Gathering Bid Advice
With the con right around the corner, people probably have attending the Gathering on their mind more than running one. But if you're thinking about submitting a bid in future years, now is a good time to start looking into what it takes. If you aren't already familiar with what it takes to run a Gathering, here are some things you may want to consider.
1) Introspection; a step that is often skipped. Stop for a moment. Why do you want to host, or be on staff for, a convention? Do you have any knowledge of, experience with, or contacts that make you suitable for a specific position? Does your career and lifestyle allow for you to donate enough of your time to the project- is this really something you can commit 18 months of your life to?
It's a year of hard work and a weekend of even harder work; it may be your party, but when you're the host you rarely get a break to dance. You've got to stay and watch the punch bowl, as it were. All of your staff does- nobody who signs up should expect that their job will be "over with" by the time of the con, and that they can slip back into the role of attendee with nary a care. Oh no, you'll all be toting boxes, stuffing con packets, escorting guests and missing the Radio Play to set up for Banquet...or any variation there of. Still want to do it? Are you sure? Well, if you think you are ready, its time to move on to the more concrete aspects.
2) Location. If you are planning to host a con in your city, what about your location makes you feel it would be a good place to bring the Gathering to? How are the hotels in your area? Do you have a specific one or several choices in mind to possibly host the Gathering at, and have you had a chance to really look at how suitable their facilities are for the convention's needs? What other attractions are in the area?
3) Mode. What sort of convention do you want to run? One focused on Panels and Discussions, or more of a laid back "relaxa-con" where fans can get together and chat amongst themselves? Do you want to put emphasis on your Art Show or Dealer's Room, assuming you choose to have either? Any Special Events in mind? Going to arrange an X-treme advertising campaign? Lots of contests? Have separate adult or children's programming? You don't need the details yet, just ideas, and be aware that you have *choices*. Sometimes when running a convention, less can be more.
4) Co-conspirators. If you don't already have a staff in mind, or already agreed to join you, now is the time to start looking around for them. Now that you know what sort of con you want to run, you can figure out what positions you need. You don't need all of them filled before you bid for the con, but it might make things easier for you, and keep you from having to take over a role yourself if you cannot find someone to do it after your staff is already committed to hosting the Gathering. These people should also be able to help you sound out your plans, and give advice on things like choosing your hotel. It helps to have someone at your side whom you can turn to and say, "well, what do you think?" and get an honest, grounded answer.
Gathering Bid Advice, cont.
5) Hotel. First off, do you already know your convention's hotel needs? A realistic idea of how many attendees (and staff, and guests, and dealers) your convention is likely to have? How many rooms you need total, for what days, and of what size? If you've decided to go for a more laid-back con with a lighter schedule, you'll have less going on at the same time, which means you may be able to drop entire rooms. Less event rooms needed = more money saved, that can perhaps be spent in other areas, like more guests and better advertising. It helps to go into your hotel searching with an idea of your spatial needs in mind, so you don't wind up spending money on rooms during days you do not need them. It follows that if your convention's pre-registration booms, you might want to arrange for more events, and thus an extra room for just one or two of your convention dates.
If you come up with several hotels that all fit your convention's physical needs and are offering comparable room rates for both the event and sleeping rooms, how do you decide which to go with? Some aspects to consider are: How close the hotel is to places to eat, how close is it to the airport and is there shuttle service, how much parking costs and can you arrange for it to be free for your attendees. How does the hotel staff seem to feel about having your con at their hotel- psyched? Worried you'll all be crazy? Are they looking down their nose at the idea, or used to having this sort of convention in equal or larger sizes? What kind of events do they usually host, and is the con likely to be on the same weekend as those events? What other facilities does the hotel offer- pools, internet access, exercise rooms, etc? Remember, you don't want a pit, but you don't need a fancy place to have a good convention. Try to balance the number of stars you'd like with what your average attendee can afford. Check online ratings and stay in the place yourself before signing any paperwork. Perhaps you already have the perfect hotel in mind. In which case, you'd better check and see what dates their convention spaces are free for, and make sure you find one that coincides with the dates you'd prefer to have your convention. It's not really a perfect hotel if their event facilities are booked up solid for the summer.
