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. However, it’s not just the show that has evolved but the actual reporting of it has as well. With the rise of pop culture and comic cons, they have birthed the proliferation of blog and media sites as well. What was once reserved for a few giant media gatekeepers, now anyone with a phone, 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?
You should have already been sent your press badge in the mail. If not, you need to first visit the Press booth. 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 to get the scoop. Whether you are a professional or amateur journalists, it all comes down to the hustle. Anyone that is Comic-Con press will be sent media invitations to do round table interviews with talent. If you are lucky enough to be chosen (based on size and brand), 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 echoing the big announcements- the trailers, coast photos and big quotes from celebs. 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 SDCC 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 this last week, 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. It’s not too late, you can get some simples ones made at FedEx in a day.
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. If you are new to the press, you might have an easier time getting interviews than with Comic-Con. 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. Make sure you and your team are prepared.
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 the conversation, 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 pop culture 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 at times- heck we all have. 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 Season 3. Returning for a 3rd year, we’ve had hundreds of media sites join us for a night of socializing and networking. 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 9-12 at the House of Blues.
How To Build A Geek Brand (and get paid!)
For emerging geek brands, I would also encourage you to check out my panel. Targeting websites that are about a year old, colleagues and myself will share how to go from pop culture enthusiast to a full time career. I’ve done this panel for a couple of years and it’s been a great and helpful time for the audience. Check us out Friday at noon at the Grand 1 & 2 Ballroom, Marriott Marquis.
This is my 12th 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, conducting interviews or getting interviewed, 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- many Comic-Cons later and that hasn’t changed, I just cope with it better. Now I use the fear 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!