Cost of the convention:
Folks, this is what they call a nonprofit venture.
The downturn in the economy no doubt took a bite out of attendance in Piscataway.
127 attended; 33 subscribed to the absentee souvenirs.
But the continuing recession may in fact hold opportunity for convention planners to negotiate, for next year and beyond. We can deliver over 100 people, who not only sleep and eat at the hotel, but tour the surrounding area and shop locally, too. You'll be dealing with a strong hand, so don't be afraid to challenge prices. If you're like me and you're lousy with figures, business negotiations, etc. -- find someone who can take that role on with relish, and save yourself a lot of grief. You'll learn a lot just by watching. Everything is negotiable. (And special thanks to Sheryl Jaeger, who drummed that into my head.)
What I learned:
Location: It's not easy to find an ideal location: hotels near city center are expensive, and the cheaper ones further out in the suburbs involve commuting expenses to and from the airport. The San Antonio convention was memorable in this regard because you could walk the city right outside your hotel door. Weigh your costs, options and trade-offs carefully.
Sales Room: Size is important. The one in Parsippany was too small, and would have meant splitting up the Sales Room or simply having people sell from their rooms--which would have added enormously to our costs. More importantly, it was an idea which people hated, because as I learned they want to be in one big room to get maximum foot traffic and to be next to friends they see but once a year. Chalk it up to a beginner's mistake. We shifted to Piscataway to get the 5,822 sq. ft. ballroom, and it was worth the headache and penalty.
Delegate: The people I relied upon the most live in other states, from California to Connecticut, so distance should not be a factor. Many people who have organized conventions in the past are eager to help out. Some can help you with planning, others will sign up for duties during the convention itself (and some will gladly do both.) Find someone who lives nearby to help you negotiate with the hotel in person. There’s a lot of information to absorb, lots of notes to take. You don’t want to miss a thing. As you might have deduced by now, Sheryl Jaeger was indispensable in this regard, negotiating with the hotel in addition to overseeing the Sales Room, among many other things.
Embrace the new: Stay open to new ideas. I hope Bruce Patrick Jones’ Artists Sweatshop becomes a convention tradition – it’s a fun and instructive workshop that produces new art on the spot.
Balance: We need BOTH antique/vintage and new/contemporary paper doll artists to be successful.
Promote and advertise: Very important--and you don't have to spend a dime. In addition to the paper doll magazines, there are lots of free listing opportunities with your local newspaper. Somerset Studio magazine has a free event listing service online. Don’t neglect the antique/collectibles press (i.e., Maine Antiques Digest, Paper & Advertising Collectors' Marketplace, Antique Week and Antique Trader). Most will pick up and use a press release, unedited, so make sure you get it right. Even if readers don’t attend this year, they now know we exist, and may attend sometime in the future. Also, many of them sign up for absentee souvenirs, an important source of convention revenue.
Some readers jump at the chance to attend. Bonnie Hanson saw a press release I sent to one of the antique weeklies – she had attended conventions in the past, but lost track of us. Who is Bonnie? See below:
Yes, THAT Bonnie--a big winner at Competition.
Go online: Start a blog, Facebook, myspace, live journal, whatever. Promotion is easy when all you have to do is send a link with all the information. Garth Lax’s e-mails are extremely effective—providing information (he does a lot of his own research on convention locale touring) and reminding people about deadlines, nudging them to send that check in.
Snail mail: And let’s not forget our friends who are not online and have no e-mail. Many people print out Garth’s e-mails and snail-mail them to friends. That’s very important. Many off-line people subscribe to paper doll publications (Paper Doll Review, Golden Opportunities, Cornerstones, Paper Doll Circle in the UK); get the editorial calendar from the editors, so you know when to send in a timely letter or press release with convention updates.
Dealers: There are paper doll dealers who faithfully come to every convention. And there are paper doll dealers who attend because they live near that year’s convention site. (Did you see Don and Jo Ann Reisler's fantastic sales table? There also was another couple at San Antonio in 2007 who had a great selection of antique paper dolls.) Those one-shot dealers need to hear about us. That’s why promotion locally and nationally is important.
Dover: Dover Publications came through with $1,000 to support our opening reception, and showed a willingness to stay involved. This is a good thing, and their support should become a tradition, too. Contact me if you need information or help to keep them involved. The graphic at the top of this post is taken from the Dover Electronic Clip Art collection, "Advertising Cuts of the 20s and 30s."
Be prepared for the unexpected I: I had no idea my late father would fall seriously ill during the convention planning year. But I was able to lose myself in the details of convention-planning, and let a lot of stress roll off that might have sunk me any other year. My father's illness put a lot of things in perspective.
Be prepared for the unexpected II: Lori Lawson of Virginia was supposed to help me out. Where was she?
Well, that's all I can think of right now. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
Thanks to all of you who attended and helped out in so many ways.
I look forward to seeing all of you again in Las Vegas.