6) Budget. You need to make one. Do you have a frame of reference for how much the con is going to cost, and how much the Gathering typically brings in from sales of registrations, shirts, and other merchandise? How to tell if your hotel options selections have reasonable event room prices? Do you know how much should you charge for each to make sure you cover your costs, where the money comes from and what the money is usually spent on? The simplified breakdown of it is this. Things you spend money on: Hotel Event Rooms, Banquet, Guests, Advertising, Production/Acquiration cost for Merchandise/ Fundraising/ Auction items, and all your "Incidentals" (which covers everything from the food in the consuite, to the production of con booklets and badges, to banking fees, to the renting of A/V equipment.) Then there are Things you (hopefully) make money from: Registration Fees, Banquet Tickets, Space sold in the Dealer's Room and Art Room (as well as the percentage the con takes off of sold artwork), Selling of Ad Space in the con booklet if there is one, Merchandise (t-shirts, anthologies, calendars, pins, etc.) and the Auction- if the proceeds go to the con and not to a charity.
Gathering Bid Advice, cont.
Do a little research, a little math, and keep to the realistic side when guessing attendee numbers. Remember, you only have the money brought in by pre-registration and merchandise sale throughout the year to count on; money made over the con weekend from walk-ins, the art show, auction, etc. is a) not going to come in time to allow you to have that money in hand to spend on brining additional guests to your convention, and b) varies a lot from year to year, convention to convention, and there is no way to predict how much the weekend itself will bring in. Pre-registration (paying attendees who registered prior to the con weekend only, not guests, dealers, supporting memberships, walk-in attendees, or staff) numbers for the last four years were 2003: 121 .....2004: 128.....2005:136 ....2006:164 . (sources: The 2004 numbers are from lists of names of pre-registrants printed in each year's convention booklet, the 2003and 2005 numbers are from the pre-registration lists for those years, and 2006 from the numbered list of names they had sitting out for pre-registered attendees to sign when they received their con packets.) A couple extra points- not every attendee is going to buy merchandise, and most of the cost of each banquet ticket is going to go to paying for the banquet.
Now that you have an idea of what you are getting into, people to help you, and a few good hotels to choose from, you need to put your actual bid together. Obviously you don't want to be signing hotel contracts or making fliers until you have actually won the bid. Bid requirements sometimes change from year to year, and this year's can be found here. Other things you'll need to consider eventually if you get the bid (and it won't hurt any to think about them prior to winning):
7) Banking. Before you take in registrations, you need to set up a bank account; obviously the fans won't be making out their checks to your name. Due to the limited number of fans the Gathering tends to attract, getting a merchant Paypal account to accept credit card payments will cost you less than arranging a separate way to run credit cards, even though the rates are higher.
8) Guests. Unless you are running a convention in Los Angeles or quite nearby to it, you're only going to be able to afford between two and four guests; having to pay for air fair, ground transportation, and hotel rooms in addition to per diems for your guests really takes a bite out of the Gathering's treasury. The Special Guest lists for the non-California based Gatherings are as follows: 1997: Greg Weisman, and Keith David as a surprise guest...1998: Greg Weisman....1999: Greg Weisman and Thom Adcox...2000: Greg Weisman, Thom Adcox, Vic Cook, and Greg Guler...2002: Greg Weisman and Greg Guler...2003: Greg Weisman, Thom Adox, Vic Cook, with Nichelle Nichols visiting for the banquet...2004: Greg Weisman and Keith David...2005: Greg Weisman, Thom Adcox, Dave Shwartz, and Dennis Woodyard.
When considering your options for guests to invite, try to view it from the perspective of what the guest will bring to the convention, not only in their ability to attract fans who want to meet them but what part of the programming they can participate in. Could they present an art or writing based discussion or workshop? Might they have any non-career related hobbies they might want to host a panel on in addition to Gargoyles-based programming? Who hasn't the con had in a while, or ever?
Gathering Bid Advice, cont.
9 ) Schedule and Presenters. The schedule will develop throughout the year, and change quite a bit in the months leading up to the convention, but it is never too early to start thinking up events you'd like to include and asking around to see who would be willing to help host them. Maybe there is some main event or theme you'd like to have as the centerpiece to your convention. Remember what you were leaning for when you considered #3, mode. If you are having a laid-back convention you'll want to go lighter on the scheduling. Keep in mind that people need time to move around, drop off stuff in their room, grab a snack or a bathroom break between panels when it does become time to come up with a layout for your schedule; for most of the convention year, a list and descriptions of all the panels you have confirmed so far, as well as start and end times for the overall convention, are all you are really going to need. Since things change so much over the year, anyone basing their attendance around a specific panel or event given at a time in a preliminary schedule is likely going to find that time has changed by the time the con comes around and any plans they had which relied on that panel being at that time are going to be chucked out the window anyway.
