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ComiCON-versation #13: LBCHC 2013 Wrap-up…

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So after what amounts to close to a year of preparation and work, the 2012 edition of the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con has come and gone. I’ve spent the last two weeks going over my notes, exhibitor notes, and online comments to really get a handle the details. What went well. What didn’t. What can be improved and ideas on how to do it. Let’s explore the three phases of the comicon production and see how it went.

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Phase 1 – Pre-show Load in

For me, my day started at about 4:15 am on Friday November 2nd. I was at the hall and starting to get things done before 5:00 am. Yup. That’s part of the job. I met with my decorator and looked over the floor plan. We discussed any last-minute changes and set the crew to work marking the floor so that booths can be built. We run on a very tight schedule so that we can start loading in exhibitors as early as possible. By 10:00 am the floor was marked and ready for load in to begin.

Come 12:00 pm and we already had a number of the larger exhibitors in and unloading while the rest began to show up to start their load in process. One huge bonus to the Long Beach Convention Center and our hall in particular is the ability to allow exhibitors to drive up onto the show floor with the vehicles. It’s a very rare occurrence at comicons and really helps ease the load in process for them. Keep in mind how heavy comics can be. To unload just yards or even feet from your booth is a value that can’t be measured. It also adds another layer to my job. Traffic cop and parking director. We have one staffer at the gate, Steve Hoveke, getting booth info and directing vehicles my way via radio. I then park them. Did I mention the awesome electric powered mini car I get to use? Life saver as in the past I have walked up to 42 miles in one weekend.

Around 2:00 pm we end the option to drive up onto the show floor as we need to have artist alley set. 184 tables and over 400 chairs is no simple task but by 4:30 pm we were just about ready to allow artist alley exhibitors to come in and set up. We had a large number of artist alley exhibitors take advantage of the Friday load in this year.

Finally, about 7:30 pm it was about time to call it quits. Well, for me. Other staffers such as Martha Donato and Phil Lawrence stuck around a little bit longer.

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Throughout the day on Friday a multitude of little things pop up that need to be addressed. It’s all part of the job. There were certainly less than in years past but enough to keep me very busy. I called it a day around 11:00 pm after having dinner with The Marshall Report team.

Phase 2 – Comicon!

Day one of LBCHC starts early for me, too. I get to the hall by 6:00 am and meet with my decorator to go over all my notes. We take a tour of the show floor and lobby to make sure everything is looking good. After we finish changes, additions, cuts and such that need to be made get done and we prep the show floor for its opening.

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Attendees were able to get checked in and onto the floor in a very quick and orderly fashion. Lines were minimized by utilizing our digital check-in system in conjunction with our ticket company. We opened the floor early to advanced ticket holders giving them a bonus for ordering their tickets in advance. We expect to extend that into 2013 as well.

Once the show floor opens I spend much of the day walking the floor and keeping my eye on things. I try to connect with as many exhibitors and artist alley creators as I can throughout the weekend. It’s virtually impossible for me to get to see everyone with everything I am responsible for. However, Martha and Phil make it a point to walk the entire show floor and say hello to everyone.

I was also keeping an eye on our new talk show The Marshall Report. Host Rick Marshall interviewed many of the shows guests and it is being edited into a web series. The is already up. The crew, Scott Klein and Luis Martinez of the Lights Out Film Group, did a great job and dealt with the production and overcoming the difficulties that arose. But that’s for a different column down the road.

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Around 4:00 pm I realized that the radio had been too quiet for too long. Typically it’s squawking all day long so this eerie sense of panic sets in that the radio might have failed and I may have missed important. I went and swapped the radio, which was fine by the way, and slowly realized that everything was going nice and smoothly. It’s kind of a weird feeling.

Overall, the comicon itself went well on both Saturday and Sunday. We had a few glitches here and there which we’ll address at our post-event meeting so that they can be corrected for 2013.

Phase 3 – Post show Load out

At about 5:00 pm on Sunday afternoon load out began. It took the team about 25 minutes to clear the floor of attendees. People didn’t really want to leave. That’s typically a very good sign about the comicon’s success.

Artist alley was torn down very quickly. We were able to get most exhibitors’ vehicles very close to their booths. The whole process of tear down and load out was completed from the show runner point of view by 7:30 pm. We wrapped up and headed out of the hall by 8:00 pm and to our annual celebratory post show team dinner leaving just the cleaning crew to empty the hall for the next event.

Overall we had a very successful year at Long Beach Comic & Horror Con in 2012. We saw growth in both attendees and exhibitors. We had a number of successful events on Saturday night including our annual Costume Masquerade Ball, Effin’ Funny Fest comedy show, a live art party and more. We’ve got a great set of notes to look at in conjunction with exhibitor and attendee feedback. Armed with that we expect to continue improving the comicon heading into 2013.

I’d like to thank everyone for reading my column. Hopefully you learned something and were entertained a bit in the process. I hope to revisit the column from time to time in the future so it’s not necessarily the end of our ComiCON-versation…

Comments and questions are encouraged either below in the comments section or via twitter.

-scig

@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Archive

If you are a show runner, and want to discuss the idea of comicon show runners organization as discussed in a previous column, contact me at mscigliano[at]longbeachcomiccon[dot]com

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ComiCON-versation: Live (almost) Blogging Behind the Scenes at LBCHC 2012

by Mike Scigliano

After having given some heavy insight into what exactly it takes to produce a well run comicon it’s time to show you exactly what all of that hard work you put in will get you.

This is what the show floor looks like when I arrive at 4:45 am. The decorator will then mark the floor for set up.

The decorator lays out the grid pattern for the booths or as it is called “marks the floor.’

By this point we have the pipe & drape set. The decorator has also started dropping tables.

Tables are being topped and skirted and exhibitors are beginning to move in.

