If you work at an office, you already know what it’s like. Long hours, dry meetings you’re not sure of the point of, bosses you don’t always like but still have to suck up to, menial tasks you thought you were above.
Of course, there are two big differences. First, you don’t get paid. And second, you and all of your coworkers are more passionate about this job than anything else in the world.
There are some practical reasons, too, for getting on staff at a con. You’ll save money on lodging and food, make friends, and meet the movers and shakers of your fandom. Here’s how to get on staff at a con.
Show your dedication
Anime USA was the first convention to give me filming and interviewing privileges despite my student status, lack of press credentials, or more than basic knowledge of how to operate a video camera. But through a sense of duty brought on by gratefulness as well as some student ingenuity, I produced three mini-films about the convention.
When I was finished, I put the videos up on my blog and shared them with the staff. I showed them to two of the Vice-Chairs, Rob and Theo, when I ran into them at another convention. Afterward, they told me they were looking for a marketing director and asked if I’d like to fill the position. Gobsmacked, I said I’d love to.
At the time, I thought they were really impressed by my technical skills. But I have since learned that Theo is a talented filmmaker while Rob is a professional Web designer. My student film didn’t show them I would be a good addition to the staff. It was the fact that I had enough passion for their convention to make a film in the first place.
Don’t give up
I’ve never outright said this on my blog, but I knew it and I know the rest of the staff knew it — I was a terrible marketing director. Passion is great, but being a 23-year-old student with no job experience is another thing. I’d never even volunteered at a convention before, and here I was managing my own staff.
I liked to think of my team as scrappy. I recruited my boyfriend as my assistant director since unlike me; he had staff experience. Chris, the graphic designer, was a friend from college. My recently-promoted press liason was a soft-spoken college student. Siham, bless her, was a student about my age with lots of experience, but chose to run the maid cafe and host club so she didn’t have time to work as a director. I am certain that working with me must have been trying. Theo did promotion work and his brother, Greg, was the con’s longtime program book designer.
I was worried about screwing up to the point of paralysis. But I invited them all to a party at my boyfriend’s apartment, where I served homemade onigiri. My first mistake was that I spent more time making snacks than planning the meeting. Things went off the rails almost immediately. Siham took the shy press liaison under her wing and I could see his eyes bulging with the new pressures of his job. Nobody thought of me as the group leader since Mark, a staff member who was really high up in the ranks, showed up to the meeting, too.
After the meeting, my press liaison quit with an email. I wanted to quit, too. But I didn’t because I love Anime USA. Some things I did terribly, like mismanaging press and leaving poor Tom in the guests department to figure out the interview schedule. Other things, like the prospectus and official blog, were my own brand new additions. I was really proud and hoped that the things I improved outweighed my mistakes. But I wasn’t surprised when Mark demoted me and put a more experienced staff member in charge for 2011.
Now, I’m Anime USA’s press liaison, a job that I’m much more adept at handling. But if I had quit halfway, I would probably just have been given a kick out the door. Passion got me the job. But effort helped me stay on board.
Bring new ideas
After working on Anime Boston’s official blog, I wanted nothing more than to bring that idea to Anime USA. It was a great way to archive the most important events of the con all in one place, plus give people who couldn’t attend events accurate coverage. Everyone at Anime USA was on board with the idea but incredibly busy. If I really wanted this blog, it was up to me to make it happen.
Rob gave me a domain at blog.animeusa.org, and I set to work customizing a WordPress theme. I recruited bloggers by giving them writing tests. I tried to get Internet working consistently in our convention hotel. And most importantly, I promoted the blog so people would know it existed. And I did this in the most eye-catching way I could think of, by putting QR codes all around the convention center.
My convention-eve at FedEx printing strange symbols paid off. People paid attention to the codes and some even made their own spinoffs. I loved that part; fan innovation is my favorite part of fandom. The convention got thousands of attendees, so I was happy when the official blog received thousands of hits.
Fans and geeks are brilliant people. We’re on the cutting edge of new technologies and trends. And yet, when it comes to our conventions, we’re so caught up in getting the basic necessities fulfilled that we’re sometimes behind the curve. That explains why we’re only recently using Conventionist and blogging. New people know these things can be just as important to attendees as a well run dealer’s room. They keep new ideas flowing.
While I’m also on staff at the much larger Anime Boston (I was recently promoted to a producer role on their Creative Media Team), I will always be thankful for Anime USA to giving my start in convention reporting and staffing. Even though I didn’t have it on my resume at the time, Anime USA gave me the experience I rely on the most at my actual office job. In fact, my number one suggestion for unemployed geeks is to get on staff at a con.
By the way, I didn’t change any names in this article. If you’re at Anime USA this November and you see these staff members, be sure to say hi. And tell them I sent you.