I have written a lot about conventions and I will keep writing more because I have been attending and involved in them since 1994. I am certainly not the biggest flag bearer for cons out there because I don’t attend that many, but I have vended, attended, and put one together for four years so I figure I have pretty strong opinions which I spout often.
This time around I wanted to write about professionalism. The word means a lot of things to a lot of people and with each job and career and situation it’s different and so it is in the world of conventions, a place where too often professionalism is left by the wayside.
Professionalism at a convention is a two way street – you have to act professional to have people treat you like a professional. Like respect, you just don’t magically attain it.
I went to a comic convention here in Michigan yesterday and got the chance to catch up with some vendor friends, which was awesome but while there I was reminded of something that has always bothered me about conventions. Love them though I do the notion of a three day show seems like you’re asking a lot. I know, I know, I know – the gains are better than the losses, I get it. It’s more cost efficient to book guests, space, and everything else if you book three days, and so long as you still get people through the door that’s all that matters. And that makes sense for the large shows. I used to not like three day show, and still don’t, but my view has softened. For a show like Motorcity Comic Con it has to be three days so families can make it, so people who work can make it, and so folks that want to soak it all in can do that. It’s a huge show. Shows like that make sense that they are three days. They have probably 50+ guests, well over a hundred vendors, and a ton to see. The problem is more with the medium and small shows that don’t have that much to offer but they still stretch it over three days. It works for some because it’s basically a three day party but for too many shows it becomes a drag on everyone as you watch the attendance plummet, the money stop flowing, and boredom sets in. Here’s the thing though, and this is where we get to professionalism – to me, if you sign on for a show and whether it’s a one day show, a three day show, or whatever you need to be there. If you’re someone listed as an attraction you need to be there and need to be engaged and engaging. Yeah, it gets boring, it gets repetitive, and it gets weird but YOU signed on for this. I was really impressed and respected the hell out of the guests I saw yesterday who were at their booths on time and signing as soon as the doors opened. That’s professionalism. And there’s a window of acceptability to me, I mean, heck, if you’re a half an hour late then I can live with that because many of them leave from the show to head home and have to get ready. That makes sense. Too many though are bored by Sunday, were out partying the night before, or just don’t feel the need to rush out there. The thing is – people paid you to be there. And even if your deal is structured in a way that has you making your money via tables sales or whatever people are still paying to see you. Heck, even if someone just wants to say – OH MY GOSH I SAW SO-AND-SO – that’s why you are there. I have vended, and just that can be a huge drag so being nice and happy and outgoing as much as celebrities have to at a show has to be hard, I don’t doubt that at all but I also know that they are the ones that to some degree are being paid to be there.
To me it’s just one of those things – be a professional.
Last year at our Flint Horror Con we had a guest who was booked well in advance and all was hunky dory until they found out they had to shoot the day they were coming into town. Crap. We talked a lot, they were willing to still come out but it was going to be a different flight, the day of our show. This cost us a lot of money, and a lot of stress but the fact was that this person was going to get next to no sleep to take an early flight to our show to do it for not a lot of dough to be there for about four hours to turn around and have to fly back home Sunday to go back to work on Monday. THAT is professionalism. They were so loathe to cancel on us and on the fans that they made it work because that was what they agreed to. Did it cause us a lot of discomfort? Absolutely, but we got over it because the person came out, was great with us and with the fans, had a good time, and did everything possible to make sure we felt like it had been worth all we’d gone through. Again, that’s a professional.
And once more I don’t blame the celebrities for getting worn out and worn down because many fans act as far from professional as you can get, taking pictures when asked not to, being too aggressive with them, trying too hard to be their buddy, and overall acting like dopey kids even if they are decades past that. These fans are in the minority but they’re there. The fans that want to talk crap about guests because they can. I can’t imagine how draining that would be.
Be a professional.