By the time the early afternoon comes we’re building the show.  We’ll give you a some shots of that as well in the next update.

 

ComiCON-versation #12: Public Relations…

by Mike Scigliano

Having a great show that features a superb guest list, awesome panels, quality exhibitors and much more is every comicon’s goal. Making sure everyone knows all that is another story. When all is said and done, if the message about your show doesn’t reach your potential audience, it all goes for naught.

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It’s very important to be able to craft a message and get it out there for the public, your potential attendees, guests and exhibitors for them to consume and to be excited by. This is where a comicon’s public relations (PR) and communications strategy comes into play.

Writing a solid press release is actually pretty simple. There are a number of books out there (such as The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly) that can be very helpful and I certainly advise picking one up. Having a respectable press release to send out is your first step. Next you need a list of who to send your release to. You can build that by looking for websites that run similar releases, websites that cover local events, websites that covers industry news, and so on. Don’t ignore local print outlets, either. You can even try to connect with other local comicons and inquire about swapping your communications contact lists to help build both shows lists.

Another great avenue is using social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and more. And of course, make sure your release is communicated to your potential attendees. LBCHC accomplishes this by sending out regular emailers to our growing, consumer-based email list.

Another effective way to build your strategy is to research other comicons. See what information they include in their releases. Discover which sites and other outlets have run their releases in the past. In essence, examine their strategies to see what was successful and what wasn’t. You can then apply the successful aspects to your strategy.

In order to really highlight the importance of a strong PR strategy, I’ve asked AnnaMaria White of White Star Communications to answer a few questions and help clarify some things about PR and its importance. AnnaMaria is Long Beach Comic & Horror Con’s PR and Communications representative and a comic industry veteran.

AnnaMaria, can you give me a little bit of background on your career in PR?
I’ve been working in PR and communications for over ten years now, in a variety of industries including entertainment and health care.

What would you say is the most important aspect to a comicon’s PR strategy and why?
Having an awesome product always helps, but you also have to let the right people know it’s there and why they should be interested. And timing is important; because you want to give people enough warning that your product is coming, instead of dropping it on them at the last minute.

When formulating your PR strategy what should a comicon show runner keep in mind?
Who your target audiences are and how to best reach them. Also, that not everything about the show is worthy of a press release; some things might work better through social media or newsletters.

Everyone always talks about what you SHOULD do but what are some things you SHOULDN’T do when it comes to PR?
[Don’t] assume that everyone is going to care about every announcement, and as a consequence overload people with press releases. It’s important to think about how to best present each piece of news to maximize reach to the audience that cares most about it.

How important is social media in a comicon’s PR strategy in today’s environment?
Very, but it also needs to be used carefully. In a creative-driven show, such as Long Beach, social media is great because it allows guests to reach their fan base directly, and help get everyone excited for the show.

Do you have any tips you can suggests for the independent comicon show runner in order to maximize their PR strategy and still be able to stay on budget?
Hopefully without talking myself out of a job, I would recommend working with your partners. Guests, creators, exhibitors all have their own fan bases, and partnering with them to coordinate traditional and social outreach can really help augment the reach of each announcement.

As you can see, AnnaMaria gives some very good advice for comicons to follow when putting together their PR & communications strategy. Keeping these suggestions in mind while crafting your plan will help you stay on target.

Comments and questions are encouraged either below in the comments section or via twitter.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Archive

If you are a show runner, and want to discuss the idea of comicon show runners organization as discussed in a previous column, contact me at mscigliano[at]longbeachcomiccon[dot]com

ComiCON-versation #11: Join the CON-versation

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by Mike Scigliano

The team at Long Beach Comic & Horror Con has spent much of the last week working on booking new dates for 2013. We discovered that Stan Lee’s Comikaze had booked our traditional dates for 2013 and we needed to decide what the best course of action was for LBCHC. When it came down to it the answer was a lot easier than you’d expect.

Do we stick with our dates and get ready for a battle or look into new dates for 2013? Our immediate thought was that staying put is not fair to ANYONE. Attendees are forced to choose. Our partners, our exhibitors, and creators, are then all put in the middle and forced to choose where they will be. It will cost LBCHC more money and will certainly result in less than desired results from not only our comicon but for Stan Lee’s Comikaze as well. Everyone loses. And that’s just not how we conduct business. We have our attendees and partners to consider as we do when making any major decision about LBCHC. And frankly, we just don’t do ‘Con Wars.’

[Read more…]

ComiCON-versation #10: The secret of marketing your comicon

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By Mike Scigliano

I’m guessing that most of you were wondering when I would get to the marketing aspect of producing a comicon. Marketing is a very important part of the process of putting on a comicon. Much of the success you hope to have will hinge upon how you are able to reach your potential attendees.

The first step in planning your marketing is to sit down and really think about what message you are trying to convey. What is your call to action for your marketing campaign? It’s a good idea to try to figure out a theme and work from there. When you sit back and think about your comicon, you will know pretty quickly.
[Read more…]

ComiCON-versation #9: Be our guest…

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by Mike Scigliano

After a quick summer hiatus I’m back and ready to take everyone inside the production of the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con 2012  Following San Diego Comic Con our attention is focused even closer on the goal — the best show we can produce.  In order to do that you need to really think about your guest list.

