Run a game, comic, or pop culture convention? Based on my experience and conversations with some industry friends, here are some tips when reaching out to potential guests of honor and other special guests.
December and January are often the time of year when a lot of potential guests are rapidly filling up their schedules for the coming year. Especially once you consider that for many people there are some conventions and events that are already locked-in, annual pilgrimages, or personal favorites. Along with personal commitments outside of the circuit.
That’s certainly not to say you shouldn’t contact someone later in the year if that’s when the timing works best for you or when a final schedule or budget is worked out for the convention. But as with most events, the more time to prepare and plan, the better.
Up Against the Competition
For the hobby gaming industry, many designers, publishers, and other popular guests may also be attending long-running and well established cons like GenCon, Origins, Toy Fair, ComiCon, PAX, GAMA, BGG Con, as well as some local or regional cons within easy driving distance for them. There is only so much time in the year, and you’re competing for calendar space with them.
Plus what a lot of people outside the industry don’t realize, or forget, is that many of the people *in* the industry don’t do this full time – they still have jobs outside of this, especially game designers (I speak from experience here). And if they do have a job outside the industry, they might be taking vacation days to attend a convention. So they have to weigh all the costs of attending the event, which may include missing work, family, and precious vacation days.
When contact someone about a convention appearance, I personally would recommend doing it earlier in the year with plenty of lead time. Start with a short, friendly introduction of yourself, the name of the convention, where it is located, and the timeframe. Ask if it would be okay to send them more information, and what their preferred email address or form of contact would be. Don’t start with a massive letter inundating them with WALL-O-TEXT OMG TL;DNR–>TRASHBIN.
If they outright say no or say their schedule is full, thank them for their time and move on. Don’t pester them – otherwise you risk them remembering your event for all the wrong reasons.
It is extremely important to be up-front and very clear about the money side of things. It’s just the way it is. Especially travel, room and board, or any other key expenses. Will you arrange travel and flights? Hotel? Meals? Is there a dedicated travel coordinator for your convention? (If your convention is close time-wise to an established event like those mentioned above, providing travel and amenities can be a deal make-or-breaker)
Are there guest services? Some guests may need help getting around larger convention spaces or need help coordinating especially busy schedules. Some guests have special needs or disabilities that have to be taken into account. Some guests may ask about traveling with a friend or bringing along a co-worker, some have health issues and must travel with a care partner.
Making this clear up front can avoid an embarrassing situation where you plan out a wonderful convention experience only to reach a point where both sides had different expectations and a guest has to bow out because it would simply be too expensive to attend your event – especially if they would have to arrange and pay for round-trip airfare, book a hotel for three or four nights, and cover four or five days worth of meals and all the incidentals on their own. Remember, that’s on top of taking vacation days or missing work for a number of your potential guests!
(If that sounds unreasonable, consider being invited to four, six, eight, maybe upwards of a dozen conventions – in addition to the ones you’re already committed to. Many guests of honor simply cannot afford – in both time and money – to attend all of them, so need to prioritize, often based on cost and value)
Sell the Experience
If they are interested and you have a chance to follow-up, be sure to give them a sense of why you are interested in having them attend – make them feel special without going overboard. Why did you reach out to them in particular? What makes them a good fit?
Tell them about your convention. What makes it so special? What’s it’s story? Are there important features or conveniences to point out – connected hotel, other guests of honor, big local events going on?
If you are reaching out to several guests of honor, you may want to consider drafting a general response that has the basics, which you then customize for each individual.
All Work and No Play
As you further your conversation with your potential guests of honor, while there may be a lot of discussion on all the cool things you could do, at some point you need to make sure you are clear about how much of their time you are requesting and exactly what everyone’s expectations are.
What would you like your guests of honor to do at the convention? Autograph and signing sessions? Sit on discussion panels? Provide a workshop or seminar? A little bit of everything? It’s also okay to ask them what they prefer to do or what they are most comfortable with.
Be reasonable with your requests – they will need time for meals, regular restroom breaks, and sanity checks. But be sure to schedule in time to check out the event. Perhaps the organizers can take the guests of honor out for a nice meal and get a personal experience of their own as part of the reward for everyone’s hard work.
Conventions are stressful. Fans and attendees are awesome… most of the time. But sometimes, everything just becomes too much. You might be surprised to find that a great number of guests of honor are actually introverts. Conventions are one time they get to bask in the glow of their accomplishments and enjoy a bit of celebrity status, but once they actually realize they are in a room full of people, anxiety kicks in.
For many guests of honor, the convention starts strong, but their energy ebbs and anxiety rises as the convention goes on. Let them know that you offer a break room, a green room, or a special place just for them where they can get away from the noise and the crowds and just… decompress for a while.
If you don’t have a place like this, I’d strongly urge you to find space for one. Provide a little space with some bottled water and sodas, maybe a few light snacks, air conditioning or fans, somewhere they can sit and check email and Facebook, catch their breath, and maybe have time to chat with other guests of honor. Giving them a special place to call their own is a wonderful value-add service you can provide which will be greatly appreciated.
Remember Your ABCs
By following a few simple guidelines, you can make your convention stand out via your emails with guests of honor. Keep them friendly. Greet them by name. Thank them. Sign off with your name at the end. Reply to their questions promptly. In a new email, include the name or acronym for your convention in the subject line for easy identification and sorting.
And follow the ABCs of good writing. Keep email Accurate, Brief, and Clear. It is so easy to get long-winded or go off on a tangent. A nice, succinct email is such a relief amidst the dozens of other emails everyone is bombarded with every day.
Well… that’s all I can think of at the moment. If nothing else, hopefully this article will help you consider how to best share and showcase your convention to the guests you are looking to invite — good luck!