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October 20, 2009


CR Newsmaker: Lance Fensterman

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Everybody's yelling "Con War," which is fun when you don't have to fight in one. The competitive rivalry between Reed Exhibitions and whatever entity under which longtime Wizard Entertainment honcho Gareb Shamus is organizing his convention business these days entered into a new phase this weekend when the Shamus group announced their intention to run their just-completed Big Apple Comic Con the same weekend in the year 2010 as the New York Comic Con.

Having two conventions in the same city on the same weekend calls into questions a lot of interesting, long-developing stories in comics: Reed's attempt to become a major player in comics conventions building on their success in trade shows (they're also launching a Chicago show in Spring 2010), the Shamus' group attempt to retrench as a convention organizer and general pop culture web presence after staggering losses (in personnel terms) at their print magazines, the increasing important of such shows to comics entities and professionals, that New York will host two such shows after years of organizers circling the waters afraid to take the major-investment plunge, and the success of the two models of such shows as represented by each organization's track record.

It also becomes an interesting story because having two conventions in the same city on the same weekend practically guarantees the smaller show -- the Shamus show -- will gain in press opportunities may have the ability to seek out advantages in terms of general branding, guests and exhibitors. At the same time, each show's standard of success will be their own and no one fully knows how those standards will feel the impact of a nearby show, not to mention the pressure of the ramp-up, until the shows come off in 2010.

Reed Exhibitions VP of Books, Publishing and Pop Culture (and acknowledged NYCC show-runner) Lance Fensterman was nice enough to exchange e-mails interview-style. I appreciate him taking the time to do so.

TOM SPURGEON: Can I ask how surprised you were they'd go the same weekend? The way I see it, they had to announce sometime in the same general window, and going the same weekend made sense given their decision to have an Anaheim show the weekend of your Chicago show. Had you been operating with this latest sort of move in mind at all?

LANCE FENSTERMAN: I am not surprised in the least. They have launched two previous events, Anaheim, as you mentioned, on C2E2's dates and Toronto is on our PAX East dates (Penny Arcade Expo). There is a clear trend that even I can make out happening there.

SPURGEON: For that matter, does realizing there will be a large show in proximity -- whenever you did -- change anything about your strategy and work planning at all? Do you lock down guests more quickly? Will you be more careful about pricing strategies? Do you make general plans differently with a competitor very focused on a certain audience for comics? Or do you just do what you do?

FENSTERMAN: We believe we have a pretty good strategy towards our events and I think our track record indicates that. We put the industry, fans, exhibitors and guests first. If we please them we'll be rewarded with a stellar event and yes a good business proposition for ourselves. It's start with those entities. We have been in high growth mode for five years now, so we are always looking at how to grow the show and give the fans a great experience, but no, we won't alter our plans dramatically.

SPURGEON: The elephant in the room is dirty tricks, Lance. Or at least unsavory ones. Do you know of any attempts by any of your competitors to confuse potential guests as to which show they're attending? Is this a concern? Do you feel that there's a line to be crossed where someone can use terms or a kind of branding that occludes clear consumer choice? Does Reed have experience with this kind of thing and policy in terms of how to deal with it?

FENSTERMAN: I don't think there is any question when someone puts a similar named event, in the same city as the market leader on the same weekend, they are counting on drafting off our success and confusion as part of there business model. To me that's without question. We are aware of guest issues and exhibitor issues that are not what we would consider "above board" on the part of other events and we've chosen not to take action because, frankly, we believe we have a better business model because we consistently put the industry, the exhibitors, the fans and the guests first. That's a headache we don't need, we'd rather focus on our customers and growing this industry.

SPURGEON: How much will you welcome the press -- particularly local and regional press -- covering their show along with your show? Do you have a preference they not do this? Can you work with your press partners to ensure your show is covered in a way that doesn't allow another show to piggyback on press coverage you've earned? Is this an issue at all?

FENSTERMAN: That gets to be tricky. We have always had a very liberal press credential policy and embraced all forms of media, new and old, and I do not see that changing.

SPURGEON: Same question, but with your guests attending both shows?

FENSTERMAN: We have never employed any kind of "exclusive" clauses with our guests or our exhibitors nor will we. We think our events speak for themselves and will be the clear choice of where guests will want to spend there time the weekend of October 8th.

SPURGEON: Have there been any further developments in NYCC personnel being asked to leave the show last weekend? How do you feel about that now that you've had a couple of days to mull it over? Will that have any lingering effect, do you think?

FENSTERMAN: We've had a good time retelling the story here at the office! No, it's an illustration of how they chose to do business. We have always welcomed staffers from other shows to our events as we would any other professional -- free badges and freedom to conduct business.

SPURGEON: Does anything about the events being on the same weekend change any of your goals or benchmarks for that weekend? Where might adjustments be made? If not, why are you so confident in the lack of impact?

FENSTERMAN: We will not adjust our expectations at all. I firmly believe that when you are dedicated to the growth of an industry as we are, and focused on delighting the fans, the exhibitors and the guests (professionals) you cannot have a better proposition for success. We are well organized, professionally staffed, well funded and a strong track record. As I stated above, my most important task is assuring the audience knows that New York Comic Con is in 750,000 square feet of space at the Javits Center, not down the road.

SPURGEON: This may be a stab in the dark, but am I right in that Wizard and Reed had a relationship that extended to the first show or pair of shows that you did in New York? Can I assume any and all vestiges of that relationship are now terminated? Is there any lingering Wizard influence on the floor of NYCC, any Wizard left in your DNA?

FENSTERMAN: We advertised with them and they may have had a booth at one point, but nothing more than that.

SPURGEON: My bad. Hey, we're about six months away from C2E2, and as in a way that also represents a "turf battle" between yourself and the Wizard/Shamus camp, I wondered if I could sneak in a question there. I'm a former Chicago resident, so I recognize many of your upsides. The one thing I'm intensely curious about is one potential downside of having it out by Lake Michigan as opposed to Rosemont -- namely, the basic logistics and housing issues, getting people in and out of the show in a hard-to-negotiate city as opposed to highway-accessible suburban sprawl and the relatively easy parking out there. Can you sketch in broad terms how you expect people to come to the show? Do you expect regional attendance? Will there be shuttles, convention hotels, guaranteed parking at the show…? Do you foresee this as something about which the show's concerned?

FENSTERMAN: The upside is we will actually be in the city of Chicago, one of the greats cities in the world and we plan to use the city as a part of the con. The challenge is that yes, for some it will be a new routine or more costly, but I think when we educate our customers, they'll find that it is really not that expensive. We have a large stock of reasonable hotel rooms, the EL Train and the Metra (suburban lines) both run to McCormick, there is parking attached to the building, and cheaper parking a few blocks away and we will run shuttles. Shuttles will also be running form all the major hotels.

We expect very broad regional attendance and we plan for C2E2 to be a Midwest Wide Con. We'll be offering coach buses at a discount from major feeder cities (and major college cities) like Madison, South Bend, Milwaukee, etc. We are prepared for C2E2 to be a con that draws from all reaches of the Midwest and we've done our research on demographics and retail strong holds to plan for that.

a couple of the questions were tweaked for clarity in posting. Mr. Fensterman has yet to answer follow-ups on the Wizard con's extra day and a redirect on making the two shows distinct in the public's eye. I'll add them here if and when they come in; they weren't crucial to the end result.

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posted 8:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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