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 Francisco — 400 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.
Convention centers don’t just sit around holding space waiting for events to walk up and book dates. You don’t just say “Hey, I want to do my show in THIS hall on THESE dates.” How it most often works is matching up details and if the perfect mix of needs, wants and availability converge in a grand universal conjunction, BOOM, you have show dates. And likewise, Show Management doesn’t just grab a dart, rear back, and fire it at some random date and say “That’s our weekend!” It’s not completely unheard of and it CAN happen by just walking into a hall and picking dates. But it’s not very likely unless you are exceptionally lucky or you don’t care if the random date brings up other problems, such as building issues or stepping on another show’s already publicized dates.
What do you need, from the building aspect, to put on a great show? What questions have to be answered? Let’s break it down into three segments, Show Management, Exhibitors and Attendees.
Show Management looks for certain specifics in contracting with a conventions center for dates. In a nut shell, once you have determined what type of show you will be having, the size and scope, if you will have panels and so on, you can start the process of negotiating dates. What is the building staff like? What are the sizes of the halls? Can halls be combined for a larger space as the comicon grows? What is the loading dock situation? What challenges do the available halls present when creating a floor plan? What services does the building required we contract?
Exhibitors will look to Show Management for some key aspects. Some of these they obviously cannot control but they’d like to know what’s going down. Obviously exhibitors would like to limit their expenses in order to make the event more profitable for them. Is there a drayage (transportation) cost for bringing in your products and displays? How easy is access to bring in said materials? Can an exhibitor order electric, hang a banner and tap into the internet?
Attendees look for different things as well. Parking is a major question. Is it easy to get to and find? How about the general area? Is the convention center easy to navigate once inside? What’s the bathroom situation? Where are the panel rooms in relation to the exhibit floor? Are there places to eat OTHER than the convention center? Can you make a weekend out of being in the area if you are form out of town? Are there hotels close by at reasonable rates? Places to keep the con going after the doors close at night for those who want to?
Like I said, each of the segments looks at a comicon from different points of view. It’s our job to blend them all together and come up with what we hope is a great experience for each segment. With all that in mind we can finally sit down and say, yeah, not only do we like the Long Beach Convention Center but it’s ideal for each segment we have to think about. Let’s get some dates. We’ll get a handful of dates that fit our needs and some that MIGHT fit with some adjustment and effort on our part and some dates that just don’t work for a myriad of reasons. So in the end, the reality is Show Management likely has two to four weekends to choose from when locking down their comicon dates.
After all that, Long Beach Comic & Horror Con had its FIRST dates of October 2-4, 2009. Subsequently getting dates locked in had some different pitfalls to navigate. Having already run a successful show in 2009 and with the general event market picking up at the Long Beach Convention Center for 2010, we were pushed to a bigger hall with dates offered to us now moved into the end of October — over Halloween weekend. Holidays are rarely ideal for comicons. (Granted Chicago Comic Con had been a 4th of July tradition for years before being purchased by Wizard World, but shows like that are the exception.) We also were handed panel rooms across the loading dock or around the building. Certainly not ideal at all. So we had our challenges in 2010. 2011 dates were slightly easier to navigate as we were lucky to be able to hang onto to our dates from 2010 with one great bonus; we were able to have the panel rooms in the same building right off the exhibit hall itself. 2012 dates were tricky as we had to move a week later. We do maintain the same hall and panel rooms so that’s a good thing.
As an aside, I know I did not talk about instances when show dates overlap. It can genuinely happen with no recourse, as did with WonderCon landing on the original dates of C2E2 for 2012. It can also be done as a strategy and be part of what The Beat has affectionately dubbed “Con Wars.” But that’s a topic we’ll get into in a little more detail in a future column. All in all, getting dates in the hall you want to be in, in the city you want to be in, isn’t as simple as just walking in, pointing to a calendar, signing a contract and walking out. There is a ton of effort from both Show Management and the building to get everything to sync up. So the next time you wonder why a comicon picked this date or that date you’ll have an understanding as to just what it took to land those dates.
Next time we’ll get into how a floor plan is created and what needs to be considered to make it just right.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.