During MomoCon, we were able to sit down with Dan Carroll, the media relations director, and get a glimpse into who he is and how he’s helped to make the convention scene a happier, more comfortable place.
Give us the history on the con.
Well, the convention was founded nine years ago on Georgia Tech by the Georgia Tech Anime Society. It grew from 750 people for a short weekend event to an estimated 8000-9000 people last year, and over 10,000 anticipated for 2013.
That’s pretty good growth.
The growth has been about 20% a year. For many years it was a free convention. The size of the convention did not allow for future growth without adding a membership fee. The membership fee allowed us to be able to provide a higher caliber of guests, to be able to provide a much more robust environment in the hotel setting, and we came off the Georgia Tech campus two years ago, and since then we’ve been using downtown Atlanta hotels and we’re very happy with the response we’ve gotten from the Atlanta Hilton this year.
Well, Hilton has a little bit of a history – Atlanta Fantasy Fair, DragonCon, obviously they’re con-friendly. Have you found them easy to work with?
Absolutely. Again, we’re very happy with the Hilton – with the location, with their support for the fan community, and their understanding of the fan community and what it takes to put a convention on.
That’s very high praise. Yesterday we were doing a little walking around; we were talking to some of the retailers down in the basement, and obviously Friday was not the strong sales day, but you got some really positive response from some of the more experienced retailers and dealers down there. Did you guys do anything different; was there any sort of lessons learned in the way you deal with the dealers in the dealer’s room? Because typically you don’t get as positive response as we heard yesterday.
A couple of things that we do – we understand that the dealers are an important part of the anime, gaming and animation experience, and we make them a priority. The second thing that we consider very important is that our fans want to come for a variety of different purchases, and we’ve been able to expand on our vendor list exponentially since moving to the hotel environments.
Plans for growth? Obviously you’ve come a long way in a short period of time – if you’re going from 8000 to 9000 to over 10,000 this year, what mechanisms are you looking at to grow further?
A couple things that are very important to MomoCon is that we take our social media very seriously. We know it’s the best way to reach out to our fan base, and to stay in touch with our fan base, and most importantly to listen. We’ve made investments in maturing the Media Relations department. Last year, Media Relations was a side-job of our co-chairman, Jess Merman. This year, they brought me in. My experience has primarily been with the DragonCon Media Relations department, where I met Jess, who runs the animation track and DragonCon. Parlaying that experience with the robust understanding of social media that the founders have, since they are technologists, have made it easier for us, from a media relations point of view, we’ve gone from less than 10 reporters last year to nearly 90 this year. In terms of how we handle the fan base, the one thing I hear over and over again is that our crowd control processes are superior to other conventions, because we separate crowd control from security and give them different roles. This provides a better ease of traffic for the fan coming to the MomoCon, and it pays off in dividends of comfort.
You anticipated one of our questions. We were going to note that you have a security team and crowd control, and we thought that was a smart division of responsibilities and duties.
It was. And let’s go back to that Georgia Tech base. One of the great things, from my point of view as a first time media relations director working with other staff, is that I’m an IT project manager by day. One of the reasons I’m able to get the results I get as a media relations director is because I use process engineering. I use analysis, I use tracking, I use the things that I use on my day job as a project manager. When I walked into this environment, they completely understood that. And being that they’re all technologists, many of them have been involved with the start-up community out of Georgia Tech, they also understand risk analysis, they understand planning, they understand when you make decisions, how you make decisions, and how to stagger and plan for large events. There’s nothing happenstance at MomoCon. It is a regulated, well-planned event, and that equates directly to fan satisfaction and guest satisfaction.
It’s funny you should mention that, because when we were walking around the convention, we talked to several other media representatives – Brian is in IT service management – and there were a number of project managers. All of us had humanities backgrounds, which you typically throw out the window and go into IT these days; the fact that all of this generally is very process-driven, and if you lack that process background, you fail. We can absolutely see the process management behind it.
And I want to point out, my degree is in 20th century history with an emphasis on US foreign policy, and I was a linguist prior to getting into IT. Unfortunately, the Cold War put me out of work.
