign their program guides for free if attendees present one to them. The Superman Celebration in Metropolis also has their celebrity guests sign at least one item (program guide, event poster, or Daily Planet newspaper) for free for each person who gets a free ticket for their autograph lines.

The Phoenix Comicon has a downloadable PDF program guide!

I know of a couple cons (Midsouthcon and¬†Superman Celebration)¬†who print their guests’ schedules (title, times, and locations) on the back of their con badges. Really handy!

 

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Before I wrap this blog post off let me say one more thing. If you are attending a show, show some respect and act like a guest. I’ve seen a lot of attendees act like they’ve got no basic home training when they show up to an event. Treat others and the venue with some respect, have a little patience, and be prepared for your visit. I know of a great con here in my backyard that decided to call it quits after having to pay for damage done to the hotel during their convention.

 

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Oh, and if you attended Fandomfest, didn’t have a good time, and don’t plan on going next year- don’t let it keep you away from other shows. There are lots of great ones in and around Kentucky. I’ve always had a great time at Wonderfest!

 

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“Have geek, will travel!”

Lin/Geeker