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Publicity for Large SF Conventions - Thoughts

Rob Meades


I, the undersigned, do solemnly swear that the following are merely idle thoughts and I in no way implicate myself in any responsibility for the consequences of them.

Rob Meades


Introduction

After voicing some opinions on the matter, I was asked by John Stewart to set out my thoughts on what comprises publicity for a Worldcon. I have chosen to extend this to any large convention, and I think Eastercons would do well to pay more attention to their publicity efforts.

Having been involved in various bits of publications and the like, I know what stress is caused by deadlines, more specifically multiple deadlines just before a large convention. Publicity should be divorced from the panic and havoc which often results. What is more important (at least to me), on a personal level I am only prepared to take any part in work which can be considered a background task - my time is precious to me.

With that said, down to basics. What are the elements of publicity, how can its 'stamping ground' be defined and what interfaces need to be defined along its boundary?

What is publicity?

Publicity: n. Being open to general observation, notoriety; the business of advertising (goods or persons).

Brain storm: list the items or operations that form part of the business of advertising (goods or persons):

Flyers   Comics Restaurants
Posters   Catalogues Town Halls
Articles in:   TV Libraries
Newspapers Film Book marks  
Magazines Radio Hats  
Journals Bill boards Umbrellas  
Books Flags    
Comics T-shirts    
Radio Sweat-shirts    
Pens      
Mugs      
Advertisements in: Events at: Word of mouth  
Magazines Other conventions Buying people drinks  
Newspapers Book shops    
Journals Pubs Telephone Marketing  
Comics      
Books      

Not a very complete list, though still with some silly ideas. Also, a list that encompasses merchandising and a small part of publications as well. If publicity is as defined above (a very broad definition, I admit), then it either includes or has very close links with merchandising and publications.

Exotic stuff aside, the simple task of sending out a batch of flyers and posters to each book shop, library, SF group, etc. every month or two is a task that publicity should undertake. Publicity should also send press releases in order to engender some interest in articles and further hooks on which to hang advertising in the outside world. Publicity should be able to co-ordinate any interviews with the press, and ultimately run the press room at the convention. This should not bar anyone from speaking to the media if they get the chance, but if publicity is to be a coordinated effort it must be informed.

There are many other things to think about, next an attempt at defining the areas that publicity must deal with...

The Stamping Ground

Publicity must prepare and send flyers and posters to a mailing list of useful outlets at regular intervals. It must prepare and distribute press releases at key intervals. It must be in charge of preparation and placement of advertisements and assessing the response to those advertisements. It must run the press room at the convention. Above all it must be allowed to act as an interface with the mass public, if only by coordinating and planning the efforts of others.

And it must plan. Given a budget (absolutely essential - see below), and a timetable of key events leading up to the convention, it must plan in advance production of publicity materials (flyers, posters, advertisements, etc) such that the artist(s) the convention is using don't get asked for 20 fillos by Thursday to be printed on Friday and be at Novacon on Saturday. I also believe that the publicity effort should use writers; I don't know how this might be done, but we need professional words, the paper equivalent of a silver tongue to impress the SF reading public.

About artists and writers - I believe it is necessary to have a convention 'image'. Many large companies (BT for one) has spent a reasonable amount of time and money in recent years trying to develop a corporate style, and I think conventions should learn from this. Anyone should be able to pick up a piece of publicity and instantly recognise the convention in it - after all, publicity must make an instant impression and the more the convention name passes through someone's head, the more value is obtained from the material (which is awkward for a convention that has no name yet, but still possible). This image must be defined by the committee.

Planning includes staffing. There will be need, at various critical points along the planned path, of hands and feet to perform various tasks. I'm talking about a sort of pre-convention gopher hole, where one can go to get a few people for a few hours to do a task (envelope stuffing, for instance). A collection of committee members and a lot of graft is OK, but I have no desire to work in such a haphazard way.

And so, how does the area which publicity covers interrelate with the two other closest departments, merchandising and publications?

Interfaces

Merchandising, publications and publicity together represent the conventions presence to the mass public. The must all use the same style, present the same image. And they must all talk to each other regularly (I would even go so far as to suggest linking them electronically for a Worldcon, since text will, very likely, be flying in all directions between them).

Monthly or bi-monthly meetings of the three parties are necessary. If a convention is coming up, publicity should have advanced notice of what publications are intending to do, it can then reflect this or complement it in the associated advertisements and flyers, while merchandising can feed back into publications and publicity the offers and prices it intends to give.

The associated budgets can be reviewed at these meetings, and any adjustments fed back to the treasurer. The budget should be tied to deadlines in a structured manner, so that finance can be requested or returned as each deadline approaches and passes. And most vital of all - one or two persons on each of the sub-committees dealing with merchandising, publications and publicity should overlap onto the other two committees, i.e:

Publicity Personnel Merchandising Personnel Publications Personnel
A B C D E L F G H A E I J K L

Conclusion

Good publicity is absolutely essential, and the only way to get it right is to keep it separate from other work (even where the material that publicity puts together is only going into documents that are part of publications). A coherent style across departments is essential, and good artists and writers are essential. I have worded things strongly, but the louder the noise at this stage, the more chance that something might come of it. I look forward to laughing at the dearly wished-upon sentiments set out here in years to come, but for the moment why not tell me what you think.


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This page updated on 09 July 1999