You signed on for it so be there when you are contracted to be there, make the best of it, and remember that the fans coming to see you, the fans that can be a little weird and awkward, the fans that get nervous being around you, the fan that has everything you have ever done, and the fan that acts aloof but still wanted to just say hello, those are the people that you touched in some way with your work. Those are the people you supposedly do the work for. THOSE are the people that, complain as they may, have put money down on your career because they believed in you and what you were doing. That’s powerful. Don’t screw with them. And when the day comes when it’s too much, when you just can’t do it anymore get out of that side of the business. It does no one any good when you are not into it and faking it and have more interest in your phone than in them. If that’s the case, get out of the convention business, focus on your career, your hobbies, your friends, or your family, and just leave cons to people who still enjoy them.
Because if you can’t enjoy it then don’t bother. Fans pay a lot of money to attend these things these days and they deserve guests that won’t treat them as a nuisance.
The other side of professionalism comes from the vendors themselves, the backbone of conventions. Were it not for the vendors conventions wouldn’t survive. They promote the show, their friends and fans attend the shows, and they are more than willing to help when asked. If you treat your vendors well you will do OK. They will have your back. The thing is though that as great as most vendors are you are bound to get more than a few that need a class in manners. These are the louts that pack up early on Sunday and leave before the show is over. These are the jerks that treat their weekend areas like a bachelor pad, who don’t feel the need to look up when fans come by their tables, who act rudely and loudly during the show, and who generally act like jackasses. I have seen this WAY too often and it has never ceased to grate on me. The thing is that vending is fun, even when it’s not it’s sorta fun. It’s long hours, sore feet and legs, a lot of disappointment, some jerky fans, and a lot of monetary investment. But you are hanging out with like-minded folks for a day to days on end. You are around a scene that, I would hope, you love. You are promoting and selling YOUR work or work you had a hand in creating. It’s fun. People should HAVE fun vending. They should be treated well by the con, and by everyone else because without them these shows have little to offer and less to do. The vending areas – your artist alley, your movie sellers, and your retail merch dealer – are where you find things that will just blow your mind and become cherished items. But you don’t want to buy from a jerk.
Too many times I have seen people who sign up for a weekend show only to pack up and bail on Saturday night, or early Sunday. The thing here is that YOU are part of the attraction. YOU are part of the show. When they list your name or promote you as being there you’re a part of the deal. Unless there was an emergency you signed on to be there for the weekend so be a professional and be there. If you’re more of an artist and can’t do the sales, cool, then don’t do the show or have a proxy there to help. Don’t just leave and don’t act like you’re too busy or too good to talk to people. Oh, and hey, don’t always be selling. Maybe if you actually act like you give a crap about the person talking to you beyond a sale they will be inspired to give your work and maybe a buy. You never know. For a couple years I got stuck by The Really Loud Young Woman Who Likes To Be Overbearing And Pushy And Rude who yelled at people to buy her work and The Vendor Who Takes Up ALL The Space And Wants More who seems to think that the show is about them and what they are doing. It was beyond annoying. I was tempted to kill but instead reigned it in to shoot mind bullets at them instead.
For me, if you are at a show and representing your ‘brand’ (the new buzzword these days) and your work then you need to act like you are somewhat professional. Have fun, be silly, be kitschy, but let people know you aren’t a child and aren’t a jerk. I dunno about you but I don’t tend to buy a lot of art or merch from someone who acts like a jerk. Maybe it’s me. Remember that there are families at these shows, that there are people with special needs, and people not used to being out in large gatherings like this. Remember that you’re, by virtue of choosing to vend there, a spokesperson and representative of that show. If you’re a jerk, and treat someone like crap then you may well sour someone on not just you but that show. If enough vendors are jerks then why bother with going to that show?
Professionalism baby, that’s what it’s about.
Conventions are tremendously fun. They are strange, overwhelming, obnoxious, scary, and filled with more things you need to own than you imagine. They are filled with friends you have yet to meet and may never meet. They are filled with the people and things that remind you of how great life can be sometimes. They are filled with inspiration, challenge, and awe. And if they are don’t well a convention is the place where dreams can come true and hope in an oft-times dark world can be restored. It’s a place that remind you that you’re not alone in your fandom or your weirdness. Nothing cracks the illusion that these shows weave though faster than rude and unprofessional people. Sure, the celebs and vendors are why the people come out to the show but without the fan attendance…there are no shows to do. Lose the fans and you lose it all. People would be wise to remember that.