With 130,000 enthusiastic, tech-savvy fans in one place, Comic-Con can serve as an important venue for vendors and exhibitors, and many companies have taken advantage of that – even some that aren't normally associated with the comic book world.
Since it began four decades ago, Comic-Con International has evolved from a sci-fi and comic book convention into a major multimedia and consumer marketing event. Entertainment fans from around the world have arrived at the San Diego Convention Center for the four-day extravaganza.
“As far as conferences go, this is a one-of-a-kind event,” said Deidre Mize, national account manager for Hallmark Cards, which has an exhibit at Comic-Con. “For Hallmark in particular, the value we see in this and what makes it stand out from other conferences is that the people who attend are truly enthusiastic about the companies that go there.”
“The people who go want to engage with us and spend time with us, so having the opportunity to do that one-on-one, face-to-face in this really large setting is a unique opportunity,” she added.
Hallmark started attending Comic-Con in 2007 because of its licensed relationship with Lucasfilm. Mize said there wasn't a specific PR plan for the event when the company first appeared there, but now for its fourth year in attendance, Hallmark is getting support from PR agency Fleishman-Hillard, which has worked with the company for 22 years.
Fleishman is engaging with consumers at the conference by using social media platforms more than ever before; in fact, about 80% of its PR efforts are social-media based.
“This year, we've added more to Hallmark's Comic-Con marketing mix, including blogger outreach to influential comic book/sci-fi bloggers, as well as outreach to mom bloggers, and Twitter contests via @HallmarkPR before, during, and after the conference,” said Amy Smith, managing supervisor at Fleishman.
To be successful at an event like Comic-Con, brands must often tailor their approach to the unique perspective of the attendees. Interactivity, experiential events, and a heavy reliance on social media platforms and other tech channels are the keys to making an impact.
Mattel, which has been attending the convention since 2000, recognizes the need to stay connected with fans through digital media.
During the event, the company is offering “up-to-the-minute” news on its MattyCollector Facebook page about participatory activities, including panels, raffles, exclusive giveaways, according to Bret Ingraham, assistant manager of PR for Mattel.
The company is also running a Twitter contest for people who take photos at the booth. Mattel is handling all its social media and traditional PR outreach for Comic-Con in-house.
In addition to digital communications, the company is featuring interactive components at the conference.
“One of our big licenses is WWE, so we have some of our superstars in our booth doing autograph signings and engaging with fans who collect our WWE toys,” Ingraham said. “It's a great place for us to get real-time feedback and spend time with our fans.”
Like Mattel, entertainment PR/marketing agency Bender Helper Impact, which has many clients at Comic-Con, such as Sony Online Entertainment and The Hub, believes in using a mix of in-person and online interaction with consumers.
Dean Bender, principal and partner of Bender Helper, said that many clients use a “unique strategy that is created and developed specifically for Comic-Con” in order to connect with the convention's “very much active and assertive consumers.”
“At other conferences, a significant amount of activity is related to traditional public relations, so if you have a booth in a trade show, you're inviting media all day long to come interview the executives and see the products,” Bender explained. “At Comic Con, it's much more of a two-way interaction with consumers and it creates opportunities for them to get involved with our clients' activities.”