San Diego Comic-Con has evolved in many ways over the past decade ranging from the explosion of attendance, the Hollywood presence, addition of offsite events, and much more. It’s not just the show that has changed but the actual reporting of it has as well. With the rise of pop culture and Comic-Con, they have birthed the proliferation of blog and media sites. What was once reserved for a few giant media gatekeepers, now anyone with a a laptop and an internet connection can start voicing their thoughts on today’s entertainment affairs. This summer, thousands of media outlets will be descending into San Diego ranging from the recognizable to the obscure. Whether you are an official recognized member of the press or a fan with a blog, I wanted to give some tips of how to make the most of your time at SDCC. But first…
What Do You Get?
Once you pick up your badge at the Press Registration booth, you will be off and running. Being Press doesn’t gain you magical access to VIP parties, special seating in panel rooms or the chance to skip long lines. Besides being granted a pass, it is pretty much up to you get the scoop. The Press get sent media invitations to do round table interviews with talent. If you are lucky enough to be chosen (based on size and scope), you will be able to be a part of a group interview with certain TV/film properties. If you manage to make it into Hall H, there is a standing media pit right next to stage which makes for some nice photos but it’s terrible hearing what’s going on. So being Press doesn’t really give you much of an advantage- it’s really up to you to make most of your opportunity and seek out the story to tell.
Avoid the Herd
My first tip, is to decide what you are trying to say. Everyone, I mean everyone will be herding to echo the big announcements- A new story arc for Doctor Who, Harrison Ford’s thoughts on The Force Awaken, or to see a Batman v Superman clip. Whether you are in the room or at home, the news will hit the airwaves within moments and the ripple effect will cross the internet. But is reporting the same news that every other site is covering really going to help distinguish you from the nerd herd? How will you get noticed? What is going to help you stand out among the crowd? Nothing wrong with going after the big story, but Comic-Con is filled with a million unique and inspirational ones- stories that are not only interesting but deserved to be told. Make sure you are pushing yourself (and your site) to be different. Otherwise, you will always play second fiddle to the media outlet that has more $, reporters, and a faster hotspot.
As one of the most effective tools ever, Twitter has been a game changer for Comic-Con. Besides being a great way to connect with people or read about breaking news, it’s a fantastic way to disseminate information fast. But how you use Twitter effectively at Comic-Con is much different than the weeks leading up. Normally, you tweet out pics, quotes, or updates, as you come across them. This is fine for your followers sitting at home. But anyone that has media influence at the show will be too busy to hear what you posted. Even when you hashtag #SDCC, there are way too many tweets and others are too busy to try to filter through all the noise to find the right info. For example, while I am an RT hound before Comic-Con, I hardly RT or comment to anyone during the show because there is too much Twitter traffic- UNLESS, I am tagged on it. So the key is, if you take a great cosplay pic, discover a scoop, or find some great swag, tag someone of notable influence with your tweet. It catches their attention and makes it easy for them to spread it to their followers. During Comic-Con, Twitter is like being at a party where everyone is screaming at the top of their lungs, if you don’t get my attention, I won’t notice what you are saying. So make a list of media influencers that you plan on tagging and use it strategically throughout the week.
Set Yourself Up
Take the time now to reach out to key media sites, social media celebs, and other talent that are within your reach. During these last two weeks, requests start pouring in for time, interviews, podcast, etc. If you wait till you have boots on the ground at Comic-Con, many people will simple not have the time. So start reaching out now through e-mail, publicists, Twitter, etc and set up specific day/times to meet.
How would you describe your site/podcast/YouTube channel in 30 seconds? Hate to break this to you, if your answer is an awesome geeky/nerdy website- then guess what? It will be forgotten once those elevator doors open. Figure out how to state the unique mission of your site in a simple, concise, and passionate way. You will have a number of chances to share the ‘why’ behind your site so you need to make it count. People want to work with other people’s ‘why’ not their ‘what’. There are thousands of sites that do funny/geeky/movie/comics/pop culture content out there. Your ‘what’ you do is not going to impress anyone. It’s the ‘why’ that captures the heart and imagination of others. Focus on developing that and soon you will find others that share your same passion. For me, my ‘why’ has always been To empower First Timers to have a life changing Comic-Con experience. Lofty right? Well they don’t call me Crazy 4 Comic-Con for nothing! Figure out your elevator speech and make it one that no one will be able to forget. Oh, this goes without saying, but you better have business cards to back it up too. I come home with a stack and it’s the only way I keep track of who I met during Comic-Con.
