Just last week I returned from a whirlwind trip to San Diego to attend my fifth Comic-Con International. While some people may assume Comic-Con is intended for a niche, offbeat crowd, the truth is very different: it has something for everyone. From major movie studios to fan-driven panels, from comic book fanatics to serious gamers, both the content and the audience are as varied as can be. Going to Comic-Con has become a sort of pilgrimage for fans of all sorts of entertainment.
View of the San Diego Convention Center in the early morning light.
As a PR professional who has worked my fair share of conferences, it’s a whole different experience going to a con for fun and just being one of the 130,000 people milling about the event. My PR hat is always on though, and I never leave without a few lessons learned.
- Exclusives matter, but value trumps all: Comic-Con is FOMO incarnated to me. The event is filled with lottery systems (for badges to attend the con, to get autographs, to buy exclusive merchandise, etc.), long lines of people hoping to get into particular panels, and exclusive content and products only available to a lucky few. After waiting for hours – or even days – in line, fans want their dedication to be worth it. The same goes for journalists. Reporters are hooked by things they find unique and/or relatable, but it truly must be worth their while to pick one story over another. Don’t make anyone feel like they’ve wasted their time, and always show you’re grateful for their effort.
Misha Collins from Supernatural visits the Hall H line to see fans, thank them for waiting in line and give out snacks.
- Spokespeople’s performances are critical: Fans are hungry to get the latest scoop on what’s next. But teasing anything can be tricky. It is like conducting a pre-brief with a huge audience and no embargo. Panelists must come prepared and answer questions thoughtfully in a way that won’t spoil anything, but also leaves the audience satisfied and excited. No one likes when an actor just keeps deferring to the producer and never answers a question (or an executive to the PR team!). Inspiring excitement and anticipation requires a personal commitment to knowing the subject matter and what the audience wants.
Writer/director/producer Joss Whedon addresses fan questions during a Q&A panel.
- Things will go awry, but the con goes on: At Comic-Con – as in life – nothing is guaranteed to go as planned. Waiting in line for six hours on Friday night to get into a panel on Saturday does not mean you’ll get in. A breakdown in communication could mean people in charge of managing a line send hundreds of people to the wrong area to wait. But things must be sorted out no matter what issues arise. Know your goal, but have your contingency plans thought out. Also, make sure you’re communicating regularly with everyone else involved so people get back on the same page.
Looks like Loki has a backup plan if ruling Asgard doesn’t work out.
- Everyone has a passion: Everybody is passionate about something different – and that’s what makes life interesting. Even at Comic-Con, each person is there for their own particular reason. Someone may be dressed as a zombie headed to the Walking Dead panel, or swooning in Hall H over Justin Timberlake or Benedict Cumberbatch, or in deep discussions about the upcoming Harry Potter book. No matter the fandom, the camaraderie forged with strangers at Comic-Con is built on passion. Be willing to inquire about others’ and open to sharing your own. Geeking out together – even if it’s about totally different things – can bring about great things.
’til next year Comic-Con!