I also got a gig going, Seriously Dan!, where I give lifestyle advice to geeks and tell stories about my life. I actually have Steve Blum willing to do stories about when things go bad and how you recover from it, that’s the type of stuff I’m trying to do. And encourage folks who are shy and maybe can’t get a relationship going, how to step back, make a plan, kind of actually teaching PMI methodologies for real-life situations.
We saw one of the panels that impressed us was how to introduce anime to your significant other, and we liked the idea. You’ve got this percentage of extroverts and a larger percentage of introverts, and how they interact, and it’s real interesting to us.
My best-case scenario, looking at myself and doing self-evaluation, I very seriously see myself as kind of somebody who’s responsible for being a voice of a community that’s often maligned. And we are. People don’t get us, and sometimes as a community and as individuals, we don’t often recognize social clues, and that stops us from being able to respond and interact properly. I myself see it with people that I really enjoy talking to for fifteen minutes, and then after a half hour… For those people who have worked booths or tables at conventions, we’ve all seen the person who shows up constantly over the weekend. I worked information desk at DragonCon for 3 years. When folks show up at the conventions and they ask for information, that’s great. When you become the only person that they know to have a conversation with at the convention, and you see it at the tables. I’m a friendly, outgoing guy, but I’m also a hugger, after I hug, I step back, and there’s people who don’t do that. And that’s the little things. Because you treat people with respect and they treat you with respect.
I just proposed for a different convention, doing more table stuff and getting my PT Barnum on.
Working with another organization, I said very clearly, you know what’s great, what I’d really like to get involved with, is your promotions in a much more ballyhoo sort of way. And they said are you sure you want to do this? And I said, let me explain to you – King Kong is the movie about a promoter who’s got a crazy monkey as a client. Karl Denim is the greatest character in black and white film, ever. In real life, he’s a gentleman.
Well Dan, this interview has turned into Dan, instead of MomoCon. But this interview is much more about what we’ve learned from you, which is: if there were more people like you running these things, we’d have some cons that would have more of what you bring to it. We always ask one question when closing. So we started running our blog to share our nerd side. What do you geek out about the most? And feel free to expand.
Okay. I am very lucky to be able to be that voice of the geek community that I talked about. One of the greatest experiences I ever had was, after spending time with Nicholas Brendon and Clare Kramer on a morning shoot for a local television show here in Atlanta, I had photographs taken of me and Nicholas and Clare. Later in the convention, this was DragonCon, I got the picture and I got Clare’s autograph, but I couldn’t find Nick. Later in the day I found Nick, and Nick looked across the room and said “Hey Dan! Where’s your suit?” I felt a) That Nicholas Brendon had called me by name, where he could not have read my badge, I was too far away from him, and b) was aware actually of my trademark of being the only guy at the convention who wears a suit on a consistent basis. I felt that was a point where I was contributing something and getting something back. Now, I’m a huge Buffy fan, a huge Battlestar Galactica fan, a huge Stargate fan – Stargate was a fandom that probably brought me back into regular fandom. But man, the one time I lost it and got nervous talking to a celebrity guest was meeting Bill Corbett of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I was so excited to see him I could not remember his name. And I was such a huge Mystery Science Theater fan, it was part of my family, part of my life, and I finally calmed down, relaxed and got his name right. Within five minutes, he was texting me pictures from his phone to my phone. That goes back to the whole thing I said before – it’s a lot of fun stuff, but when it comes down to it, it’s just what we did when we were twelve years old. We talked about comic books; we talked about old movies; we talked about Willis O’Brien; we talked about famous monsters of film land. If I can be, in a very small way, some sort of shadow of Forrest J Ackerman, I’ve achieved a life goal that I set out to at seven or eight years old, when I first found famous monsters of film land. That’s what I geek out about.
Thank you, Dan.
After the interview, we discovered that the attendance at MomoCon 2013 was 12,200, a 42% growth from the previous year. Congratulations to Dan and all the MomoCon staff, and keep up the hard work! You can follow along with Dan’s advice and adventures on his blog, Seriously Dan! and on Facebook.