December 31, 2011

Relationship building

Today I’m going to present a short, but necessary, blog on building and maintaining relationships.

One of the key ingredients to any successful business is relationship building.  To do that effectively, you must know how to approach your “customers” (ie. fandom).  Individuals in fandom often respond best to people who are sincerely interested in knowing their point of view.   Approach them with open ears and an open mind.  Understand that you are more likely to hear complaints, rather than compliments, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Try not to take their criticism personally, and further understand that arguing with them will only cause problems.  Anyone willing to provide criticism probably wants to see the convention succeed.  This means you are working towards a common goal.  Just keep track of their comments, and any promises you make, so that other members of the staff can be properly informed. 
On the topic of promises, try only to commit to things you are 100 percent certain you can achieve.  It’s best to be completely honest with people and disappoint them, than it is to make promises you can’t keep.
Once you have an established relationship, you need to make sure you maintain it.  This means you need to be careful not to take their attendance for granted.  This is easier for new convention than it is for long standing ones.  Long standing cons have histories than can span years, or even decades.  You need to be familiar with your con’s history and the dynamics surrounding what’s happened.  A well-known, ancient proverb states that, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  (At least that’s the version I’m familiar with.)  I know of one example of a convention having spent a very long time working with a specific fan group to make the con interesting to that group.  Ten years later, the staff had changed over and no one currently working on the con understood the history of the con and the fan group.  Today the convention finds itself hearing the same complaints the con heard a decade earlier.
If there has been a loss of knowledge over the years, you need to educate yourself in the con’s history.  It might sound daunting, but it’s not.  There’s usually some “old timer” who’s willing to share stories.  There is value in listening to those stories, but do not take those stories on face value.  Instead, take those stories as a first step.  The next thing you should do is seek out other view points from other fans that were present at the time in question.  Merge what you hear and try to get a clearer picture of the dynamics that were at work at the time.
To summarize, be honest, get input, and learn your con’s history.

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