Bryan Brandenburg and Dan Farr had no background in events when they launched their show production company 12 months ago. That lack of experience hasn’t mattered though—the duo just got done hosting more than 100,000 attendees for a new comic con venture in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience, held April 17-19 at the Salt Palace Convention Center, was the group’s second show since the company, Dan Farr Productions, opened for business last April—their first show, Salt Lake Comic Con, drew more than 70,000 to the same venue in September—but it’s already among the largest in a fast-growing sector.
No Experience? No Problem
Brandenburg and Farr come from tech backgrounds, each bringing a wealth of experience from their executive roles at design and animation firms, but events were new.
“A lot of this was being created for the first time,” Brandenburg, the company’s vice president of marketing, says. “We didn’t have experience producing a show, so we surrounded ourselves with experts and took our high-tech, bleeding-edge mentality from all those years in the high technology business, and brought it to what’s really a traditional brick-and-mortar business.”
That tech background is evident in a robust app and smart SEO practices that drove traffic to the show blog, but branding, partnerships and social media also played critical roles in building the event, allowing them to establish an audience quickly in an untapped market.
Unlike a lot of other show segments, Brandenburg and Farr knew they were starting with an advantage from a branding perspective.
“We knew that the term ‘comic con’ is kind of like a Xerox, it’s a generic brand,” Brandenburg says. “All it means is comic convention, but we knew that there was brand equity associated with the phrase that we could capitalize on, being the only comic con in our market.”
Partnerships with several local media outlets were also critical, Brandenburg says, giving the show near-100 percent penetration into their market on multiple mediums. Joining with Media One, an event-production unit run by the two largest newspapers in the area, also offered ticketing solutions that allowed the group to bypass middlemen and sell directly to the public.
Courting a Bigger Audience
The core audience would be served by leveraging the name and experience associated with other giant comic cons, including the industry’s mega show, Comic Con International, but Brandenburg wanted to cast a wider net. Securing high-profile guests helped; so did adding a Kid Con to make it family-friendly. Social media messaging was the biggest element though.
“Comic cons are a vertical market, but we thought if we educated consumers that all their favorite movies and TV shows like The Avengers and Superman and Spider Man and Walking Dead are all comic book-based, we could go from a vertical product to a horizontal, mass-market product,” he says. “To do that, we decided that rather than sell to our potential customers, we’d entertain them. People are on Facebook not to be sold to, but to divert them from their otherwise dreary lives.”
Posts strongly emphasized that entertainment aspect, focusing on the pop culture memes around a lot of the characters and worlds that would be featured at the show—marketing always came second. