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.
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.