A guest list and the expenses associated with it, like everything else involved in producing a comicon, come out of your overall budget.  You’ve got to balance the books to make the show work.  Hotel rooms and airfare add up quickly and spending all your cash on guests but next to nothing on marketing or programming needs, for instance, could lead to a train wreck pretty quickly.  It’s all well and good to have an amazing guest list that would make even the most seasoned show runner jealous, but it’s no good if no one knows about the show because you didn’t have any budget room left to market, promote and get the word out.
Early on in the process of building a guest list at LBCHC, we identify our guest target list.  We look at attendees’ requests, where potential guests reside, exhibitor recommendations and our own personal tastes.  Trust me, there are a few creators I’d LOVE to have as future guests.  I’ve already had some of my own personal creative heroes at the show and it feels good to see the attendees share my feelings.
Getting a commitment from a guest to be at your comicon is a great feeling for sure.  Sometimes it takes a planetary alignment to make it happen.  Deadlines, families, health, prior commitments and a host of other factors go into a potential guest’s decision.  And, in the end, the potential guest doesn’t even owe you an explanation of why they will or will not commit to being a guest at your comicon.  Accept and respect that choice and move on.  There’s always next year.
Obviously, based on your budget, only so many guests can be flown in from points across the country or even the globe.  Because some flights will cost more than others, you will eat into your budget accordingly.  One guest may cost you the same amount as two or three if they are overseas or based in an area not served by a major transportation hub.  That doesn’t mean you need to shy away from those types of guests.  It means you need to really consider how it impacts your guest list.  Keep in mind, just because you cannot afford a certain guest this year doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future.  As your comicon grows, your budget for guests will grow with it.
Another possible expense to consider when planning out your guest budget is appearance fees.  Some guests ask for or require a fee on top of their airfare and hotel.  These fees can be small, but sometimes they can be rather large.  Regardless of what the reason is for requesting the fee, they absolutely have the right to do so.  There is nothing wrong with asking for it and there is nothing wrong with paying it.  The choice lies in the show runner to weigh the extra expense that could come at the expense of two, three or even more guests.  There is no right or wrong answer here.  You do what you feel is best for your comicon.  At LBCHC we choose to not go for the appearance fee.  Sometimes it stings.  I had a guest that is on my personal favorites list for years that we couldn’t bring out this year because the appearance fee, while modest, was an impact on our budget.
There’s one last expense to think about when you talk about your guest list budget.  It isn’t really an obvious one, too.  Most guests will want to have a table in Artist Alley to spend their time at and be able to interact with their fans, sell their artwork, comics, graphic novels and more.  Those tables aren’t free.  Every table you assign to a guest means one less table you can sell.
It’s definitely something you need to take into consideration.  Not only from the monetary aspect, but from a simple inventory aspect as well.  If you have 50 tables, sell 35 and assign 20 to guests you just oversold your space by 5 tables.  If you can’t adjust the Floor Plan to include more tables, what do you do?  Not a fun problem to deal with, but one you must address nonetheless.  This is why I always tell everyone that asks about the Floor Plan at LBCHC that it is fluid and sometimes slight changes may pop up to accommodate building the best show possible for attendees, exhibitors and show management.
That said, very often the city you are hosting your comicon in has plenty of creators who would love to come join you for your comicon.  Do some research, talk to the guests you have booked already, talk to your exhibitors and discover what creative talent is local.  More often than not you will find a stable of amazing creators just waiting to be invited to your comicon, meet fans, sell some products and have a great time.
With hard work and some creative thinking you can really build a great guest list that attendees and exhibitors alike will be interested in.  As the years go by it will get easier and your contacts list will grow, but you’ll likely never stop being excited when you get a commitment from a guest.  Always an awesome feeling.

Comments and questions are encouraged either below in the comments section or via twitter.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Archive

ComiCON-versation #8: Programming the comicon experience.

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by Mike Scigliano

San Diego Comic Con is arguably the mecca of all comicons. It features the most robust programming schedule that any comicon can create. Comics, movies, kids, television, games, books and much, much more pack every minute of its crowded programming grid. It’s what many, if not most of the comicon attendees look forward to each year. Attendees plan their schedules to the minute to make sure they get a chance to get a seat at their favorite panels. Some will go so far as to camp out in a panel room from early in the day, moving up as each panel lets out to ensure they have the best seat they can possibly get.

Obviously this is the extreme case when it comes to comicon programming. The likelihood of having a programming schedule as massive as SDCC’s is slim to none. Even New York Comic Con, one of the largest shows in North America after SDCC, doesn’t feature a programming grid as vast. So what does this mean for your own comicon programming schedule? Probably, it means very little when it comes down to the details and content; however, overall it there are certainly some things you can look at and put to good use at your own show.

Let’s talk about some of the reasons a strong programming schedule can be a big boost to your comicon in so many ways.

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First of all, it is a major selling point to potential attendees. It goes back to the idea that you are selling an experience when you sell a ticket to you your comicon. Programming is certainly a big part of that experience for a good percentage of the people coming to your show. You really want to create a feeling of fulfillment for your attendees when they leave. Was the price of admission worth the experience? That’s what attendees will judge the show by at the end of the day (or weekend). Frankly, the worst thing you want to hear is “Eh, it was ok. The show floor was cool but after a couple hours I had seen everything there was to see.” Having programming extends the average attendee experience exponentially.

Second, it serves as a means to keep your attendees engaged all weekend long. Two or three days of a comicon can get old quick if all the attendees have to experience is the show floor. Programming breaks up the day and gives attendees some excellent content to consume and enjoy. And most importantly, something to talk about before, during and after your comicon. The more they talk about how great an experience they had at your comicon, the better it is for your show’s future. Personally, I love checking in with attendees as they leave the hall late in the day to see how their experience was and what they enjoyed the most. Not only is it great to engage your attendees, but it can be very enlightening as well. At Long Beach Comic & Horror Con we’ve learned a great deal from the individual experiences related to us, and we’ve been able to integrate that feedback the following year.

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Third, the panel rooms that your programming is held in hold a good amount of attendee bodies, which gives a bit of breathing room on the floor. I always look at the programming schedule in conjunction with the show floor to get a good idea of how many attendees have packed a comicon. Just because you don’t see them on the show floor doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Many attendees will float in an out between the show floor and the panel rooms all weekend long.