Many of the offsite events will also recognize press and grant you a pass or access to their event. Besides not having to pay for a pass, some will let you forego lines and/or give you a chance to conduct interviews. Each offsite varies but if you plan on checking out some off sites, you should try to apply as press. Offsite events are a great opportunity to enhance your Press experience- especially if you are first starting out.
Be good at asking questions- of everyone, not just celebs. The art of asking questions will open all kinds of doors. Discovering someone’s story, asking them their perspective on an issue, and probing for more than just pat answers will not only get you interesting content, but it will build your credibility as a legitimate member of the press. Don’t settle for surface level answers. Be bold and creative with the questions you ask. Truth and multiple perspective are the foundation of building a great media site. More than being a personality or an eloquent writer, being a great question asker will get you far in life. Also, remember that celebs get asked the same questions a million times. Be creative and take risks when doing an interview or when having a chance encounter.
Always, always, always, treat everyone with respect- regardless if you are ‘on the job’ or not. Whether it’s a waiter at dinner, a Comic-Con volunteer, or the guy behind you in line, be the very best version of yourself as possible. Integrity is something you will never regret and you don’t ever want the scope and impact of your site to be hindered because you lost your cool at Comic-Con. Also, before you start firing off questions, ALWAYS introduce yourself, explain your site, and ask permission to interview. It sounds rudimentary but that get violated all the time.
Take the Step
After years of attending as an introverted fan, it’s hard to break out of that mode just because you have a Press badge. Chances are, the best interview opportunity you will have will be an impromptu one on the showroom floor or on the streets at the Gaslamp. Fear and hesitation will naturally kick in, so you need to prepare yourself for that. Remember, if you don’t believe you belong in this interview/conversation/party, then no one else will. EVERYONE at Comic-Con are just people. Sure, some make a few more $ than average but they are normal everyday people. You’ve worked hard to establish yourself, own your place and make the most of this chance to represent the Press.
We live in an age now where a simple WordPress site can influence and change culture. At your finger tips, you have the chance to inspire, build, and advocate for a better world. With the same fingers, you have the power to tear down, insult, and bully. Outrage culture has gotten out of hand. I’ve been guilty of it and so have some of you. It’s easy to vent and shame the things that we don’t like or understand. No doubt that at Comic-Con, things will happen on stage or off that you won’t like. Before you start sharpening your axe, I’d encourage you to consider how you use the power that you have. Talk with others in the media, give it some time, ask tough questions, and do research before posting your thoughts. With great power, comes… well you know the rest. Regardless of if you are official Comic-Con Press, be mindful of how you wield the power in your hands.
Game of Bloggers
I hope you plan on attending my Offsite Event called Game of Bloggers. Regardless if you registered as media, everyone is welcomed to attend. This will be a great chance to meet others like yourself that are trying to find their voice, their ‘why’ and navigate this intimidating world of Comic-Con. If you are new to Press or just haven’t gotten the hang of it, then this is the place for you. Join us after Preview Night from 9-11 at the Dragon’s Den.
This is my 10th year going to Comic-Con. I’ve been a member of the Press with Comic-Con since 2010. I still battle with insecurity when I am there. Whether I’m onstage or off, I still get wrecked with nervousness. In the chaos of my inner thoughts, I think to myself; if this person really knew me, they would discover that I am total fraud- 6th Comic-Cons later and that hasn’t changed. I’ve just gotten better at dealing with the fear and pain. Now I use it as an indicator to point me in the right direction. If it scares me, I move towards it. My fear has led me to some incredible contacts and great opportunities- and I believe the fear will lead you to them as well.
I look forward to your stories and wish you favor in the eyes of the con gods. Leave a comment with your first time Press tips and let me know if you have any questions. Happy hunting!
I’d also recommend getting your name out there while in line! As Tony mentioned, press don’t always get immediate access, so we’re standing in line with everybody else. Many people notice the PRESS part of your badge, so it’s a great opportunity to spread awareness of your outlet. And who knows! They could end up being a new reader, or give you good fan-perspective of the content you’re there to cover.
Yes, every opportunity is a chance to network. Many fans are eager to learn more and would be willing to follow you if they have a pleasant experience. Thanks for the reminder and tip!
This will be my 4th year covering SDCC as member of the press and each year I push myself to go beyond the previous years. So here are a few suggestions I can offer. If you are looking to interview comic book creators I recommend contacting them before con if you can and scheduling a set interview time. Don’t be afraid to contact them directly through Twitter, the email address on their website, or the comic company that is publishing their upcoming work. If you do this then you should have questions ready, the creators are often there on their own dime so don’t waste their time. Try to have 3-5 good questions ready, but also don’t stick to your script if the conversation takes a surprise turn. I interviewed Paul Pope a few years ago and a five meeting interview turned into a 30 minute conversation about all sorts of things because I went with the flow and followed up with things related to what he was saying and not just what I had on the pad in front of me.
