Welcome to SPRING!!!
Next weekend will find me and a host of other artists, professionals, and thousands of fans attending the Spectrum Live! and Planet Comicon convention in Kansas City to celebrate the culture of fantastic arts, comics, and pop culture. That Saturday night during the con, the winners of the Spectrum Awards will be announced at the lively and entertaining Folly Theater! It is a wonderful historical venue to host this prestigious ceremony.
Over the past 20 years I have attended and participated in nearly one hundred various events, from the San Diego Comic-Con (THE comic-con) to the World Science Fiction Convention, to Magic tournaments in Moscow, to small cons at colleges, and to signing at mom and pop game shops. I think I’ve experienced everything the field and genre has to offer in the range of events, and thought I would share a few ideas on why I have continued to participate in various levels of gatherings to this day.
Basically I feel there are four factors how I assess any given event – sales, education, marketing/reputation development, and community building. I have come at this approach because I could spend every weekend, month after month, traveling to one show after another. And while that may be fun for a while (as long as it remained profitable), I have business obligations back in the studio and a family, and other interests, I like to spend my time upon. Thus it is both smart for personal and business reasons to objectively assess each event and determine if I should, and want, to attend.
Let me state that first and foremost, rising above all of these factors, is that I am a FAN of the genre. I would go to EVERY event if I could!
It is so cool connecting with people, discussing common interests, and commiserating deep into the night. I love these art forms, I love telling stories through this medium, and its strings reach deep into the core of my being. Thus take everything I say here with that in mind. If you are not already a fan, then reasons for attending most events will lack justification, making them seem useless and a waste of time.
By the nature that I have fun at nearly anything I do and any where I go, I have to make travel/event choices based upon sound, objective business driven factors. These four issues – sales, education, marketing/reputation development, and community building – are what my evaluations are focused upon, and may drive your own if you go to events as well. Mostly I am looking to attend events which have at least two to three of these factors as strengths, outside of that only extenuating personal circumstances will likely get me to attend (a family member living nearby, a museum I haven’t seen, etc).
Onto the assessments.
Pretty straight forward, this is how likely I can retail my work at a show/event. You can nearly ALWAYS sell something, but the issue here is just how much and of what quality are those sales? Am I moving drawings, paintings, original works, or is this a place where lower retail hits better, prints, books, playmats, small collectables? Am I making possible return customers, or are these just vanity, opportunistic sales which could have easily been made by another vender occupying my booth space?
I consider all of these opportunities and rate an event accordingly. A strong lower retail event may be great for the immediate pocket, but an event where I am moving originals typically has ‘deeper’ potential connections for return customer relationships. Again, this could vary my assessment if that low retail sales environment was in an intense genre fan event. Sales are also how most inexperienced artists solely evaluate a show – how much cash they walk home with. While it can be a critical factor, it is by far not the most important one.
What are the opportunities here to expand my knowledge base and grow as an artist and person? Are there seminars, demonstrations, workshops? Any break out skill development side events? Business lectures or presentations by other professional artists, writers, industry professionals which may provide insights on any number of issues, known and unknown? Aspects of the event which will allow me to grow artistically? Education is a factor a bit easier to assess, as many events will list programming, guests, workshops, etc, weeks and months in advance and allow you potential staging for structure interactions.
3. Marketing/Reputation Development
This is the hardest factor to get a grasp of, yet can be the most important issue for me in why I travel to an event. It also has the vaguest parameters – for how do you judge effectiveness of marketing? There is the old adage that 50% of all marketing dollars are wasted, you just don’t know which 50% that is… Do you evaluate right at the end of the show, or three months later when an email shows up for an inquiry/commission? Or two years later when a fan becomes a collector?
Basically I evaluate an event here on the likely size and character of their attendees. Is it a group of fans/people I have not made outreach to before? Are they interested in the genre and approaches I take in my art, will it appeal to them? Is it a professional show with a small attendance, but high percentage of industry represented? Are there art directors there, art collectors, or people I would like to work for? Or is it so massive, that I can reach thousands of fans, many likely new, over one weekend?
It is this factor which requires the greatest long term commitment and can result in the greatest career pay-off.
4. Community Building
This is the real fun part of any convention, hanging out with friends and peers, old and new, pros and fans, as you share and build the world together. These are the people you will see again and again over the years, some frequently, others maybe just once, but you typically all have a high degree of common ground which brought you together at this event. Find out what that is and you will increase the likelihood you may return and/or cross the paths of these peers again and call them friends!
Far too often I see the stresses and weight of sales and marketing burn people out from events and participation in the genre, at the expense of the other two. I understand it. Many people want to make events a financial success, they may be depending upon. But remember that these other factors are at play as well, and can lead to successful business strategies at nearly the same level of returns.
You need not spend thousands to set up and host a booth at a major show to reap the rich benefits offered by that event. Understanding the range of possibilities offered for career development and advancement will allow you to better assess the reasons why you may and should attend any particular gathering.
You will also enjoy the experience of a gathering on a much deeper and pleasurable level.
Best of luck at your future events!