Now that you understand just how important programming can be at a comicon, how do you go about putting together a programming schedule that attendees will really enjoy? The first rule is to have diversification. Your attendees are unique and have unique interests. If you can provide a programming schedule that appeals to many different types of interests, you are definitely looking at the basis for successful programming. Make sure you include panel topics that vary, such as creator/guest spotlights, how-to tutorials presented by established creators, comics, television & film, anime & manga, screenings and the list goes on. If you have five panel rooms with one panel per hour each day, that adds up to anywhere from 75 to 100 panels. See how easy it is to diversify a number that big?

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A few tips for achieving a nice balanced programming schedule are as follows. First of all, consult with your exhibitors. Publishers, creators and even retailers have content or great ideas for content that would certainly make for compelling panels. Second, interact with your attendees and ask them what THEY WANT in a panel. Social media is perfect for this. A few hours a day for a week or so can net you so many wonderful ideas for content to fill your programming schedule with great panels. Finally, ask yourself what would interest you? What sort of content would pique your interest enough to be certain you didn’t miss it?

Programming, overall, is a very important aspect to successful comicon. In a way, it legitimizes the event and says to a potential attendee that the comicon in question is going all out and providing a full experience for the attendee to take part in and enjoy. For example, at our one day Long Beach Comic Expo we saw a sharp increase in attendance the year we added a programming schedule in 2010. Attendees had more to do and, as a result, stayed longer.

Happy attendees will be more willing to spend their money on that fantastic indie comic in Artist Alley, that great graphic novel or take a chance on something new they discovered in the dollar bins. And that makes your exhibitors happy. It’s a win all around. Create that great experience and success will follow.

Comments and questions are encouraged either below in the comments section or via twitter.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Archive

ComiCON-versation #7: Details, Details, Details…

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by Mike Scigliano

Over the last two months I’ve discussed a good deal of things you need to think about when putting together a comicon. From venues and dates to decorators and floor plans, we’ve covered much of the big stuff. So let’s take a look at some of the fine details that can easily be overlooked.

Security

One very important detail is security. Security is something that you really want to nail down early. There are a few different aspects to consider when setting up your security plans. First, of course, is if you will be hiring a professional security firm. Many times the convention center or building you book your hall in will have an in-house security firm or one they contract with and recommend to Show Management. Simply put, if you are staging a multiple day comicon you’ll likely want to contract a professional security firm.

There are a few things you need to consider when formulating your security plan. First is the safety of your attendees. Do you have security guards stationed at all entrances to check for valid comicon badges? What about during load in — is there security on site to keep an eye on the loading dock and the main hall? Do you have special guests who might need added security? As you can see there are many questions you need to address when putting your security plan into action.

At LBCHC we contract a security firm. We also have one of the best comicon security advisors, Steve Hoveke, on staff as well. He personally attends to sensitive security matters with guests, attendees and exhibitors.

“Security for attendees is always of utmost importance at shows because of the amount of people in close proximity in a single enclosed space. You must be as prepared as you can be, because no matter how hard you try, you will never think of every situation, and you need to be prepared for that. It’s important for the con, security-wise, to be prepared so that the attendees can focus on having a good experience and not having to worry about safety issues, etc.” – Steve Hoveke, LBCHC Security Manager

Volunteers

This one may seem obvious but having volunteers helping out at your comicon is vital. You and your staff cannot be everywhere and this is where having well-trained volunteers helping out comes in handy. At LBCHC we deploy our volunteers in many ways. From greeting attendees and answering questions to managing lines and helping out at registration, there are a vast number of ways you can utilize a volunteer workforce.

The key to having a great volunteer corps lies in their training. At LBCHC each year we give our volunteers a training session before the show opens. We encourage each volunteer to ask as many questions as they need to. And if they cannot answer a question while deployed they are instructed to find a Show Management staff member who can. We’d rather have the volunteer truthfully tell the attendee or exhibitor “I am not sure about that. Let me find out for you.” then to make up an answer. The last thing we stress is making sure they are polite and respectful.

Overall volunteers can serve a vital purpose at your comicon. With training and experience some of the volunteers can almost be like having extra staff members. LBCHC supplies a volunteer t-shirt, admission to the comicon when they aren’t volunteering, as well as whatever goodies we can amass each year. We also treat them like the important part of the team they are. And because of that LBCHC has some amazing volunteers that have been with us since the first year of the show.

Customer Service

I have mentioned it several times since the start of the column, so by this point it should be apparent just how important it is. Whether it’s returning emails and phone calls in a timely manner or answering questions on site at your comicon, you and your Show Management staff need to exhibit the absolute best customer service. Treat people the way you want to be treated — with respect.

Website

Websites cost money, but you don’t have to spend a lot and it doesn’t have to be the best looking site ever. It does need to have as much information as possible. Registration forms, maps, programming schedules, hours, contact info, guest lists, ticket sales info, etc.

Emailer

An emailer is a very important and often forgotten tool. It’s the absolute most direct way to engage people who are interested in your comicon. At LBCHC we have a few emailer lists. One list is devoted to consumers. We use it to pass on information such as guest list additions, programming notes, news updates and more. It’s a proactive way to get information in front of the people who care the most. Not everyone will visit your site often enough to learn all the updates you’ve made. We also have a list dedicated to exhibitors. We pass on important info as it pertains to exhibitors. One other list is our press list. We send our releases out to this list. A good tip is to use an emailer service that employs unsubscribe services. The last thing you want is for your email, or worse your domain, to be flagged as spam.

Tickets

Again, this one is pretty obvious. Will you print and manage tickets yourself? From the sales to the registration check in? It can be very intimidating to undertake such a big job. Over the years we’ve used both in-house and outside solutions. Our current method at LBCHC is an outside company that manages the sale of the tickets, the data, etc. They also supply us with technology to expedite the onsite check in process. We’ve had longer lines that we’d like to pick up an advanced ticket in the past. Using this system we have been able to cut that waiting time down significantly.

