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Tips and Advice for First Year Press Attending Comic-Con International in San Diego

July 27, 2011

As many of you know, this was our first year attending Comic-Con.  Not just our first year as press, but our first year, period.  We thought we had done all kinds of research on how the experience would play out, and we did, but boy there was still a lot of learning to do!

First of all, it should go without saying that one of the most important things you need to do is have fun!!  Look at that schedule and be sure you’re picking some panels that you’re interested in.  It can’t only be about serving your reader/customer but also about getting some enjoyment out of the experience! With that all-important one out of the way, below you will find the 10 most important lessons we learned as first time attendees and first time press.

1.  Stay as close to the site as possible.  As part of the press/professional crowd you’re not only there for your own pleasure, but to work.  This means you’ll most likely need to spend time each day transcribing interviews, writing articles and looking through the 100s of photos you took.  This takes time and sometimes a lot of it.  We learned the hard way that the last thing you want to do is tackle an hour plus commute at the end of your day.  You want to walk right to your room, sit down, get your work done and still have time and energy to attend those parties!

2.  If you’re adamant about covering Ballroom 20 or Hall H, arrive early.  Painfully early.  Waaaay earlier than you want.  Press does not get to enter in a special location or have reserved seats; you enjoy the full Comic-Con experience just like everyone else.  Here is a great example: We caught our 7:30 a.m. trolley from Qualcomm Stadium (the earliest train) and arrived at the convention center to an ENORMOUS line.  We split up; some went in line for Hall H, some for Ballroom 20.  The person covering Ballroom 20 ended up in a line so long at one point that they could no longer see the convention center.  They eventually ended up in Ballroom 20 SIX hours later and had enough time to cover ONE panel before departing for their late afternoon interview.  This leads perfectly into tip #3.

3.  You can’t cover it all and you can’t do it all.  Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.  You cannot be in Hall H in the morning and expect to be in Ballroom 20 in the afternoon.  You’ll spend your entire day in line and see nothing.  If you’re set on covering as much as possible you won’t get to the beach or the pool in time to enjoy it.  Be OK with that or work it into your day and sacrifice an afternoon of panels.

4.  Drink water.  Sounds dumb really, but it will impact your ENTIRE next day if you fail to do this one simple thing.  Of course everyone is different so the important thing here is to pay attention to your body.  Correlated to this, bring snacks.  The convention center has food available, but it’s mostly pizza, popcorn and pretzel related.  If you hunt you’ll find some other options but they all have one thing in common – high price tags.  You can walk offsite but prepare to battle crowds and lines just as long as those inside the convention center.

5.  If you do want to cover Hall H, Ballroom 20, or the Indigo Ballroom all day, have no fear you CAN use the bathroom!  They have worked out a great system with passes that allow you to leave during a panel to use the restroom or purchase food.  You just need to return to the room before the end of the panel to return to your seat.  More good news.  There will always be a nice, trustworthy person next to you or behind you to help watch your stuff so you don’t lose your seat.  Every time we needed to use the restroom there was a willing soul to stand watch over our bags, which at times contained laptops, digital cameras and digital recorders.

6.  Know your technology and bring the right equipment.  You need a camera with great zoom.  You most likely won’t end up in the first 10 rows of a panel so you’ll need to use that zoom to get pictures worth using. Bring a digital audio recorder.  You don’t want to change tapes during an interview and the quality is so much better.  HD video equipment is useful for press conferences, but bring a tripod with you.  In that same vein, don’t expect every interview, press conference or roundtable to allow video recording.  Also – when you’re in panels, videotaping of exclusive footage is prohibited.

7.  Bring a reliable Internet connection if you want to post or live blog during the day.  The convention center has wireless, but it is unreliable and spotty.  The 3G (4G was non-existent) on our phones was also spotty, so tethering wasn’t a valid option.  We were able to use our phones for live tweeting but it may be wise to bring an extra cell phone battery with you.  As you can imagine, outlets are at a premium and if you’re in Hall H or another panel room all day you won’t have time to use them at all.

8.  Use your social media resources well.  Follow key people.  We found @Comic_Con and @SD_Comic_Con to be extremely useful resources.  @SD_Comic_Con in particular was really useful for tracking down the wait times for various room lines and helped you determine whether it was worth it to bail on one line and try for something else.  @SD_Comic_Con also kept you laughing and entertained while in line.  Also, if you have questions while you’re on site, look for volunteers (they wear volunteer tags) or Comic-Con staff.  Avoid asking security staff questions, they likely won’t know the answer.

9.  Bring a team if possible and define the roles.  There were three of us at Comic-Con (Dave, Amber and Adrian) but there was still a lot we missed or couldn’t cover.  There will be times where you could want to cover five events scheduled at the same time.  Determine your priorities.  Also, even as first year press you will more than likely land interviews and press conferences.  These are great to cover but they will throw a major wrench in your plans to cover a room for the entire day.  Once you leave to cover that press conference you probably won’t get into anything else for the rest of day.  Noon interviews seemed to be tricky for us, but late afternoon events fit much more easily into our schedules.  Your schedule, however, isn’t determined by you – it’s determined by the people you’re supposed to be talking to.  Which leads to #10.

10.  Your schedule will change.  You may have an interview scheduled for noon, but that person has got a packed schedule and may be running late from another interview.  Be flexible, be kind and remember that the person you’re talking to has very little control over their own schedule.  Send emails to apologize for missed meetings, stay extremely professional at all times and roll with the punches.  Take advantage of those missed meetings and catch up on work or just take a walk in the park between the Hilton and the convention center!

These are the things we learned this year.  Ultimately you need to survive your first Comic-Con experience to learn your own lessons, and there will be plenty to learn.  If you have specific questions you want to ask us please feel free to email me at

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