June 28, 2011


Woo boy. Marketing a SF con. Let me start by saying, it’s hard.  The first thing you have to do is to be able to interact with other people.  Well, maybe it’s not the first thing, but it is kind of necessary.  I’ll explain why when we get to face-to-face promotions.  Unlike my previous posts, I’m going to break this topic up into smaller segments where I introduce various subtopics.

Okay, this seems pretty simple, but you really need a website before creating just about anything other part of your advertising.  The reason is simple enough, all printed materials need to have your web address on them. 

When it comes to web design, one of the pitfalls I have seen far too often is webmasters spending more time on “bells and whistles” than functionality.  For a website to be functional, it needs to be informational and easy to navigate.  My suggestion is to let someone not familiar with your con take your website for a test run.  Can they easily find what they want to know?  If so, you’ve been successful.

For content, you need to put everything that you, and everyone you know, can come up with about your con on your website.  Really, everything.  I’m not kidding you.  You would be surprised the questions I’ve gotten over the years about topics not covered on the website.  To get you started, however, I’ll shorten the list a bit.  Make sure that you answer the following questions:  What, when, where, who and how much?  Be careful, the “who” part is a bit tricky because it’s really “who are your guests and other program participants,” and “who is running this con? “ You need to answer both of those. 

Side note: If you can find a copy of Roger Black’s Web Sites That Work, I recommend reading it.  I have seen it on Amazon, so maybe you could start looking there.

Flyers are like small versions of your website.  Their sole function is to be informational. Pursuant to that, they need to include the following items, at a minimum: convention name, dates, location, membership cost, hotel room cost, con website address and a contact phone number and email address.  I also recommend you have a list of the types of events you plan to hold, a list of all guests of honor (GoH), and a list of any other guests you feel might be a draw.

This next part seems like it should be obvious, but for some reason I still see cons violating this rule: your flyer needs to be easy to read.  Try to avoid creative details which might distract the reader.  For example, one mistake (that has fortunately become less common) is watermarks.  My suggestion is to avoid them, and anything else that makes the flyer hard to read.  
A final note on flyers, most people will only look at them for about 3 seconds before deciding if they are interested in knowing more about your con.  You need to make sure your top selling point is the first thing they see.

Online Advertising
You cannot over publicize your convention.  Make sure you have listings on all of the major social media sites.  Also, make sure you hit every con listing website you can find.  In the southeast, one place everyone seems to visit is the Southern Fandom Resource Guide.  I believe there are similar listings for other parts of the country/world… find them.

Now that you’re listed, you need to learn the following phrase, “push advertising.”  Place a link to some sort of email list (Google, Yahoo, whatever) on your website.  Anyone who signs up is asking you to send them updates.  Do so.  You can also do the same thing with several of the social media sites.  Try using their direct mail feature as well.

Face-to-Face Advertising 
Now we get into one of the older traditions in fandom, marketing your con at other conventions/events.  Step one is to ask the host convention for a fan table.  Once they agree to that, you will need flyers and a tri-fold board.  The board is a static version of your website.  It needs the same information on it you have on your flyers… plus pictures.  In place of (or possibly in addition to) the tri-fold board, you can use a computer and a PowerPoint slide show.  I personally prefer the board, however, as it doesn’t change slides when someone is in the middle of reading it.

Remember when I said you needed to be able to interact with people?  Well, here’s the first point where that comes in.  When manning your table, avoid this common mistake: sitting behind your table.  Do not sit behind your table!  I suggest getting out from behind your table and engaging people as they walk past.  You want to be friendly and say, “Hi,” introduce yourself and your con, get a flyer in their hands, and ask if you can answer any questions.  You might even suggest they attend the party.

Party, you ask?  What party?  The answer is, your party.  That’s right, you’re throwing a party.  Preferably on Saturday night of each con you attend before your convention.  

For the party you will need munchies, soft drinks and alcohol.  Don’t drink?  Find a friend who does, so that they can help you run the party.  Speaking of friends helping, you will need 4-5 of them to pull off a good party.  You will need one person at the door checking IDs/badges, one person tending the bar, one person keeping the food and soft drinks in stock and at least two people pushing your con.  This last part is the entire reason you’re throwing the party, so use the time wisely. 
I have thrown my share of parties over the years and one suggestion I found very helpful (can’t remember who told me to do this) was to have our folks rotate jobs about every hour or so.  This really helps keep everyone from getting bored or tired.

One last note on parties, assuming you have enough people to help run your party, I suggest each person take some time and visit the other parties at the con… it’s the polite thing to do.  Besides, you might be able to advertise your con while you’re out “roaming the hallways.”