A/V

Will your show have any audio visual needs? At LBCHC we certainly have needs. We run a full slate of programming which will require mics, sound systems, screens, video playback, projections and more. Very often the convention center or building you are hosting your comicon at will have an in-house A/V service. Be sure to check and see if you are required, by contract to use them. If not, you can shop around and do your homework you can easily find a very reliable A/V company that fits your needs and most importantly your budget.

These are just some of the important details you need to consider when planning your comicon. As you can see, forgetting or neglecting any of these could come back to haunt you when your comicon dates roll around. Make a check list. Include any and ALL things you need to address. If you check it over weekly and continue to add items as you discover them you will be well on your way to minding the details of your comicon.

Comments and questions are encouraged either below in the comments section or via twitter.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Archive

ComiCON-versation #6: Let's decorate…

by Mike Scigliano

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One of the biggest elements in the production of a comicon that attendees will never see is the show decorator. Once you are locked into doing your comicon you’ll absolutely need to have one. And they aren’t cheap either.

Before we get to deep into this let me explain what a decorator does. The biggest job they take care of for Show Management is setting up the floor in the exhibit hall. They take the floor plan you designed — with their input — and plot it in the real world. Using tape or chalk they mark out the floor well before the first exhibitor arrives to load in their materials. It needs to be done accurately as being off even one foot can cause issues and derail the hard work put into the floor plan design. The slightest shift could put a support pole dead center in a booth instead of in an aisle. An aisle could end up too tight. You get the idea. The best decorators measure out the floor using a measuring tape and the utmost precision.

quote1.jpgAnother key aspect of the service the decorators provide is setting the pipe and drape on the floor. This divides booths, sets booth sizes and gives a sense of cohesion throughout the exhibit hall. One of the worst things a decorator can do is show up with four different colors of the blue drape you requested. It just looks terrible.

One more major job assigned to the decorator is the setting of tables and chairs. At Long Beach Comic & Horror Con we supply one draped table and two chairs with each booth package. Artist Alley is also set with one table and two chairs as well. That’s a lot of tables and chairs. Having enough to cover the needs of the show AND an average to cover damages or on site exhibitor orders for extras is essential. Imagine walking through Artist Alley and seeing everyone standing. Not a good look at all.
Your decorator will also build your registration counters, hang banners, lay carpeting, help manage load in & load out, and other assorted jobs. It is vital to make sure that the contract you sign spells out every detail of what is expected from your decorator. You certainly don’t want to be in the middle of the exhibit hall on set up day and have your decorator tell you ‘That’s not in the contract.’ The good ones will get it done, but if it’s not in the contract, you’ll have to pay extra for it.

We’ve been fortunate to be able to work with one of the best decorators in the business when producing LBCHC. Metropolitan Exposition does an amazing job for us. We work with them extensively in the months before LBCHC to make sure that we are all on the same page.

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As I explained in an earlier column, the floor plan is a very organic and fluid thing. We make changes to it regularly. Changing two 10×10’s into one 10×20, adding booths, moving booths and so on. So when we’re onsite at 5:00 am on set up day, I am confident that the floor plan Metropolitan is using to mark the floor is accurate and up to date. That’s not to say that I don’t check up on it. I check up on EVERYTHING — it’s part of my job. Remember those forty plus miles I walk each show?

Obviously it’s paramount to find a great decorator. They make your comicon that much better. The good ones take a bit of stress off Show Management and that’s a great thing. Hiring a decorator is going to be one of the biggest checks you have to write. Make sure you do your due diligence. Interview potential decorators. Ask questions and get answers. If you aren’t comfortable with the answers, the decorator likely isn’t going to be right for your comicon.

But what happens if you did your homework, researched decorators and settled on one you felt comfortable with, but when set up day arrives you begin to regret your choice? It’s very possible, so what do you do besides freak out and down a bottle of Pepto chased by a bottle of Tums? You adapt, roll up your sleeves and get involved. You’ll have to learn to let things go and focus on the solution not the problem. If you don’t you’re sunk.

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Having been a comicon show runner for the last decade I’ve run into my share of problems which is why we appreciate Metropolitan Exposition and their work on LBCHC even more. In the past I’ve had a decorator show up with less than half the needed chairs. And that was after a myriad of approval emails confirming the table and chair count. How about dropping off the materials needed and only setting up half of it? It’s happened. One of the LBCHC show owners, Phil Lawrence, was on site and jumped in and set up dozens of Artist Alley tables and hundreds of chairs himself. How about a decorator not showing up with garbage cans or bins to empty those cans? They insisted it wasn’t in the contract. I’ll tell you this — LBCHC co-owner Martha Donato is a stickler for details. Garbage and cleaning services would never be left out. Obviously these are extreme circumstances. Take my advice. Hope for perfection; prepare for disaster.

Think of it this way. A decorator puts the lipstick and mascara on your comicon. They can make it look great but they can’t make up for a poorly designed floor plan. They enhance the look and feel of the comicon but ideally no attendee will ever notice it. If they do notice the job done by a decorator it’s likely not for good reasons. Keep in mind, as I said earlier, the check you cut your decorator will be one of the biggest you write so make sure you feel good about your choice.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Arcive

ComiCON-versation #5: It's all about the experience

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by Mike Scigliano

There’s a point in every comicon production process where things get real. The utter insanity of what you have undertaken becomes concrete. Booking your first exhibitor is a great high. Each subsequent booking continues that awesome feeling of things going well. That is until you get your first email or phone call from an attendee. Once that happens there is NO going back. The cat’s out of the bag so to speak. It’s at that point that you come to the realization that what you’ve been working so hard on for the last few months is now out there for public consumption. It was a very surreal moment for Martha, Phil and I for sure.

