In my previous installment of this series, I mentioned that two things the attendees are coming for are the Vendors and Guests. While I covered Vendors in that last article, I joked that "an entry on getting your guests would end up being 'Find a Guest you want, invite him or her to come.'" Since then, I was reminded by my wife that (as I've been doing this a while) I might just be taking a few things for granted on the topic.
So here we are.
Now, to be completely honest, this is the one part of conventions I have the least experience with. While I have worked with guests, and know enough to be confident in writing this article, when in charge I've usually delegated contact with the guests to other people, and when I wasn't in charge I didn't try to get that involved. But, again, I've been doing this kind of thing for over a decade, so I know more than your average person off of the street.
So let's get started.
1. Contacting Guests This is really dependent on what kind of convention you're running. If you're running a science fiction convention, and you're aiming for an actor from your favorite franchise... well, you're going to be jumping through hoops. On the inverse, if you're running a gaming convention and want to bring in the author of your favorite D20 expansion, it might be as simple as emailing the person.
For the most part, you'll want to contact them however a guest wants to let you. You are playing on their turf, and you must be respectful. For example, some voice actors want all contact to be done through an official email on their website, while others will want you to contact their agent to make arrangements.
An established convention's guest relations staff may have more casual contact methods with some guests because of long term contact, but as you're starting a first year convention, you likely won't have anyone who text messages with the star of your favorite show on staff.
If a guest you would like to invite is appearing at another convention, feel free to ask them for contact information when they're in public at an appropriate time. Asking someone while they're signing autographs? Okay. Asking someone while they're using a urinal? NEVER OKAY. If you are unable to see the differences between these two situations, please have someone else on your convention staff be in charge of guest relations.
I want to be clear on this next bit: Tentative interest is not confirmation. Never announce a guest as confirmed until you have it in writing, and you are absolutely sure that you are on their schedule.
Doing otherwise is bad... very, very bad.
2. Evaluating Costs Different guests are going to cost you different amounts of money. A local author might be someone who you don't even need to get a hotel room for, while an actor you will likely have to fly in, pay for hotel space, provide food for, and these days pay an appearance fee.
For a first year convention, guests can be the second largest part of your budget (behind the venue costs), and you shouldn't spend more than you can afford. If a guest asks for things you can't afford, then you can't afford that guest.
Your first year convention may only have one well known guest, and that's okay too. Most people aren't expecting your first year con to be a star studded extravaganza or anything.
You should also try to find out which guests will give you your biggest bang for your buck. There are guests who love doing a ton of panels, so they may provide more entertainment than another guest who only wants to do a couple. As a first year convention, your programming will likely be thin, so this critical. You should ask other cons which guests are good to work with.
If you're an anime con, try to invite Tiffany Grant. She's the sweetest human being on the planet.
3. Guest Escorts and Handlers So you have your guest confirmed, and the convention comes around... what are you going to do with them? You're going to need a guest relations staff of course!
Now, how much assistance a guest will need very much depends on the guest. Some will want constant assistance, while others will want to be pretty much left alone and will come to you when they want something.
In either situation, you should have a dedicated staff member (not a volunteer - someone you can trust) to be available to help the guest with anything they need.
Your guest relations staff needs to be selected from your best staff members. Pick responsible people who know the area (in case they need to bring the guest out for dinner), and who won't (for lack of a better phrase) creep out the guests. Look, we all want to be nice to our friends, but let's be honest: Some of your convention's staff will not be socially affluent. You will have some weird people on your staff, and while they might be great human beings, they likely aren't the people you want tasked for this kind of duty.
It's exceptionally important that your guest relations staff respect the boundaries of the guests and be responsive to a guest's needs.
Final Thoughts... One of the most important things to remember when dealing with guests is that they are people too, just like you. They want to be treated with respect, but they are not unapproachable. You should not be intimidated by your guests, because if you're working on a guest relations team... you will be dealing with them a lot, and you'll probably annoy the crap out of them.
Thank you for writing these articles, they are great. I am hoping to plan a convention, but right now it's in the "My Brain" stage. I definitely have more obstacles and less options than most cons. Considering I'm planning a Vocaloid Con. The first of it's kind. Idk if you know anything about vocaloid, but I know we'd need a translator(for email communication with Crypton etc.) on staff at the least.