Comic Book and pop culture conventions are a multi-million dollar business built on the backs of volunteers.Have you ever wondered how they worked? Or what it takes to keep them operating?
Personally, I love conventions. I have been attending them since I was 12 years old and my mom dropped me and my friend off at a comic convention which was an hour away. It was a great experience. As I grew older I told myself I wanted to be a part of my local fan community so I decided to start staffing conventions. I have now been staffing conventions for over a decade and have been such a valuable asset to these events, I was made the head of many departments for several of them.
After a recent convention experience by this website’s co-creator, Matthew Sardo questions of how conventions are run and how they can run better was brought up. This led me to start working on a few articles regarding convention attendance and operation. This is the first of these articles, where I will outline the truth, not many know about running a convention.
You Don’t Get Paid
Unless you are working a convention where tens of thousands of people attend (and even then it’s a maybe), you are not going to get paid for your service. At least when it comes to most comic book and pop culture related shows. You may only get paid in the satisfaction of helping out with the event. Depending on the convention and their policy, you may get little more than a badge for use after you have done volunteer service at the convention. Sure, some conventions do offer their workers a room to sleep in for the weekend, food so you don’t go hungry, and even a collectible shirt which says STAFF on it, but this is not a universal policy. You may even find yourself spending your own money for the event with little chance of reimbursement.
Good Help Is Hard To Find
This old phrase was never more true than at a convention. Sure, you can find a lot of hands to make the work light but finding individuals who are responsible and competent to do more is another story. During the actual convention weekend, attendees will come and offer their services to make the event run smoothly. Depending on the size of the con and the amount of work which goes into keeping it running, the duties needed to keep it active can be a year round job. Finding someone who is willing to play phone tag with companies and businesses on a weekly basis to keep certain parts of the event running like clockwork can be a constant burden many are not willing to shoulder.
The Positions Are Voluntary And You Will Be Let Down
Branching off from the previous point, everyone wants to help until it’s time to do actual work. You’ll have individuals who insist they are “Totally onboard,” and “Ready, willing, and able” but when the actual weekend for the con arrives, they could easily be a no show. Daily life finds a way of interrupting the ability to host events and legitimate reasons why the volunteer can’t attend the conventions seem to spring up at the last moment. Low finances, car trouble, and family emergencies can all pop up the day you are leaving for the event and you’ll find yourself needing to locate someone new to take over the responsibilities of the individual who can’t attend.
Last Minute Changes Can And Will Happen
There are some things in life which will be outside your control. Guests will cancel, weather can change, and you will have no choice but to pick up the pieces. Unpredictable happenings can occur in states far away which will affect you directly the night before the convention. I myself have had to do a last minute run to a store hours before we are about to start running video rooms at a convention because the specific cords for the new DVD players which were just bought were delayed. This was thanks to a flood on the East Coast. Events come together at the last minute and you have no choice but to make the most of a bad situation.
Tech, Unsung Hero Of The Convention
They arrive early, work their fingers to the bone, get little sleep, stay long after everyone else has left and no one properly thanks them for all their hard work. This is the burden the Tech department faces on a regular basis. Every year they have no choice but to show up, and do all they can to set up the microphones, projectors, stages, and lighting which make a convention run without a hitch. Without them, how far would an event really be able to go? Think for a moment and ask yourself if you ever have actually taken the time to thank a member of the tech department for the hard work they do. If not, maybe you should think about doing it in the future.
Attendees Are A Double Edge Sword
The large mass of people who attend the convention will be both your friends and your enemies.
Another separate article could be written about all the memorable interactions I’ve had over the years with attendees. When they are bad, you’ll find yourself telling the stories of interacting with the individual for years to come. Often even in emergencies people will care more about their own personal interests than trying to help you in your time of need. At the same time, being kind and courteous to the attendees can result in lasting friendships, relationships, and experiences you’ll treasure long after to come out of it. The trick is not letting yourself be jaded by the negative experiences and remember there are more good people at the event than those who can be frustrating.
Unfortunately, conventions don’t always get along with one another. Depending on who is running the event, their history with other staff, the location, and the often their own issues result in animosity between different events. Some individuals have taken this idea even farther and have tried to sabotage others conventions by bad mouthing them, and even spread propaganda in an effort to discredit them. This results in a never ending cycle of drama and broken relationships which continues to make the convention atmosphere less than enjoyable for everyone.
Communication Isn’t Easy
Staying in touch with other people is hard. Now try staying in touch with a group of people so you can have the facilities available to host 10,000 plus individuals. It is no easy task. Often you will tell one member of a department a bit of critical information and they will forget to pass it along to others. Establishing an effective way of keeping everyone who has a leadership role in the convention abreast of the ever changing nature of the event can be a maddening experience. It becomes almost as frustrating the planning and organization of the convention itself.
Do you have any stories of your own about the hardships of running a convention? Leave a comment below and let us know.