Also, walk around Artist’s Alley and if you see someone you are interested in talking to don’t be afraid to approach them. I would suggest when they are not busy, again they are there to make money, so if they have paying customers come back later. And if someone says no see if you can come back later or even offer meet them at one of the nearby hotel bars and tell them you will buy them a drink, but if they still say no don’t be a dick to them, it will just hurt you later. Thank them no matter what.
Bring a recording device with you. That way you can be present and properly engage with the person you are talking to and also you can transcribe the interview later and not be embarrassed by writing something they say they never said and you have no proof. Also, remember you are not investigating Watergate. I always tell the person I am interviewing that if anything they say to me they don’t want in the article then I won’t put it in. Off the record means just that. I also send the interviews to the person before I publish them to ensure that there are no problems. Interviews don’t usually fall into the breaking news category, so you can take a little more time in making sure they are done right.
Remember to take a picture. You want this for your article. It will add something for your readers who may just know the person’s work but not what they look like.
If you are a fan of the person don’t be afraid to bring a couple things for them to sign. I have never had a creator not be happy to do so, and I have even had the interview extended as a result because I brought some earlier work of the creator that they were excited to see and restarted the conversation.
Lastly, if you are given a time limit you must make sure you stay in it. There is no worse way to piss off a publicist and prevent any future interviews for you then causing a backlog of other press or making the interviewee late for a panel.
Amazing tips! I especially like the Artist Alley part- that is a great area to get awesome stories. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom!
This applies for every Con, but especially key at the grand-daddy of them all, display your site’s logo. Whether on a t-shirt, a customized messenger bag, somewhere where it can turn into a ” Hey, what’s (the name of your blog, podcast, channel)” and like Tony pointed out in his post, deliver your “elevator pitch”. I can’t stress how 12 million percent correct Tony is on that. I’ve been a professional broadcaster for decades before I made the switch to podcaster, and I can tell you that many of the “tricks of the trade” still apply to new media. Especially when it comes to networking. At SDCC and other cons, it’s pretty easy for our logo to be prominently displayed on our mic flags, t-shirts, and cameras. But for other non-audio/video blogs, investing in and wearing a t-shirt with your blog’s logo will definitely get you some new readers, even if you only wear the shirt for one day. (Hopefully, it’s the day you ask Kevin Feige who the new Spider-Man will be in the middle of a packed Hall H..) Great points from Joshua Stone right above my response, as well, by the way.
See you all in San Diego!
Great thoughts Henry. Yea, it’s so important to market yourself in a way that is quick and makes an impression. I’ve never been ’12 million’ percent right on anything- so I’m pumped! Thanks for the comment and hope to see you at the show!
Thank you for the great tips! This is my 7th year at SDCC and first year attending as press, I am extremely nervous but excited at the same time. Your tip about going towards the fear is excellent, I plan in doing just that!
Awesome- please let me know how it works out for you! Thanks for letting me know!
I cannot stress enough– have your materials prepared. Business cards with your URL especially. Double check your batteries and memory card, field fest your unidirectional mic.
Yet another great article from you! This would have been perfect at the end of May when I was official Media with my site during the Phoenix Comicon, let alone my first Media Pass ever. I don’t think I harnessed all the power of such but it was fun. Hopefully one year I will have the privilege of being press at SDCC. These were great tips. “Take the Step” and “Final Confession”I love how you remind us about insecurities that you still overcome these days and how fear although scary can lead to amazing things. I like to think of “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come of it.” I definitely need to work on my elevator speech, I have a few of them but they are mostly bi lines so to speak of my Site. Thank you again for sharing. This really helps as I want to do what is best for the future of my site. Live Long and Stay Crazy 😉
What a great comment. Everyone is insecure in some ways and always longing for what’s next- no matter how successful you currently are. It’s easy to let your own doubt and fears take over. Yea, 20 seconds of courage is all you need to potentially change everything. Thanks for taking this post to heart and let me know how your future in media shapes up!
This is my first comic con, i am so excited and also afraid because my English is not so good, but i try to do better each day. Thanks for tell us yours experiences. We will see you soon.
First time as press member, first time at Comic Con… even first time in San Diego! There is no word to say how nervous I am!!
Anyway, awesome article, I’ve been searching the Internet looking for this kind of tips for a long time 🙂
That’s great! Congratulations! Let me know if I can help answer questions. Be sure to make it to my Game of Bloggers Meet Up on Wednesday night!