Outreach Booths: The Frontlines of Your Convention
I’ve worked my fair share of convention booths, and there have been good and bad experiences. I’ve also seen a huge range of set ups, goals, and things that work (or don’t). The bottom line is that your convention booth is like a foreign exchange student, and everyone will be judging their first impression of your convention by it. Below is a list of things to keep in mind for your convention’s booth at your next outreach event!
Get the right ‘booth monkeys’! - Having the right people to man your booth seems like a no brainer. But it can be hard to find the right combination of outgoing, informative, and customer oriented personalities. Your main goal should be to find staffers that are engaging, they may have sales or a customer service background, and that’s a huge plus! Even if you aren’t selling merch or registrations, you’re still selling the idea of your convention. And frankly, no one wants to attend a con where the staff look uninterested or bored. Another key to having great booth monkeys is to make sure they are informed of deadlines, prices, locations, and policies related to your convention. It can come in the form of a simple FAQ sheet for them to reference, or a requirement that your booth monkey staff research those important topics. If they don’t have an answer, don’t forget to arm them with the knowledge of who to contact to get the information being asked about. It's so easy to direct an interested vendor to the exhibit manager’s email, or a potential panelist to the head of programming. Having a business card with those emails, or a way for your booth monkeys to write down the information will help people get the info they need before the con.
Have an interesting display - You don’t have to have a video playing at your booth, or music, but having a booth that is eye catching will help attract new potential attendees. Another option is to have your booth monkeys cosplay. It's a fun way to interact with people, and lets your booth monkeys express themselves. Candy, giveaways, raffles, and other interactive things will make your booth stand out in people’s minds.
Have cash boxes and card readers ready to go - By having a cash box already set up with change, and card readers set up and ready it puts less stress on your booth monkeys. They can worry about making sales, giving out information, and interacting with people, rather than having to track down change or figure out a card reader. Training your staff on your card reader is also important. Make sure that you cover any error messages, or questions they may have. It’s also a good idea to have a backup internet plan, which can be a Wi-Fi hotspot or someone’s phone.
Make a schedule - Sitting at a booth for 8 hours isn’t fun for anyone. Especially alone. Make sure your staff aren’t alone so they can take bathroom breaks, or run to grab a meal. Two to Three people is usually enough. Also make sure your shifts overlap a bit so that if someone is late or needs to be trained they aren’t cutting into the previous shift’s free time.
Feed your booth monkeys! - Unfed staffers are grumpy staffers. Even if your convention can’t afford a per diem for booth staff, having a few granola bars can be all it takes to tide a staffer over until they get a break. Scheduling a runner to go get food and drinks can also fill this requirement, or a short break during a shift for someone to grab a coffee.
Talk about your booth on social media! - Your con probably has social media, so make sure you’re putting it to use during outreach events! You can post your hours, silly photos, registration specials, awesome cosplay and more!
Show up! - This is another given, but you would be surprised at how often I see empty convention booths at events. Sometimes life happens, and whoever is organizing the booth cannot attend. But this is why it is important to have a team. An empty booth looks like you don’t care enough to show up. And while that may not be the case, it still looks bad. Some events will also not allow you to come back if you do not show up, as that’s a table that could go to an event or business that would use it.
Track your outreach - Outreach is how you get new attendees. And while we’ve become a digital society, face to face dialogues with your possible attendee base can do a lot of good. But tracking where those people are from can also help give you data to project other events with, and find out more about your demographics. Otakon has a great example for tracking outreach at events. They have a scratch card where you win a prize, and fill out the back with your basic information. It helps show how many people they speak with over the course of an event, as well as where those people are from.
If you keep these things in mind when planning your next outreach booth, you should have booth success. Booths and fan tables can vary at different events. Sometimes you’re in a special ‘fan table’ area, other times you’re with artist alley or exhibitors. So keep that in mind when your convention is applying for a table. Cons can also keep costs down by doing booth and ad space trades. If you’re looking to run a booth at a new event, and don’t know their policies on trades, shoot them an email and ask. You probably aren’t the first person to ask.
Originally published on 1/27/2016 at conventioning.wordpress.com