October 26, 2012

Accommodating Your Guests… The Late Request

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to cons I’ve been involved with.  You have your guest list mostly developed.  You’ve got folks from various genres scheduled to attend the con.  Much of your budget is allocated... then it happens… one of your guests writes with a “special request.”
Never mind that your guest policy is clearly spelled out on your website.  Forget the fact that you have exchanged a number of emails, and even had the guest sign a contract that specially defines what the each party’s responsibilities are for the con.  The guest has blind-sided you with something that had not previously been discussed.
Many times, these requests are things like the guest needs 4 passes for some friends that are in area.  The friends aren’t fans, so the guest didn’t expect them to attend, and as such didn’t ask for comps before now.  Another example would be, (this one really happened) the guest just noticed the hotel is pet friendly and has severe pet allergies. Can you put them up in the hotel down the street?
So, what do you?
Many con-runners first inclination is to either to say “no” without any real thought process other than, “It’s against our policy,” or to immediately say “yes” for fear of losing the guest. 
My suggestion is that the best course of action is somewhere in the middle.
So, how do you get to the middle ground?
First, try to avoid “group think” on the ConCom.  This is usually where hasty decisions originate. 
Second, slow down your process.  I can’t stress this part enough.  Slow down.  Breathe.
The next thing you should do is to contact the guest for more information.  A phone call works best for this (avoid using email if at all possible).  Try to find out where this request is coming from and exactly what it means to the guest.  Also, how does it affect them being a guest?
Once you are armed with as much information as possible, tell the guest you will see what you can do about accommodating them and let them know you will get back with them after you’ve had some time to discuss it with the committee.
Again, don’t get in a rush to answer this request.
There are several things you should consider, including:
1.    Does this request destroy your budget completely?
2.    What are the long-term PR ramifications of a negative response? (Keep in mind, guests use social media too.)
3.    How reasonable is the guest’s request?
4.    If the guest doesn’t attend, will it affect your paid attendance?
5.    Do you ever want to have the guest back at the convention in the future?
6.    Is there an alternative solution that will work just as well for the guest?
There are other things to consider of course, but the main point here is to try to look at the request from the guest’s perspective and balance that with the need to maintain the con’s long-term health.
Once you’ve made your decision, contact the guest to let them what you’ve decided.  Again, this is best done by phone, but I’d also follow it up with an email, just so it’s in writing. 
If the answer is not positive for the guest, try to be as sympathetic as you can.  Let them know you have looked at it from every angle you could come up with, but you just can’t work it out in your budget.  This may not prevent the guest from trashing your con all over the internet, but it will certainly lessen the chance that they do.  If the convention has made an honest attempt to help out the guest, that’s really all you can do.
Okay, that’s it.  As usual, feel free to comment/ask questions.
Oh, and keep an eye out for a future guest blog. Everette Beach informed me that he is close to finishing a post on Auctions.

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