If you don't have ideas in mind for good panels, ask around, look at event lists from previous years, find out what panels usually go over well, which events haven't been held in a while that look ready for revival, and think about ideas that have never been done at the Gathering before that might go over well. Ask around the fandom if anyone has an idea that they would like to host, but don't rely solely on fans coming to you. A lot of people don't want to put themselves forward when it comes to being a panelist, and most are flattered when you go out of the way to ask if they'd be interested in helping with something that is right up their ally. If you think a panel ought to have multiple presenters and you've asked around already, make sure that each co-panelist knows who is slated to host with them, so they don't show up thinking they are going to be running the whole thing by themself and have arranged a lecture or demo accordingly.
10) Advertising. Probably the most underrated aspect of the convention, and the one that falls most to the wayside when it ought to be carried as a banner, no pun intended. Greg Weisman's most recent catch-phrase has been "spread the word". Disney is not going to put any more money into advertising the comic than it did the DVDs, and the fandom knows how little they did for that. The very fact that Disney sent a small crew to tape at the 2004 Gathering as a special feature to put on the first season DVD came as an extreme shock to all of us. But anyone who thought that said featurette would bring in scads of new attendees to the convention was proven sadly mistaken, and we once again find ourselves back to the old adage "if you want something done, you've got to do it yourself."
The three top reasons advertising has on occasion been overlooked at the Gatherings are a) Awareness. Unless someone has already pounded the neccessity of it into your head, you may not realize how important it is. After all, the fandom all already know about the convention, right? Perhaps, but that is the point of advertising - to get the word out to those who are not in the fandom, who do not already know about the convention.
Gathering Bid Advice, cont.
Reason b) is Money. Con Booklet Flier trades with other conventions, handing out fliers at cons or papering your city with them, the use of online promotional banners in blogs and as forum signatures...that is all well and good and should be a part of your advertising campaign, but it isn't enough. To get the widest exposure, you need to get con ads in magazines and newspapers, both online and off, and usually that is going to cost you a bit. Buying banner space on webcomic or five will bring your convention to the eyes of maybe a couple hundred new people in a day, and while some are cheap the ones with a bigger audience are likely to be correspondingly more expensive.
Then we have our last reason, c) Motivation. All that stuff in the last section about fliers and online banners? If it is only staff members doing it, it is not enough. You need to encourage every fan to get involved, to go out of their way to help spread the word about Gargoyles, whether it is about the convention, the DVD, the comic, or all three. Promotion of any of the three generally has a halo effect which helps the other two; people coming to the con will be exposed to the comic and have a chance to see what the DVD quality eps look like; encouraging people to peruse the comic and old episodes may revive their love of Gargoyles and peak their interest in a convention where they can meet other fans and some of the people who worked on the show. Remind people of why they love the show, and ask them to help remind others. The fans will be looking to the year's staff to lead the way; likely as not they won't go out and spread the word all on their own - without the staff to provide promotional material, most wouldn't know what to say.
And it's not just banners, or asking fans to help promote the convention: As staff, you have to continue to sell the convention to those already registered to attend. Not only will keeping the convention fresh in their minds make for a more fun year for everyone, it also might lead to registrants wanting to share the experience and talk their friends into registering. You want the fans to *want* to promote the convention. That means regular Public Updates, and while not much is resolved early on that you can give the fans concrete information about it- or not much that feels interesting or worth announcing- you have to do it anyway.
You don't need an excuse to address the fandom, but if you want one, contests are excellent in that capacity. Not only major ones like the T-shirt Design or Anthology, but little ones held once every three or four weeks just to keep interest going. Have a costume contest for Halloween with fans mailing in photos; have a "Gargoyles-style poetry" challenge in February. Come up with a half-dozen seasonal competitions, and have prizes for them that will make people decide they are definately worth participating in. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or expensive, just unusual or unique enough to grab people's attention. A special piece of convention merchandise that is limited in supply, going only to winners of contests throughout the year and on the weekend of the Gathering, perhaps. Keep discussions going on in your convention forums, even if they aren't related to the con or Gargoyles. Try to get discussions about the Gathering going in forums and comment rooms on other sites.
|Keep the ball rolling, and watch it pick up speed.|
Gathering Bid Advice, cont.