At that point you shift your thoughts to what exactly it is that you are providing an attendee. Some comicons struggle with this. Others know the second they sign their exhibit hall contract. Simply put, it is Show Management’s job to provide the best experience possible. That’s right. You’re not just selling a ticket to a comicon; you are selling an entire experience. Fans can get news about comics, movies, games and much more instantaneously on the internet any time of the day. They can pick up the newest issue of most comics while sitting on a bus or train. They can find that one silver age back issue they need to complete a run on eBay. I could go on, but I suspect you get the picture I’m painting here. Bottom line is that people, fans, go to comicons because they WANT to, not because they NEED to. They WANT to be around other fans enjoying themselves. They WANT to have a great experience and be part of something that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. What makes providing this experience complicated is the fact that each attendee’s expectations are going to be as unique as the attendees themselves.

Armed with this knowledge it’s your job to go about building a comicon that will provide your attendees with that desired experience. It’s actually not as tough as you may think. Remember a few weeks ago when I said to do your job right in building a comicon you need to love your job? This is where that passion and dedication shines through. I can’t tell you how many hours the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con team has logged working to this end. Virtually every decision we make comes back to one thing—how will this enhance the experience we are creating? Think of Show Management as a curator of sorts. It’s your job to bring together different aspects of what makes a comicon a great experience and then present that to your attendees.

Artist Alley at Long Beach Comic & Horror Con is one of my favorite places to be all weekend. Every year I walk over forty miles from the first time I walk into the building until the last step out the door. I’ll be honest — I am probably being conservative. I keep moving. I keep an eye on everything. But I always end up back in Artist Alley. I love seeing that fan meet his or her favorite comic book creator. Artist Alley at LBCHC is full of professionals and up and comers alike. It’s just as much fun to thumb through sketchbooks by well-known talents as it is someone I have never heard of before. Frankly, those tend to be the ones I bring home more of, and there’s not a chance that can happen anywhere but in Artist Alley.

The rest of the exhibit hall is full of publishers, studios, retailers, fan groups, and more. You’ve more than likely shopped at or browsed Amazon.com. The exhibit floor at a good comicon is like a live Amazon for comic fans. Comics, graphic novels, art, toys, games, movies, props, things you never knew you wanted but now can’t leave the hall without and so on. It’s all there. Even if the attendees can’t buy everything they want they sure had a great time looking at it all and wishing they could. And unlike browsing online, there’s just no substitute for actually holding that comic or print in your hands. Again, does this sound like an everyday occurrence?

LBCHC’s programming schedule includes panels and screenings that appeal to a wide variety of attendees. That’s by design of course. As I noted earlier, you can get your news on the web as it’s happening. But can you replicate the feeling of being in a panel room filled with fans like yourself listening to and sometimes being a part of a discussion by some of your favorite comic book creators? Not likely.

All these aspects add up to the overall experience an attendee has at your comicon. But you are not done just yet. One more key aspect is customer service. Every attendee that walks through that door deserves the absolute best customer service possible. Whether it’s getting an answer to a simple question or helping find their lost child. For that one weekend a year these people become your family in a sense. Treat them like you would treat your parents or children. They just paid you their hard earned money; they deserve it. Listen to what they have to say. Good and bad. You’d be amazed at how far great customer service can go to enhancing an attendee’s experience at your comicon. You want your attendees to go home and tell their family and friends about the great time they had. After all, you do want them to come back next year, right?

If you can do this right, mistakes and miscues can be forgiven and overlooked. Waiting a little too long on line to get in can be forgotten. A typo in the program guide can be chuckled at. It was one hell of a great experience so why worry about the little things? Just make sure you fix them for next year.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Arcive

ComiCON-versation #4: How do you pitch your show to exhibitors?

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by Mike Scigliano

[continuing show runner Mike Scigliano’s explanation of how to put on a comics show, esp this very weekend’s LONG BEACH COMICS EXPO]

By now you’ve gone through all the hard work involved with the pre-production of your comicon. You have a venue and dates for your show. You’ve got a floor plan design that you feel happy about AND was approved by the fire marshal. The next step in the process is to begin to promote and pitch your show to potential exhibitors.

By “exhibitors,” I mean publishers, small press publishers, retailers, artist alley creators (artists, writers, inkers, colorists, painters, etc) and whoever else you feel might be a fit or want to exhibit at your comicon. For Long Beach Comic & Horror Con we place a specific emphasis on comics and their creators in our Artist Alley. That emphasis varies from comicon to comicon, of course, but for us it was a must.

As I touched on in my last column about floor plans, Artist Alley is a very important part of the show floor. We have it placed pretty much smack dab in the center of the floor and it features over 154 available tables dedicated to creators. Therefore, when I am talking to a potential Artist Alley exhibitor I talk about our dedication to the backbone of the comic books industry — its creative talent. I talk about our pricing, which is relatively affordable, and what you get for your money. In our case you get a table, two chairs, two exhibitor badges and listings in both our website and printed exhibitor lists. I’ll certainly answer any questions that might arise.

One thing I always do is remind them about the rules in our Artist Alley. No visible nudity. It’s a family event. No massive engineered backdrops. It’s Artist Alley. One of the last rules I will mention is that they are credited as an individual ONLY. Artist Alley tables cannot be credited as a company. If they really want to use the elaborate back drop I steer them towards our small press booths and explain the benefits of upgrading to a full 10 foot by 10 foot small press set up such as more room, four badges instead of two and the ability to credit yourself as a company not just as an individual creator.

