or “How the hell did you get Wil Wheaton to your 200+ person show?”

My first time to Gen Con I came across a vendor selling steampunk fashion things – really nice stuff. I wound up getting a few things there, gifts for the wife. I liked them, and hey, my gaming organization was holding a convention in a few months and we were going with a steampunk theme. This guy would be great at our convention! Speaking to him, he was going to be at a show in Las Vegas – not too far away from our convention – the weekend before our show. This looked to be a great match, but I recall the exact moment he decided not to come: I told him about our guests and said we had Wil Wheaton. He replied, “everybody says they’ve got Wil Wheaton.” However, the only difference between everybody and us is we actually had him.

Sometimes I get asked how our little show – under 1000 attendees – got someone like Wil Wheaton. Our first convention, we had somewhere around 225 attendees. How the hell did that happen? Simple: networking.

Back in Arizona, there is a great comic book convention[1] and one of the people in my gaming group (also one of the officers of the organization heading our gaming convention) headed up the guest relations at that convention. Phoenix Comicon had around 20,000 attendees the year we began RinCon; Amy was Wil’s PCC convention liaison (and had been for a while by this time). Amy volunteered at PCC, devoted time there, met several guests, and generally helped the fan community grow. Because she had a chance to meet Wil, she asked Wil.

WHAT? So all I have to do to get someone like Patrick Stewart to my convention is to meet him and become his friend? Oh, that’s soooo simple! /sarcasm

No, no, no. What you do is network. I’m assuming that if you are running a game convention, or are planning on running one, you have a community of gamers in your area. When you’re running promotional events for your convention (you are, aren’t you?), find out who is in your community. Work with the game stores in your area and run game days at those locations. People in your community – particularly the game stores – may know some of some people in your area that might serve well as guests for your convention.

Also look at attending or working at regional conventions. I’m up in Maine and the biggest convention that has overlap with a tabletop game convention is PAX East, which is primarily a video game convention. I would find out which companies were setting up booths in the tabletop gaming section and contact to see if they need help at their booths. Or I’d check out getting onto the convention staff. Or I’d simply go and see who is there. In the case of PAX East, I went and volunteered at Fantasy Flight Games’ booth[2]. While I was there, I had the opportunity to talk with several people at the show, several people that I could approach as being guests. The guests are pretty busy there, so I suggest handing them a promo piece for your show, then getting their contact info (or their agent’s) and follow up with them after the convention. There’s absolutely no harm in asking.

No convention nearby where you can meet potential guests? Still make with the networking. Anything from using the same social media sites your potential guests use do to just plain emailing the guest to see if they are interested. (Don’t be surprised if you get pushed off to an agent or discover that some guests have booking fees or require compensation for room, travel, food, and/or other expenses.)

Even better: find out about conventions that are roughly the size of yours that have guests that you like and contact the convention organizers. Introduce yourself and your organization, tell them about your convention, and inquire how they contacted some of their guests. Actually, this is a great way to get inroads with other con organizers who can partner with you for ad swaps in the convention guide and other ways to cross-promote each other’s shows. RinCon and NeonCon (in Las Vegas) were planning on working this way and RinCon attempted to coordinate with a local sci-fi convention (TusCon) and the Tucson Comic Con to cross-promote each other’s shows. Because we worked with other regional conventions, we were able to use the defunct Phoenix ConGames’ pipe and drape for our vendor hall for much lower rate than renting from the facility in those early years.

So network. Call people. Talk to the people at the other events you’re running – you need to run events to promote your convention and get the down payment for the con space – and maybe you’ll find out that you’ve got a connection there.[3]

  1. Visit http://phoenixcomicon.com for more info! This year’s show is late May. []
  2. I had time to kill my first Gen Con, so I volunteered to run a few demos for them. Bonus: played games, got paid in games. If I went this year (no FFG booth this year), I would have gone with Game Salute, which is based about an hour’s drive from my house. []
  3. This is the other way we had an inroad to Wil Wheaton. We ran monthly gaming events right by campus. Wil’s son, Ryan, was attending our events before we even realized who he was related to. []

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