11) Dealers. If you've been planning your convention bid for a couple years, this ought to give you plenty of time to have gone around to local stores (Ren Faires and other Anime or Fur conventions are also a good place to check out dealers) and gauged interest in your convention. Who seems jazzed about it? Who is willing to spare a weekend and pay for space at your convention, with its expected attendance of less than 300? Convention Dealers often make plans a year or more into the future, so giving them an early heads-up of your intended dates could spell the difference. After you win your bid, go back and see who is willing to sign up for your con weekend, and who still "has to see" what their plans are like. Don't count those people out, but don't count on them either. You know how big your dealer's room is and how many spaces are available; it's better to fill it up with confirmations and have to turn people away- or look into moving to a larger room- than it is to have half a room of "maybes" fall through. If you intend to have a Dealer's room, start arranging for participants early; the earlier the better. Mind you, not every single Gathering has *had* a Dealer's Room, and while some fans have come to expect them there is nothing wrong with not having one, or just offering table space in the art room to fans who have things (like T-shirts or jewelry) to sell. It may even help channel money into art show, con merchandise and auction sales.
And if you've never hosted a Gathering, do you know do you find out what you need to know about any of the previous stuff?
Well, the Gathering's needs change from year to year, depending on what sort of convention is being run. The easiest way to find out what you need is to ask the people who have run it in the past. Go look up those hearty souls listed as staff for each Gathering year (here's a list of people who have been staff) and shoot them an email. Also, Lynati has been compiling information about the Gathering since 2003, and you might find the answers to some of your queries over at her Con Planning 101 website. (She is still soliciting feedback and input to make the site more inclusive, especially from those who have been con staff. Take a look, and if you have anything to add, contact her at Lynati_1@hotmail.com)
Think about what the previous conventions (facilities, schedules, organization, etc) have been like, what you liked about each and what you think ought to be handled differently. It is also a good idea to get on staff of a Gathering in a smaller role than convention chair, and see what it is like before you commit yourself to taking such a weight on your shoulders. Try to get such a position two years or more before your intended bid year, because you really want a year off between working on a Gathering if you decide to go through with your plans to enter a bid.
We hope all that advice helped you, and good luck!
Some Previous Gathering Staff Members (2001 to 2006)
|Jennifer "CrzyDemona" Anderson - Con Chair in 2001and 2006; Con Assistant and Head of Merchandise&Advertising in 2004. Vice Con Chair in 1999. email@example.com|
|Patrick "Puck" Toman - Vice Con Chair, Treasurer and Head of Registration in 2001 and 2006; Con Assistant and Merchandise Coordinator in 2003; Treasurer and Head of Registration in 2004. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Laurean "Siryn" Leigh - Con Chair in 2002, Volunteer Coordinator and Con Booklet layout in 2004, Web Master and Con Booklet layout in 2006. email@example.com|
|Karine "Kanthara" Charlebois - Con Chair in 2004, Volunteer Coordinator in 2006. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Chris Rogers - Con Chair and Hotel Liaison in 2005. Chris@servercave.com|
|Nikki "Y2Hecate" Owens - Con Chair in 2006. email@example.com|
|MAui - Vice Con Chair in 2002. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Rob "Talyesin" St.Martin - Vice Con Chair in 2004. email@example.com|
|Lanny "Spiritwolf" Fields - Vice Con Chair and Merchandise Coordinator in 2005. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Cindy "Eden" Kinnard - Art Show Coordinator in 2001 and 2004, Art Show and Masquerade Coordinator in 2006. email@example.com|
|Sarah "Dreamie" Walker - Art Show Head in 2003 and 2005. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Kathy Pogge - Convention Publicist and Volunteer Coordinator in 2001, Con Assistant and Head of Advertising in 2003 and 2005. email@example.com|
|Tim Morgan - Dealer's Room Coordinator in 2001 and 2006. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Alan "Winterwolf" D'Avonzo - Webmaster in 2003, Head of Dealer's Room in 2005. email@example.com|
|Christine Morgan - Contest and RPG Coordinator in 2001, Contest and Scheduling Coordinator in 2006. Editor for the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Fanwork Anthologies. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lynati - Head of Registration, Schedule and Volunteer Coordinating in 2003; all that plus co-Treasurer and Con Booklet layout in 2005. email@example.com|
|Kelly "Kya White Sapphire" Creighton - Art Show Head in 2002, contest consultant in 2005. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Seth "IRC Goliath" Jackson - Advertising Assistant in 2005, Head of Advertising in 2006. email@example.com|