Retailer booths are a little bit different. A retailer booth is 10 feet by 10 feet square and includes a table, two chairs and four exhibitor badges. It’s very often cheaper to bring your own extra tables and chairs. I will suggest this to help save the exhibitor on their expenses. When I talk to a potential retail exhibitor for the first time I will ask about what they sell. If you are cold-calling a potential exhibitor, do your homework ahead of time and know what they sell BEFORE you call them. Being prepared goes a long way. You need to get to know the exhibitor to have an idea of how they will fit in. They may ask questions like “Are there a lot of toy dealers?” or “How many gold/silver age comic dealers do you have?” You have to be able to answer these types of questions and answer them truthfully. Once you understand your potential exhibitor it becomes easier to pitch your comicon to them.

Publishers and other types of exhibitors are a different type of pitch. Retailers are more interested in primarily selling products or creating an awareness if they have a local brick and mortar store. Publishers strike a balance between sales and marketing. They need space for products, signage and very often creator signings. They also tend to have more elaborate displays as well. You need to cater your pitch to match these needs. For example when I pitch comic book publishers I will talk about our focus on comics. I’ll discuss the possibility of hosting a panel and other marketing options available. For studios I’ll talk about signing or screening opportunities. They are all about marketing. Essentially, you need to be able to explain what your comicon can offer and how a mutually beneficial relationship can be created by them exhibiting at your show.

For LBCHC, Show Management had over a decade of experience and contacts to utilize when we started the show in 2009. We weren’t starting from scratch, and we had a solid base to work with. Once we exhausted that base, we began the process of cold-calling local comic book retailers, posting about the show on art-themed websites, getting press releases out to the public, linking up with other shows and cross-promoting to their exhibitor list, and so on.

The most important thing to do when pitching your comicon is to be honest and truthful. Don’t inflate your attendance. Don’t knock other shows. Don’t be disingenuous. Don’t make promises that you know you can’t follow through on. People see through it all and more often than not any lies — even ones you might consider white lies — come back to bite you in the end. If you are passionate about your comicon and pitch it well, you’ll have a good chance of filling up your show floor with all sorts of great exhibitors.

-scig!

ComiCON-versation #2: So when is your show?

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by Mike Scigliano

There’s been so much made of locations and dates for shows in the last few years. For 2012 it’s been so crazy the fine folks at CCI had to move WonderCon to Anaheim from San Francisco400 PLUS miles away. Let’s look at what it takes to lock in a date for your show.

LBCHC was built around being in Long Beach, California. Martha Donato approached me in the spring of 2009 and said bluntly, “Phil and I want to do a show in Long Beach this fall. Do you want to be part of it?” So from day one it was going to be Long Beach Comic & Horror Con. Now mind you, the fall is a big window.

[Read more…]

ComiCON-versation Part 1: Meet the Show Manager

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[With the comics convention/show scene exploding all around us, we thought it would be interesting to get a behind the scenes on how a show is put together. Over the next few weeks, The Long Beach Comic & Horror Con’s Show Manager Mike Scigliano will be explaining what goes into putting a con together, from floor plans to guest lists. Hopefully, it will give us all a little insight into the what is rapidly becoming most visible aspect of the comics world.]

By Mike Scigliano

Welcome to the 2012 convention season. Great shows like Amazing Arizona Comic Con, MegaCon, WonderCon and Emerald City Comic Con and C2E2 have already come and gone and we have a full calendar of fantastic shows still to come. Heroes Con, SDCC, Fan Expo, Baltimore Comic Con, New York Comic Con and Long Beach Comic & Horror Con. I’m the Show Manager for Long Beach Comic & Horror Con and we’re looking to close the season out with a bang.

Over the next few months I’ll be writing about how we put the show together from the ground up. I’ll have guests such as LBCHC’s show owners Martha Donato & Phil Lawrence. I’ll also have some guests to give the perspective of the creators in artist alley as well as the retailers and exhibitors on the show floor. By the time Long Beach Comic & Horror Con rolls around this November you will have a pretty solid insight into just what it takes to put on a successful event. So let’s get started…

First off I should introduce myself. My name is Mike Scigliano and I’ve been in the comic book industry for almost 15 years working in retail, publishing, non-profit, event management and more. I’ve been around, so to speak. Being Show Manager for LBCHC is the culmination of all the experience I’ve picked up over the years. The job itself includes sales, logistics, guest relations, floor management, a sprinkle of programming and just about anything else that comes up along the way. However, it’s a job you have to really love in order to truly do it right. It certainly won’t make you rich. You won’t be famous. And if you do your job right very few people will even know you exist. Like I said, you have to love the job. And I love the job.

The first question we get about LBCHC is typically ‘What are we doing running a comic con in Long Beach, CA?’ Well, to be perfectly honest, we love it there. Long Beach has one of the most modern and spacious convention halls in the country. The surrounding area is fantastic. It features great restaurants, night life and an overall atmosphere that you can only find near the coast in SoCal. The fans are, in a word, AMAZING. Each year we are treated to some of the most passionate fans you will ever meet. So when you ask me why I am part of a team that runs a show 2,807 miles from my home my I’ll reply with a simple ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

The LBCHC team begins it’s major lead up to the big show each year with a one day event held each spring, Long Beach Comic Expo. We consider it, logistically, the kick off for everything we do publicly for LBCHC. Our first guest list is announced, first exhibitors, any major early programming and so on. Our PR schedule begins at LBCE, too. The expo itself was conceived as a thank you to the fans, creators and exhibitors who support the fall show. From the $15 ticket price to the relatively low cost of the exhibitor space, the event is designed so that everyone can have a great day. Fans have fun and exhibitors turn a profit. When all is said and done, the Long Beach Comic Expo builds both community and industry awareness for LBCHC in the fall. With so many new shows popping up in SoCal awareness is something we need to build all year long.

This year’s one day show, May 12th, is presenting us with it’s own set of challenges. About a month ago we sold out of exhibitor and artist alley space. We’re excited, happy and proud to have sold out exhibitor space for the show just under two months before the doors open but it does pose a problem for us. A good problem but a problem nonetheless. Martha, Phil and I have had countless calls, emails and texts working on solving the problem. We were able to adjust the floor to maximize the amount exhibitor space we could safely fit into the square footage we have available. In the end we were able to add a bit more exhibitor space and put a dent into our waiting list. It’s not as much as I’d like but it is what it is.