* * *
Okay, that concludes Marketing Strategies for SF Cons.  As always, I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of stuff, but I’m discovering that you just can’t get everything into a single blog.  If you can think of something I’ve missed, ask me about it in the comments section.


  1. For the website, it also needs to be regularly updated. It's no good to have a convention website that's static for the six months leading up to the con, with almost no guests listed and no reason for your potential members to shell out however much money to attend your event.

  2. In the past I have ran Marketing for several conventions. James missed a big topic. Advertising in other Contention Program Books. Now here you need to be a little savvy. Swapping ads with a convention that is two months after your con is ok for you and GREAT for them. Not every con is a great place to place or swap ads with. If you are a lit con that has no Anime why advertise at the Anime con with 6,000 attendees?
    When looking to place your ad in a program book look at;
    1) Does your convention appeal to their audience?
    2) If they came would you make them welcome?
    3) Is the timing of their convention well suited for your convention?
    4) Is it geographically suited for you?

    1) Does your convention appeal to their audience?
    Your convention ad should be targeted to the people attending the convention. One Convention Ad does not fit all people. If you are a general convention marketing to a Gaming Con feature the Gaming Track. Who is running the gaming track and whom is sending representatives to your convention. IF your gaming coordinator is known in the community he can be a draw. Tell people how to volunteer to run games. Are you running any tourneys? Then go into the general information about the con. A gamer may be more interested in hearing Steve Jackson will give a lecture about how to design and market a game, then Toni will be giving the Baen slideshow.

    2) If they came would you make them welcome?
    When they get there, deliver. Have the track to support their interest. Make them welcome. I have seen a con invite Voltaire and then treated the NEW people who came to see him as nice kids that need grow up and wash their face. (Lost a lot of future growth that weekend, they did.) Saw a con invite musicians from the Ren Faire to perform 2 weeks after Faire Closed and lots of Rennies came and treated the con like Relaxacon. The rennies found the panels boring and they did not appeal to their interest. So the con com got indignant about the rennies not attending the panels. So the rennies took their money out of the con and went elsewhere for their relaxacon. (Remember the idea is to run a convention that people want to attend. So it needs to be fun for you to do and fun for them to enjoy. Cons die when the con-com only looks at their interest.)

    3) Is the timing of their convention well suited for your convention?
    Convention Program Book ads are most effective when they are 3 - 4 months away. Most people who attend conventions, make plans 3 or 4 months out. So a convention that is 6 months out would be more likely to swap ads then one that is 2 months before your convention. In Michigan they have 3 general sci fi cons in Jan, May and Oct. What they do is 3 way ad swaps. Everyone swaps ads with each others. This keeps the cons freash in peoples minds. If you are advertising your con in a convention like this, you might want to consider "buzz talking" your last con.
    "Con X would like to thank everyone for coming and meeting the cast of "Dr. Horrible" The cast really liked judging the Karaoke contest of the Musical.
    - - - - - -
    This year we will be featuring
    Peter Mayhew aka Chewbacca will be leading a Chorus Line of the 501st at opening ceremonies and Tim aka Dr. Frank-N-Furter will be judging the Saturday Night Karaoke Featuring the music of Rocky Horror!
    Come join us at....

    4) Is it geographically suited for you?
    This is not as obvious as it seems. North Carolina and Tennessee are neighbors but from one end of I-40 to another is a 14 hour drive. And lets not forget snowstorms, an avalanche closed the freeway not that long ago(Jan 2010). Are there annual things like closing the I-64 bridge in WV for bungie jumping that will affect travel? Yet some cons like DDXP in Fort Wayne, IN, Penguicon and World Steam Expo in Detroit, DragonCon in Atlanta, Herocon in Charolette and the San Diego Comic Con to name just a few, have national and international draw. Perhaps these will tie in well for your convention.

  3. I probably missed more than one big topic. As someone who handled Marketing and created the Program Book for more 10+ years, you'd think I'd have covered that, huh?

    NIce job, btw.

  4. ConCarolinas, in Charlotte, had people from as far away as Arizona, Illinois and Germany this year. People will travel to a con they are interested in. Having said that, it makes more sense for us to advertise at D*C, Shore Leave, Chattacon and so forth than to hit NorWesCon.

    We also do banner exchanges with other conventions. Those cost next to nothing but the time it takes to contact another con and ask.

    As for timing, it depends on what the event is, but if it's a regular event, even a month after your last con is not too early. Likewise, 3 months after your con is not too late. StellarCon, for instance, is in early March, but they advertise in our program, which doesn't come out until our con in late May/early June.