It's been a while since I visited this ongoing series on how to start your own fan convention, but I thought I would revisit the subject and continue our journey into starting an event like this. In the past installments, I've gone over organization building, locations, choosing a date, working other cons, and (of course) my core philosophy of "Beg, Borrow and Steal." Those components aside, there's still a lot you need to get done for your first event. Sure, at this point you may have a location and dates, but those don't do you any good if no one has ever heard of you. That's right, it's time for some crass commercialism and blatant self promotion! In this installment I'm going to talk about advertising and branding.
A quick aside, the one thing I haven't gone over which will influence a lot of this is simply giving your convention a good name. Now I know it's incredibly difficult to come up with a decent name for a con, and by the time you're reading this you've probably already come up with something. On the off chance you haven't though, I hope to give you a few tips:
Make it short
Make it memorable
Make it unique
I can't tell you how easy it is to get lost in a string of con names which are only "Anime [Insert City Name]" or "[Random Japanese Word] Con." Try to instead come up with something unique and versitile. You've already got "Con" on the end, so people already know what it says on the tin.
With whatever name you choose though, you still need to get it out there though. And as you're a first year convention, it's highly unlikely that you're going to be able to put together a large advertising budget. In fact, it's highly unlikely that you'll have an advertising budget at all. That said, here's how you get the word out for as cheaply as possible.
Now, as I stated in an earlier installment, you should be volunteering at other conventions to train your staff. The obvious thing to do while there is to put up fliers for your convention. Most cons let you do it, you're already there, and a ream of paper run through a staff member's laser printer is actually quite affordable. If you aren't doing at least this, you're insane. Secondly, if you and you friends have opted to pay for your own hotel room already, run a room party to promote your convention. Room parties are a great way to get people to actually have long conversations with you about your convention. True, it's a bit expensive to do this (and you'll likely be doing this out of pocket), but if you can pull it off... do it.
Make sure while you're at these other cons that you're talking to the con staff about how you're putting on your own event. Con staffers like going to conventions too, and it's likely they have a lot of friends who do as well. I can't make it to Kitsune Con this February, but I know a lot of people who are going because they've done this exact thing.
A great low cost way to increase your advertising is to try and do "ad exchanges" with other conventions program guides. The idea is simple: You ask for a free ad in another convention's program guide in exchange for giving them a free ad in your program guide. Most conventions are more than happy to do so, regardless of whether or not they're a huge event or a tiny one. You might be getting a better deal, but the other convention is still getting free advertising out of it. This of course assumes your convention will have a program guide, but that's a corner I assume you aren't going to cut.
You also never want to underestimate how important it is to contact the local gaming, video game and comic book shops. Ask them to give out or put up fliers obviously, but they also may want to get involved and help your convention. Sometimes local shops will be willing to help run events, donate supplies or even contribute funds on rare occasion. Often these shops are locally owned, and the owners know how hard it is to pull things together. They may ask for a free vendor table in exchange, but it's a small price to pay for the free advertising you'll get out of them. Building local connections will also help you find ways to get more people from your area involved as well, so I can't help but emphasize this enough.
Also, it's fun to make friends with these people regardless, so it's worth stopping by.
The last thing I'm going to advise you to do is something so genius I really do wish I could take credit for it. One of No Brand Con's former con directors, Mike, had the brilliant promotional idea of sending a mass mailing to high school anime and art clubs across the state. You can find a list of your state's high shools online in a variety of places, but it's actually a pretty easy thing to do. He merely wrote a quick letter, created labels with each high school's address, and printed some fliers. As an organization, we stuffed, sealed and stamped the envelopes, sending them to schools across the state. The most expensive part of the whole thing was paying for the stamps, but the low cost versus how many people it brought in was quite impressive.
No matter what you do, always make sure your advertising is clear and concise. Don't exaggerate, make sure what you're doing is clearly stated, and make sure you don't forget any "obvious" details (location, dates, etc). Most of these methods are pretty old hat for cons, and they still work fairly well.
Langland, you're probably safe so long as you don't put the k's in bold 24pt font. However, you will always get questions about it so it's something worth considering. I doubt it would significantly impact your attendance numbers, but personally I'd just go with a different name if I were you.
it doesn't seem to address the massive impact the internet has on advertising in recent years. the use of blogs, con lists, and social networking sites are invaluable in advertising and are in general completely free. it also should be noted that the rules for naming a convention vary greatly by location as while a unique name may prevent copy cats and occasionally confusion, it can be a liability for those looking for a convention in a certain region who have not already heard of the convention. having a commonplace name including the name of the base city or state can be highly useful assuming its in a large enough city and does not plan on moving. it has the effect of linking the convention with a regional identifier, making it much easier for people to stumble across it when looking for a convention by region or simply looking up the city or state itself with a modifier like the word "anime". additionally the ideal name should have as little alternate spellings as possible to make it easier for people to look up, including ambiguities in punctuation and spacing.
Well, in my experience, online advertising is great -- but not as big an influence as the older methods still.
As for names, I totally agree with you on the spacing and punctuation. The biggest difficulty with "No Brand Con" is how many times people eliminate the space between "No" and "Brand" which always drives me nuts...
Regional names are good, but remember, with your name, if you need to adjust your subject matter, you may be pigeonholing yourself. In 10 years, anime won't be as big a deal as it is now. Do you want to be stuck with that in your name as you're trying to become a general convention in a decade? It's about adaptability and long term branding in that case.