Exhibiting at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con is like having relatives come to visit. Happy to see them come, and exhausted and relieved after theyâ€™ve said their farewells. Plus, you begin thinking about what youâ€™d do differently and how to better prepare for the next time.
Every industry has its conventions, but none quite like Comic-Con. Examining a high-profile show like this may help you in your own business, because whatever youâ€™re trade is, going to a convention is about improving your business. Before we go into some tips for getting the most out of a tradeshow convention, letâ€™s review what Comic-Con is all about.
Each year, thousands upon thousands of die-hard comic, movie and anime fans descend upon downtown San Diego. Sometimes it seems that the crowds will burst the city apart at the seams. They come dressed as superheroes, villains, and cute furry animals from comics, movies, TV and animation. Some of the costumes are very cool and imaginative. Some are expensive. And some, wellâ€¦ you gotta wonder what they were thinking. Itâ€™s the ultimate geek invasion. And before you laugh it off as just a gathering of sweaty, socially awkward, comic book reading Jedi wanna-beâ€™s who have never kissed a girl, just realize there are a lot of companies out there spending millions for the right to market to these hardcore fans.
The San Diego Comic-Con is the largest convention of its kind in North America. Itâ€™s a fourâ€“day event (Thursday â€“ Sunday) in July, with a three-hour â€˜previewâ€™ to open the convention on Wednesday evening. Itâ€™s located at the 600,000+ square foot San Diego Convention Center. It has a capacity of approximately 125,000 attendees, not including staff, exhibitors, press and other guests. The tickets sell out early and exhibitors need to re-register for next year just as soon as the previous con ends. Many predict that Comic-Con could be twice as big if it had the room.
Comic-Con will remain in San Diego through 2015, but there is always the threat that it will eventually leave the city for bigger pastures like Los Angeles or Las Vegas. A proposed expansion would add another 200,000 square feet to the convention center in hopes of persuading Comic-Con to stay put.
The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates that Comic-Con has a $193 million economic impact, including $40 million in restaurant revenue. That number doesnâ€™t include the free publicity for the San Diego area either, including an enormous amount of international press.
Comic-Con started 42 years ago as the West Coast Comic Book Convention at a hotel. There were just 300 attendees that year. It wasnâ€™t until 1991 that the convention moved into the San Diego Convention Center. By 2004, Comic-Con was using the entire floor and meeting space. One of the main reasons for its prosperity is the acceptance of all kinds of pop culture, not just comic books. This includes video games, webcomics, horror memorabilia, toys, movies, TV shows, artwork, anime, fantasy novels and more. Hollywood had had an enormous impact on its growth.
A lot of Comic-Con fans are very passionate. You will overhear 30-year old males arguing about which My Little Pony character is cooler. You will see teenagers nearly coming to blows because one said Batman was cooler than Spider-Man. These are the bloggers and fanboys that will praise and promote their favorite things to their cyber friends all over the world with tireless effort. That is why TV networks and film studios have vigorously marketed their slate of shows to Comic-Con attendees.
But filmmakers and TV producers have also found out that their marketing efforts can be a double-edged sword. These adamant fans are quite vocal when theyâ€™re excited about something and just as vocal when they donâ€™t. Several big name directors and stars have been nearly booed off the stage in the past over unpopular ideas and announcements. Thatâ€™s why studios and TV networks are cautious about what they preview at Comic-Con. If they think thereâ€™s a possibility for a negative reaction, theyâ€™ve learned not to take it to San Diego.
This can be said for any tradeshow convention. Make sure your sales prospects see you the way you want to be seen. If your product line isnâ€™t ready or your marketing materials arenâ€™t the best they can be, it might make more sense to skip the upcoming convention and wait till you are ready. Youâ€™ve got one shot to make that first impression. Do everything in your power to make sure itâ€™s positive. That will involve a lot of advanced planning.
Preparation is everything. Youâ€™re competing with hundreds, maybe even thousands of other exhibitors. Map out a goal for the convention and stick to it. Are you looking for sales, prospects, investors or just want to network with industry leaders? How will you accomplish this? Companies that perform well at Comic-Con spend a lot of time and effort trying to create a â€˜buzzâ€™ that will spill over in sales after the convention is over. You can so the same.
Here are a few tips weâ€™ve learned from this yearâ€™s Comic-Con:
Send out flyers, emails and social network posts about specials being offered at your booth during the tradeshow. Unveil a new product or service. Give out a free sample to everyone that stops by or a prize to the first 100 people that visits you, etc. Create excitement. Make that visit to your booth a desired stop. Companies like Sideshow Toys do this very well. It offers convention exclusives that are hyped for months in advance. The long lines at Comic-Con are a testament to the success of these marketing efforts. And while you may not be offering cool Iron Man collectibles, your exclusive product in your industry could be just as valuable. Over time, word-of-mouth will grow and attendees will come to expect your exclusives. Your booth will become a must-see each year. Hey, if it works for companies like Sideshow Toys that make collectible pop culture figurines, it could work for you.
Make your booth or sales pitch unique. At Comic-Con, you will see a lot of full-color backdrops and wonderful graphics. Unfortunately, a lot of booths start looking identical. Donâ€™t get lost in the crowd. Be different. Be unique. You donâ€™t need the most expensive booth. Just be creative.
You donâ€™t need to copy everyoneâ€™s sales pitch either. Think about the attendees. No one wants to be pitched the same way over and over again. One artist/writer at our booth held up cheap, hand-drawn cards with clever descriptions about his books. He didnâ€™t say anything. No one else at Comic-Con was doing that. It attracted attendees. People stopped to read his cards. They were pulled in. The result? That gentleman with his homemade cards outsold everyone else at the booth by a huge margin.
The booth across from ours featured stick figures (I kid you not) on T-shirts with hip sayings. The four long-haired artists wore tuxes and top hats. They never once pitched their product to anyone, yet there was always a crowd around their booth. In a world of beautiful, full-color illustrations and high-tech toys, they were different. They were cool. They also completely sold out of everything they had and probably had more sales than the entire row, combined.
Giveaways can draw a crowd. People are always looking for freebies at a convention. We gave away free comics and it drew people in. Others were giving away posters, books, toys, etc. If your product is too expensive to give away free samples, then give away popcorn or cookies. A raffle is another way to bring people in, plus youâ€™ll then have their contact info for your marketing list.
Donâ€™t get stuck in your booth the whole time. Make sure you have adequate staffing so you can walk the tradeshow and talk with others. Get everyoneâ€™s business card. A tradeshow is the perfect opportunity to network like crazy. At Comic-Con, we came back with hundreds of business cards and talked to everyone we could. If we didnâ€™t get the chance to speak with them, we collected their information and left our flyer.
After you get home, itâ€™s important you follow up right away. Most exhibitors will start to get emails from other businesses several weeks after the convention ends. Donâ€™t wait that long and get lost in a sea of solicitations. Compile your notes right away and get a jump-start on the competition.
Do you attend tradeshows? What are some of your favorite convention tips? We look forward to hearing from you!