It's all over but the blogging. The 2008 Comic-Con International in San Diego has given away its last freebie, processed its last Hall H line and inspired its last bout of late-night revelry. But work isn't over for the Comic-Con organization, or for Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer. While reactions to this year's Con have been largely positive, suggestions about what could be done better - and lingering questions regarding the show's future, in San Diego or elsewhere - remain to be addressed as plans for next year's convention get underway.
Comic Book Resources joined Glanzer for a third and final chat about the Con. (See the previous installments here and here.) Glanzer spoke about CCI's financial health, its attendees and exhibitors, and what will happen to it after the fateful year of 2012 - its final contractually obligated stint in San Diego - comes and goes.
How was the show, in retrospect?
I think overall the show was successful. From the retailers I've spoken to it seems like people spent money, from the attendees I've spoken to it seems that they enjoyed the panels, from the professionals I've spoken to it seems that they enjoyed the panels and presentations they were on. I'm always hesitant to say "wow, we had a great show," because there's always room for improvement, but overall we had a pretty good show, I think.
Where do you think that room for improvement could be found this year?
I think we try to look at things globally. With as many comments as we get from people, areas of improvement could be anything from lines to get in to the air conditioning - just a variety of things we're going to go through and have long meetings about, and try to address them in such a way as to make them non-issues for next year.
How long a process is that? How soon do you get into the nitty-gritty of planning next year?
It depends. Some stuff starts a year out, some is a couple of years out, and some is closer to the show. Obviously, for guests, we plan that out at least a year in advance. In terms of securing the facility, we're in an extension until 2012, so that's something that was planned a while back. Hotel contracts can be something planned a year or two in advance.
In reading reactions to the show, I've seen a lot of people say that even when they have specific complaints about something at the show, they don't blame the CCI organization. It's an unusually magnanimous reaction. What's your read on it?
Honestly, I can't overstate what a wonderful sentiment that is. It's nice that people realize that as big an event as it is and as much as goes on, it really is put on by the fans who try to do the very best we can do. We don't always succeed, though. But we really try, and if people recognize that, then that makes us feel great. Not to be this mutual admiration society, but if the people didn't come, we wouldn't have an event. It's as simple as that. And that goes all the way from attendees to professionals to volunteers and staff. You need a number of people to come. We try to put on the kind of event we'd want to attend, and people attending the event in the way they do tells us that we're on to something.
I've seen a lot of feedback from retailers, publishers, and attendees, but I don't know much about how the Hollywood studios and television networks evaluate the show and interpret what's successful and unsuccessful. What sort of feedback have you gotten from them?
Just like any other area, it depends on the exhibitor. There are a variety of different ways one can judge the success of the show. If you're an exhibitor and your primary interest is sales, then good sales means a good show. If you're an exhibitor and one of the things you want to do is get exposure, and you connect with a lot of the attendees and the press, then that's success for you. It varies. In terms of your specific question about Hollywood, it depends on what it is for them, too. We got some feedback from one exhibitor who sent us a whole litany of articles that appeared in television trade magazines that focused on their presence at the show, and they thought that was very successful. Also, blog comments from attendees who attended those panels who really enjoyed the presentations they had. That's just one so far. I'm sure we'll have a debriefing with a lot of different studios and find out how things looked to them. But again, just like any other exhibitor, it depends on what their focus is going into the show and whether or not their goals were met.
One topic that's coming up quite frequently, which you and I spoke about during the show, is the possibility of Comic-Con moving out of San Diego after its contract with the Convention Center is up post-2012. Based on what I've read, it seems like it's something that's on a lot of people's minds as a possibility, but that few people want it to happen.
Before anything, I should say categorically that we do not want to move. Any of the discussions that we've been having and any of the talks that have been going on were not used as trying to leverage one city against another. I know there was some speculation about that in an article that appeared a couple weeks ago, but that's never been the case. Any perspectives that we have are always based on what's best for the event and the attendees. Now, that being said, two years ago, when our contract was up for renewal, we usually do two or three year renewals, but the Center had requested that we do a four-year extension because somebody was trying to challenge our dates, I think in '11 or '12. Something along those lines. The idea was floated around for a while: "Do we extend our contract and make it a point to stay here? What is it that we're going to do?" The feedback that we got back from our attendees was pretty resounding that they did not want us to leave. We have to factor that into any decision we make. The Convention Center also said around that time that they were looking to expand the facility, so we had made a conscious decision to go ahead and sign that extension - and thereby, we knew that for the next four years or so we would forego growth, that we were going to have to limit attendance. But our attendees want to stay here, we want to stay here, so we're working with the resources we have as best we can.
That being said, I agree that the majority of people still want to stay in San Diego, but the idea of us moving to another city - I think among some attendees anyway - is much more open for discussion now than it ever had been before. But I will say again that if that Convention Center expands, I have no doubt we'll be in San Diego for the foreseeable future. If the Convention Center doesn't expand and our attendees are happy with limited attendance both in terms of exhibitors and general attendees, and we can somehow at least break even with our event by finding other areas of income, then I think we will probably try to stay here also. But a non-expanding Convention Center seems like a matter that [would make] it very, very difficult for us to stay here without raising prices considerably or finding other streams of revenue.
So there's a financial shortfall in not being able to expand the show further?
I think there probably will be. We don't have the finances yet for this year, but we can't welcome any more attendees, we've topped out. So we can't increase revenue by people coming through the door, and we can't sell any more exhibit space because there isn't anymore space to sell. At some point we're gonna be flat on our income. However, the costs of the Convention Center, the cost of security, the cost of just doing business is going to increase. Inflation dictates that - I don't think anybody's doing anything that isn't according to standard business practices - but if your costs continue to increase and your revenue stays flat, you're going to get to a point where you're going to be flat or in the red, and that's something we're very concerned about.
Yes, even the bathrooms were sponsored this year at Comic-Con. Photo by Pinguino Kolb.
How, then, do you treat this in-between period between now and that decision in 2012, during which you can't grow?
The most obvious is capping attendance, which we tried to do this year. That's the simplest answer. The next is to try to expand the footprint of Comic-Con so that we can still accommodate the people that come, whether that be additional tents on site, which we did this year, and stuff like that...if we can work with area hotels and the Center and the city in being able to extend our footprint, then we might be able to allow more people to attend the show. The short of that right now is that the attendance cap is the first thing we're doing, it's the obvious thing we're doing, and I think we'll probably end up doing it again next year.
The other thing is to try to find other revenue streams, because this is not an inexpensive endeavor. One of the things we did this year was we sold signage. People had signage in areas for the first time that we'd never done. That is something that I didn't know what the reaction would be to it. Overall it doesn't seem to be too negative, because I think our attendees understand what it is we're doing and why it is that we had to do it.
Is that where those bathroom signs - "No Non-Humans Allowed" - came from?
[Laughs] Yes, it's those bathroom signs, and also these signs that were over the exit doors - which, I have to tell you, some people really, really enjoyed. There was one or two "Watchmen" signs that I had a couple people literally tell us that they thought they were very cool, and as an aside, had a thought about whether there was any way they could get up there to, uh, liberate them. [Laughs] That was gratifying to hear.
Any final thoughts on CCI 2008?
A real thank you has to go out not only to the attendees who go to the show and said such great things about the show, but also the online press, who have done a really good job of not only reporting on the show but asking a lot of really important questions and getting a lot of answers before they go to press. This year, without being specific, a major newspaper printed something that they asserted was fact without checking with us. Not only was it inaccurate, I would venture any member of the online press knew what the answer was - because they called us. So thank you for CBR doing what you're doing, and thanks to the attendees for allowing us to put on a show.