ComiCON-versation #9: Be our guest…

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LBCC 26 ComiCON versation #9: Be our guest...

by Mike Scigliano

After a quick summer hiatus I’m back and ready to take everyone inside the production of the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con 2012  Following San Diego Comic Con our attention is focused even closer on the goal — the best show we can produce.  In order to do that you need to really think about your guest list.

A guest list and the expenses associated with it, like everything else involved in producing a comicon, come out of your overall budget.  You’ve got to balance the books to make the show work.  Hotel rooms and airfare add up quickly and spending all your cash on guests but next to nothing on marketing or programming needs, for instance, could lead to a train wreck pretty quickly.  It’s all well and good to have an amazing guest list that would make even the most seasoned show runner jealous, but it’s no good if no one knows about the show because you didn’t have any budget room left to market, promote and get the word out.
Early on in the process of building a guest list at LBCHC, we identify our guest target list.  We look at attendees’ requests, where potential guests reside, exhibitor recommendations and our own personal tastes.  Trust me, there are a few creators I’d LOVE to have as future guests.  I’ve already had some of my own personal creative heroes at the show and it feels good to see the attendees share my feelings.
Getting a commitment from a guest to be at your comicon is a great feeling for sure.  Sometimes it takes a planetary alignment to make it happen.  Deadlines, families, health, prior commitments and a host of other factors go into a potential guest’s decision.  And, in the end, the potential guest doesn’t even owe you an explanation of why they will or will not commit to being a guest at your comicon.  Accept and respect that choice and move on.  There’s always next year.
Obviously, based on your budget, only so many guests can be flown in from points across the country or even the globe.  Because some flights will cost more than others, you will eat into your budget accordingly.  One guest may cost you the same amount as two or three if they are overseas or based in an area not served by a major transportation hub.  That doesn’t mean you need to shy away from those types of guests.  It means you need to really consider how it impacts your guest list.  Keep in mind, just because you cannot afford a certain guest this year doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future.  As your comicon grows, your budget for guests will grow with it.
Another possible expense to consider when planning out your guest budget is appearance fees.  Some guests ask for or require a fee on top of their airfare and hotel.  These fees can be small, but sometimes they can be rather large.  Regardless of what the reason is for requesting the fee, they absolutely have the right to do so.  There is nothing wrong with asking for it and there is nothing wrong with paying it.  The choice lies in the show runner to weigh the extra expense that could come at the expense of two, three or even more guests.  There is no right or wrong answer here.  You do what you feel is best for your comicon.  At LBCHC we choose to not go for the appearance fee.  Sometimes it stings.  I had a guest that is on my personal favorites list for years that we couldn’t bring out this year because the appearance fee, while modest, was an impact on our budget.
There’s one last expense to think about when you talk about your guest list budget.  It isn’t really an obvious one, too.  Most guests will want to have a table in Artist Alley to spend their time at and be able to interact with their fans, sell their artwork, comics, graphic novels and more.  Those tables aren’t free.  Every table you assign to a guest means one less table you can sell.
It’s definitely something you need to take into consideration.  Not only from the monetary aspect, but from a simple inventory aspect as well.  If you have 50 tables, sell 35 and assign 20 to guests you just oversold your space by 5 tables.  If you can’t adjust the Floor Plan to include more tables, what do you do?  Not a fun problem to deal with, but one you must address nonetheless.  This is why I always tell everyone that asks about the Floor Plan at LBCHC that it is fluid and sometimes slight changes may pop up to accommodate building the best show possible for attendees, exhibitors and show management.
That said, very often the city you are hosting your comicon in has plenty of creators who would love to come join you for your comicon.  Do some research, talk to the guests you have booked already, talk to your exhibitors and discover what creative talent is local.  More often than not you will find a stable of amazing creators just waiting to be invited to your comicon, meet fans, sell some products and have a great time.
With hard work and some creative thinking you can really build a great guest list that attendees and exhibitors alike will be interested in.  As the years go by it will get easier and your contacts list will grow, but you’ll likely never stop being excited when you get a commitment from a guest.  Always an awesome feeling.