With much of the LBCE 2012 pre-show wrapped, details and last minute bits aside, we’re shifting our focus onto the big fall show. Next week I’ll start to explore what it takes to get such a massive undertaking off the ground with only THREE full time staffers. It’s not easy and we have our share of highs and lows but we get it done. Hopefully, whether you are a fan or an industry professional, you will have gained some new insight into what it takes to put on an event like Long Beach Comic & Horror Con by the time we turn the page to November.

Life among the nerdlebrities: Wizard World NYC

I had no idea what to expect as I approached the Wizard World Comic Con NYC Experience last Friday evening. First off it was located a new venue—Basketball City—in a part of Manhattan that I had never been to except on an FDR Drive flyover: a mysterious realm east of Chinatown, north of the Seaport and south of the Williamsburg Bridge. In local speak we call it “no mans land”: the moody banks of the East River.
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It was a cloudy overcast evening, and the approach was sinister. But upon getting closer I spied the familiar sights of a Batmobile and people carrying Wizard World plastic bags. I was in familiar territory after all.

According to Wizard’s main PR guy, the always helpful Jerry Milani, Basketball City is a newish space mostly used for…basketball and corporate events. This was its first consumer event. Inside it was spacious and clean, with high ceilings and working bathrooms. I have to give the Wizard folks props for a set-up that played to the comfort of the fans. With no food vendors inside, a food truck court had been set up outside with Crif Dog and Kimchi Tacos (YUM) among others. An outside tent held the big nerdlebrity talks, and an upstairs mezzanine held the smaller panels. Ingress and egress were clear and well marked.

However, once inside I was reminded of some of the problems familiar to putting on any kind of show in New York. It has to be accessible, people have to park, blah blah blah. I would say there was a lively crowd for an after work Friday night. There were huge lines for CM Punk, and great excitement whenever Michael Rooker or Norman Reedus did anything. Stan Lee caused a buzz, of course. The Artist Alley was moderately sized, and I dunno if this was a huge money making show for people selling comics. The big event on Friday was the cruise, and there was a good sized line to get in. I toyed with the idea of going as a friend had a pass, but decided being on a boat with a lot of Walking Dead fans wasn’t my ideal Friday night. From the tweets it was a good time, however.

Hannah has a fine report and I don’t really disagree with anything in it. She hits on what was probably the biggest selling point of the con: the fact that the room wasn’t that big meant that all the nerdlebrities were near at hand, and that did cause a buzz when the Power Rangers guy went to the bathroom or something. By now all these people are used to seeing one another on the Wizard Tour, so when CM Punk and Michael Rooker share a laugh it gives the fans in attendance a sense of being somewhere cool and exciting. I myself was thrilled to catch sight of my hero Pam Grier, although being a little bit afraid of her, I didn’t go up to say hi. Henry Winkler was wandering around and being friendly, as was Wil Wheaton.

It was a fun, well run show, but for my taste, it was a bit expensive—to get in and get one autograph would cost you nearly $100, so you had to be ready to spend a lot of dough.

Also, as I’ve noted before, there is something about the “comics” part of a “comic-con” that is a key part of the equation. Autograph shows are common and doubtless profitable, but there is an innate sadness to people who used to be on TV asking you to pay to get them to sign an 8×10 that comic book artists sitting and sketching on their drawing boards don’t project. Artist Alley gives a sense of the here and now and doing stuff that former child stars don’t. It livens up the joint.

I dunno, maybe it’s me.

To be clear, the traveling Wizard World show presents an array of working TV stars, and certainly while I was there, the celebs were smiling and laughing. Stan Lee always brings a sense of energy with him. Beat Pal Joe Harris said that at one point Stan came by his fellow Bullpenner Ken Bald’s table and the two sang old Merry Marvel marching songs. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

I did wander around and take some of my bad hipstamatic photos.

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The con floor in Walking Dead colors.
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It was pointed out to me that these big standees with posters are ubiquitous now in Artist Alley. Time was you just needed one of those standees, but the exhibits are getting more impressive and easy to transport.
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Mile High Comics’ Chuck Rozanski—star of Comic-Con the Movie—chatting with the CBLDF’s Alex Cox. Chuck had a camera crew following him around but was NDA’d as to its purpose. He did allow that since he was seen in one reality movie, other reality shows have approached him. Chuck is a star in any medium. The three of us had some discussion about the rise of comic cons and how putting them on is not child’s play given the size of the crowds that show up. Anyone who is planning to put one on, I would recommend checking out Mike Scigliano’s series here at the Beat, Comi-CONversations for the basics of show running.

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The X-Files Joe Harris and Steve Vrattos of Fanfare/Ponent Mon. (Fanfare was not set up at the show.)
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Rodney Ramos, most recently of The Tower Chronicles. As you can see from Rodney’s Mets t-shirt, we share a very special pain and a very special bond.
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Gentleman JG Jones. JG is one of the nicest people in comics, and also one of the most talented. The show was slowing down so I had a rare chance to catch up with him and talk Game of Thrones, etc. Since finishing up The Comedian, he’s been doing covers but has some interesting projects in the works.
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Closing time at Nerdlebrity Alley.
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As the show ended, I walked out with Alex and JG. It had been raining, resulting in glorious moody Gotham City nightscapes. This wasn’t my kind of show, exactly, but I can see why people enjoy going, and it was very well run and tried to give fans what they came for. Alex and I left JG and Henry Winkler trying to catch a shuttle to their hotel in the smoky dampness on the East River as Wil Wheaton, king of the nerdlebrities, looked on and found it good.