At the end of a long weekend and a long year and a half of buildup, CBR News wrapped its on site coverage of the first Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2) with word from the man most closely familiar with how it all came together: Reed Exhibitions VP of Books, Publishing and Pop Culture Lance Fensterman.
With the show only hours behind him, the convention organizer opened up about how many came out (official word of which was released after our talk), what he and his team learned about the convention and what the future holds in store including when and where attendees may see C2E2 next year.
And for more information on the show, be sure to check out all the news out of C2E2 including publishing announcements, video interviews, panel reports and an responses from ten of the shows most important attendees – not to mention plenty of first-person reporting and reactions from Robot 6.
CBR News: Well, Lance, I think the easiest question to start is just: how’d it go?
Lance Fensterman: Really good. It’s astounding to me that this is the first year we’ve done this and created something out of nothing and launched it in a new city. We had really high expectations for ourselves and I think we delivered an amazing first year event. I’m proud of us.
We talked before about all the things you wanted in place for this show to be a success, and the first of those that everyone wants to talk about is attendance. What was the turnout like?
Friday was a little light, but honestly I think the numbers are going to come in right about where we thought they world [Editor’s Note: shortly after this interview, Reed announced a 27,500 attendance number for C2E2]. We were in a massive space of about 1 million gross square feet, and we could have tightened that up a little bit. There were a lot of nooks and crannies for people to get lost in. But Saturday was an amazing day. I saw almost 1,500 kids in the building today for kids day Sunday. I’m very pleased with attendance for our launch. I think it was solid.
That’s what everyone on the floor has been telling us that it may have looked light but they couldn’t tell because the size of the building played with their ability to gauge things by view like at some other shows.
It’s weird. This building is almost 1 million square feet, and that hall is 300,000 square feet. Then we had all the panel rooms, we had the ballrooms, we had the basement…I think everything was spread. We put in 20-foot aisle’s everywhere, and I’ll tell you why. A big part of this for us is paranoia about what happened that first year of New York Comic Con where we weren’t prepared for what hit us. So we vowed, “We’re not going to repeat that.” I think we over prepared. That’s not an apology, but we had a lot of space in there. I think talking to fans, they loved it. Because when we were crazy busy on Saturday, they were walking down 20-foot aisles, and they weren’t on top of other people. So it was a good choice, but it definitely gave it a very, very big feel.
The other thing we talked about was awareness. I know you’d been doing some interviews on WGN and that. Did C2E2 penetrate in Chicago the way you’d hoped?
You know, I think we started. I think we launched our brand this weekend. For the last year, we’ve had the name out there, but the name doesn’t mean anything until you’ve actually experienced what it is. And so, I think we launched what C2E2 will be going forward. But until people see it and walk around in it, it’s just an idea. So would I say, “We totally penetrated the Chicago market?” Absolutely not. We’re going to grow dramatically, otherwise we’d have had half a million people here if we’d really penetrated the entire market. [Laughs] But we launched beautifully. We’re right where we want to be in terms of getting the word out and letting people know what our brand is.
As everything is coming down, what are the lessons you’re learning about moving forward? Do you want to cinch up some of that floor space? Anything about programming you’ll do differently?
For sure. There are a couple of things we learned. For one, we’ll tighten up the floor space, but we’ll keep the big aisles because I think everybody said they love that. But there was a big space at the beginning when you walked in that I think we should tighten up. We had a big empty space between the exhibits and Aritst’s Alley that I think we need to tighten up. I think having the Artist’s Alley closer to the dealers is important. We’ve always had that in New York, and there’s a good symbiotic relationship there that we have to tighten up physically. Also, we had three 1,000-seat panel rooms, and that was way, way, way too big. We need to have more rooms, and we need to do a better job of getting people directed around the show. I feel like there’s a lot of people almost unaware of the 150 panels and programs we had going on throughout the weekend. I think some of that is conditioning where people aren’t used to the shows they attend in the Midwest having that robust panel programming, but when it’s not easy to find it really makes it difficult to fill those rooms. That’s something we definitely need to address.
Immediately for the future, what are you doing to gather all the information you need to take the show to next year? Do you have surveys and things together for exhibitors, or is it a lot of one-on-one calling over the next few weeks?
We’ve done a lot of our informal research. We’ll do very formal research, and if you get a survey, please fill it out. We want to hear from both exhibitors and attendees. Then we’ll set up some interviews with our big customers, and in the middle of all that, everyone on my team — myself included — walked away with a laundry list of things we want to improve that we’ll work on. So you take informal surveys done on site, the formal surveys, the team downloading all of what it saw work and not work, and then you sit down and have meetings. That’s how you build a better product. And we’ve always, always firmly believed that when you give the fans and exhibiting customers what they want by listening to them, it’ll build a great show. That’s what we’ve done in New York.
I’m proud to say that every year in New York, we have problems…but they’re different problems. We fix things from the year before, we grow, and new problems crop up. We fix them, we grow, and more new ones crop up. That’s what we’ll continue to do on this show as well. It’s the right thing to do to build a business and build a community.
Not every show is able to do this, but a lot of the time, a con will announced its next year dates on Sunday. I’m assuming you’re still working that out?
We are. We’ve got dates on hold in April in the same building. We want to look around to see if we want some flexibility. Is this the best building for us? We have the possibility of using another building within the McCormick Complex. And that’s part of what our customers will tell us, and we also want to make sure we’re positioning ourselves in the best point in the calendar, especially for our exhibiting customers so that we’re not close to other events and we’re not stepping on other events toes. Because that calendar is fluid, we thought, “Let’s leave our dates fluid for the time being.” We’ll do our research, decide where we want to be and when we want to be, and then we’ll launch that.
So what is next for Reed’s Pop Culture run? You’ve got a few summer events before New York Comic Con/Anime Fest returns in October, right?
We’ve got UFC Fan Expo in Vegas on Memorial Day weekend. Then we’ve got Star Wars Celebration in Orlando in August. And then we’ve got PAX in Seattle, then New York Comic Con, and then in December, Singapore Toys, Games And Comic Convention.
Have you been over to Singapore already?
Yeah. It’s cool. There’s a strong comic community over there too. There’s a ton of comic retailers, and they’re really healthy. We’ve got a lot of new stuff and some existing shows we’re excited for. But right now I need a break.