Comments and questions are encouraged either below in the comments section or via twitter.

-scig
@mikescigliano

ComiCON-versation Column Archive

Comments

  1. Al™ says:

    Interesting topic. When we discuss the budget limitations of having guests, and giving up potential table rental revenue, it gets very real and businesslike.

    In that vein, maybe someone will answer some questions:
    How does it generally work with big and medium name guests: does the venue get a commission on sketch fees?

    Can a guest artist work out of his hotel room to do commission drawings after hours?

    Are they expected to appear a certain number of hours per day in order to earn their fee?

    What about their expectations in terms of accommodation and meals, wine, etc?

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    Do the publishers ever bring in their own talent? Do they co-op with a show, paying part of the cost?

    Do you have guests who return to your show, paying for a booth or table, because they enjoyed the show and made a profit on their guest table?

    Do you use the guest tables to entice people to artists alley? C2E2 placed the big names on the end corners due for better line management, which I think also enticed people to wander further down the aisle to the lesser known creators.

  3. Al – Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. It’s a real business situation on all ends. For creators very often a comicon is a money making event. Why give up a weekend of work time if you aren’t going to make money another way, ya know?

    As for how it generally works, any creator who is a guest of the show is as important as creator who buys a table, no matter if they are an industry vet or it’s their first comicon. That said, we expect zero back in revenue. Every dollar earned is the creators. I don’t know of any show that does otherwise. The only thing we will ever ask, at this is at the creator’s discretion, is a donation for our art auction. Proceeds are split between charity and our guest budget. It helps stretch it out a little bit more and bring in some extra guests that the budget alone wouldn’t be able to accommodate. Many shows do the same thing. it’s smart business on both ends of the table, so to speak.

    Many creators will bring their commission list back to their hotel room at night to make sure they can maximize the amount of work and thus revenue to can generate.

    At LBCHC we expect each artist alley exhibitor to spend as much time as humanly possible at their tables. An exceptionally high percentage do just that and end up doing better, revenue wise, for it.

    Thanks for the comments and questions, Al!

    -scig!

  4. Torsten – Good questions.

    Some publishers will be very proactive and work with us when building our guest list. In some instances they will pay the expense of a guest or two. Sometimes we’ll work with a publisher and cooperatively share expenses on a guest. And there are instances where publishers will suggest a guest or we will be interested in bringing in a guest and they will facilitate the situation. Suggest to the creator to say yes, provide space at their booth for them, promote their appearance with marketing or exclusive materials.

    We work hard with our exhibitors to come up with plans that will be beneficial to both parties.

    Guests certainly return to the show year after year. I had a first time guest in 2011 confirm they wanted to return in 2012 an hour into the first day of the show. I’ve had guests who had been comped a table as part of being a guest at the show return the next year and buy a table as my budget had been tapped out. they did so well that first year that footing a bill on a table [they are local] wasn’t even a worry. I hope that answers your question.

    Finally, your last question is very important. It’s actually a topic for an entire column. Placement. Placement is a very KEY aspect to a successful comicon. You don’t want lines choking out other creators but you don’t want a spot of slow traffic either. I spread the established industry vets all over my artist alley floor plan. The goal is to create nice traffic flow that allows attendees to browse, walk, look around, stop and chat and go from a big name to a relatively unknown and be blown away by both experiences.

    I’ve been to shows where all the established names were bunched together. In the end it caused so many headaches and was always unsuccessful. Reed has a number of years of learning experiences behind them. Couple that with a very smart move of hiring the right consultants to teach and advise them in the aspects of the industry, such as artist alley placement, and look at the success they have build in NY & Chicago. It didn’t happen by accident. It’s great to see how far they have come since NYCC Year One. Greg, Lance, Larry and many more have done a really good job building a very profitable show on both sides of the table.

    Thanks Torsten,

    -scig!

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