Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fan Expo - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...


The ZombieInfo/Ottawa Horror booth
And another Fan Expo is behind us.

Now that I've made it back to Ottawa, and had a chance to decompress a bit, not to mention catching up on sleep, I think I've gained enough distance to rate this years event - what went right, what went wrong, and were things need to be improved. It goes without saying that the show itself - the guests, the screenings, the panels and so on are a blast. But it's the running of the event that makes the difference between a good time and a miserable weekend. Here's my take.

The Good

The ZombieKing hams it up
After last year's fiasco of losing the South Hall and having people who'd bought advance VIP passes waiting outside while people who bought tickets for the day were inside, it was a given that Fan Expo was going to try and make things better this year and for the most part they succeeded. The direction of attendee traffic this year was amongst the best I've seen. Even with high attendance, line wait times were minimal compared to years past, and the addition of the blue-shirted service people who helped marshall folks to where they needed to be was a nice touch. As well the security folks this year were far more pleasant to deal with than in years past - at least assuming you weren't trying to put one over on them - answering questions with a polite demeanour, instead of neanderthal grunts.

The show floor itself had wider aisles in years past (although seemingly less exhibitors...see below), helping to alleviate some of the congestion that always happens on the busiest days.

The show staff actually seemed to LISTEN to complaints this year, and take steps to alleviate at least some of them.

The attendance seemed a little more split between Saturday and Sunday. Normally Sunday is a pretty quiet day, but not this year. Whether that was fan reaction to last year's Saturday Madness, or planning via tickets from the Fan Expo folks I don't know... but it worked.

The Rue Crew and Booth
Finally a huge shout out has to go to Rodrigo Gudino, Dave Alexander, Trevor Tuminski and all the Rue Morgue Crew. The Festival of Fear is always my main reason for attending the Fan Expo (or exhibiting), and these guys really went the whole nine yards to make last years fiasco a distant memory. Special award to Trevor Tuminski who expertly handled the "missing Doug Bradley" situation - one that could have turned into a disaster.


(An aside... Rue Morgue often gets flack for the whole festival, but most of the issues that folks complain about -ticket sales, rooms, security- are out of their hands, and at the mercy of the Fan Expo organizers. So cut them some slack... ok? They're good people.)

The Bad

The price of a weekend pass jumped significantly. I understand we got an extra day, but that day was SUPPOSED to be making up for the cluster -f@#! that was last year - NOT an excuse to make more money. Speaking of which...

Four days... Really? I KNOW that GenCon is four days, but ComicCon in SF is still only three. While Fan Expo may be the third largest convention in North America, four days is still one day too many. By Sunday, you've seen it all, and if you were an exhibitor, you were just too exhausted to really give the fairly large Sunday crowds the attention they deserved - not too mention the additional cost of staff and hotels. Thursday is just quiet - too many folks still have to work tomorrow. Next year is also scheduled for four days, so we'll see - maybe it's just something I need to get used to.

Exhibitors, and especially Artist Alley, seemed to be a little too random in their placement. In the past, things were always grouped together - horror, sci-fi, comics, gaming. This year, perhaps because there seemed less of them (I know several who elected to skip it) placement was a little more random. Sure there were sections, but other related booths were often found away from them. I heard this from more than one exhibitor and attendee. Speaking of exhibitors and them not attending...

Exhibitors NEED more access too and from the Hall. In the case of smaller exhibitors we can't afford to hire staff, so we get volunteers. Part of the way we get them is by offering them a chance to see the show, and by bribing them with food and coffee. If exhibitors can't get to the front of the building easily to get passes or grab supplies, then we are toast. I will give the Fan Expo folks credit. After more than a few complaints early in the show (myself among them) by Saturday, there was much easier access for exhibitors. Make this the policy from Day 1 next years guys and it will be on my "Good" list. With booth prices approaching that of GenCon and ComicCon, FanExpo really needs to start making sure that exhibitors are treated well. These folks are what really make your convention run - don't give them an excuse to leave. ComicCon and GenCon have dedicated Exhibitors Entrances - so should you.

The Ugly

Press Passes that need to be replaced every day? Seriously? This one was a MAJOR bone of contention amongst the media folks I knew - some of them going so far as to simply not cover more than the first day. Come on Fan Expo - these folks are getting you tons of coverage for your event, to help you bring in more people and more dollars - don't make them go the the hassle of going through crowds everyday to get a new pass. While you're at it, make sure you have a REAL press-room. Someplace with free wifi, a quiet place for interviews, and even coffee and drinks. The more comfy and convenient you make it to cover your event, the more media outlets will. Anything else is shooting yourself in the foot.

Fan Expo needs to realize it's not a "little" con anymore. When scheduling two major photo-ops side by side, make sure you allot way more space than you need. This will avoid the utter chaos in the hallways caused when twice as many people as there are room for show up for Tom Felton and Eliza Dushku at the same time, and folks can't get in to their screening rooms or Q&A's. I will say the staff were fairly diligent at letting folks know what was happening, but still it shouldn't have happened in the first place. Seventy Five thousand is a lot of people - time to start dealing with it.

Finally... Please, please, please Fan Expo... get a real Food Court next year! It's 2011 and there are many Vegans, Vegetarians and folks who just plain prefer to eat healthy. Pizza-Pizza, no matter how many booths, just doesn't cut it. When it takes a good 15 minutes to get out of the MTCC and to the nearest restaurant, folks NEED some good food onsite. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'll pay for the convenience of that.

The Post- Mortem


To quote "What have we learned Charlie Brown?".

Brains!
First and foremost I will say that this was one of the better Fan Expo's I have attended. While my first one seven years ago will always be my favourite - I hadn't seen the man behind the curtain at that point - this one was definitely one of the smoothest. When that many people converge on one location, there are always going to be challenges, conflict and confusion. The real trick to making a good convention is how the organizers DEAL with this. It's easy when everything goes right - it's when things go wrong that an organization shows it's true colours.

With that in mind I'll give this years Fan Expo a solid "A-". There's still work to be done, and it's certainly not perfect - but yes, we'll be there next year. The table is already booked!

Have a different take on this years FanExpo? We'd love to hear your opinions on what you think was done well, done badly or just needs improvement.


3 comments:

typicallydia said...

Yeah, the press pass shenanigans was... shenanigans. If it was like that every year, then that explains why I find so little coverage. I liked the 4 day thing though, but I am a noob, so yeah.

jcoville said...

It's not like that every year. I've been covering it since 2002, with the exception of 1 year and the press pass was always a weekend pass.

I did not bother to attend this year as they did not give me (and other press) a pass for Saturday. Then they sent me 4 e-mails advising me about tickets being on sale/almost sold out, etc..

And they waited until 2 weeks prior to the convention to let you know. I suspect they got some press to go anyway because they couldn't get refunds on their hotels (possibly air fare) and already booked the time off their day jobs. It'll be interesting to see how much press they get next year. I suspect they broke a lot of trust and they'll have to treat the press like gold for a few years before some of them come back.

Sonsey said...

jcoville, I agree. Other years have been far more sensible re: passes. The Fan Expo folks were quick to blame it on the Security Company. I also know a few folks who didn't get a pass who probably should have. It did seem pretty random. Hopefully that'll change next year.