If you were in New York City over the weekend, you might have noticed costumed superhero, sci-fi and fantasy characters roaming the streets. They weren’t early Halloween celebrants; they were just some of the 125,000 comic book fans who took over the Javits Center for the annual New York Comic-Con.
The New York Comic Con is one of the biggest annual conventions for lovers of comics and popular culture. The biggest is the San Diego Comic-Con International. 43 Years ago, the first Comic Con was attended by 300 people in the basement of a San Diego hotel. This summer, 130,000 attendees spilled out of the convention center into surrounding lots, hotels and parks.
The San Diego Comic-Con has a “years-long” waiting list for exhibitors. “Prices for the booths are surging. At the top end, Marvel Entertainment pays about $1.5 million for its space, one source estimates.” During Comic-Con, my online stream is full of reports, videos and photos from news, entertainment and technology media groups. How would your association like that kind of attendance, demand and press for your show? Granted, these are fans, not members. They have a crazy passion for comics, sci-fi, fantasy and other cult shows and films. But, is there anything there that associations can steal and tweak?
Ratchet up the FOMO.
Comic-Con is no longer a show just for comic fans. It sells out quickly because it’s the cool place to enjoy the costumed creativity of fellow attendees while getting an exclusive peek at upcoming movie, TV and comic book pilots, premieres and merchandise.
TV and film producers, directors, artists and actors reveal big news and bombshells during Comic-Con. For example, the executive producer of Family Guy announced on a panel that one of the Griffins will die this season. Gasp!
What would ratchet up your members’ Fear-Of-Missing-Out (FOMO)? What could your association, sponsors, exhibitors or speakers premiere, preview or share that people wouldn’t want to miss? How can you make your attendees feel like VIPs with a backstage pass?
Run a marketing lab.
Hollywood showrunners and marketing executives are all over Comic-Con because the crowd is full of people who are passionate about their current products and are ready for the next big thing. They’re also influencers whose social media feeds, I would bet, are full of news, photos and talk about their favorite shows, books and films.
Your attendees, although not so fervent, are the target market for exhibitors and sponsors. These vendors need up-to-date market data. Help them get it by arranging focus groups, discussions, meals and receptions for their target market. Of course, they’ll pay a price for this consideration—it’s part of their sponsorship package. The attendees who participate may want more than a free dinner—what else can be in it for them?
Increase the buzz factor.
The Hollywood marketing machine revs up during Comic-Con, and the traditional press responds with reports from the hallways, keynotes, panels, previews and premieres. Attendees do their own reporting via Twitter, blogs, videos and podcasts.
Make it easy for your attendees to share the love. Nowadays, every show should have sufficient wi-fi and charging outlets. Go further by providing studios where attendees can make videos and podcasts. Use the same studios to do quick training sessions for attendees and exhibitors who want to learn those skills.
Most trade shows provide press rooms and passes for traditional media. What about bloggers? If there are bloggers with klout in your market, consider providing passes and lounges for them too.
Make sure your website is the daily front page for your conference. Update it frequently with news, photos and videos from the show – yours and others.
Cozy up to celebrities.
Sure, you won’t have Bryan Cranston walking around in a Walter White mask, but what about your keynote speakers? Most speakers fly in the night before and head out right after their presentation. Pay them to stick around. Ask them to lead an informal discussion, make a guest appearance on a panel or just hang out and shoot the breeze with attendees.
When planning a show, association staff has limited time and resources, so pick the brains of your sponsors and exhibitors. How can they add value to the attendee experience? Don’t be afraid to collaborate with vendors and try new things as long as they’re in the interest of attendees.
Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who, if forced to pick a Griffin to go, would choose Chris.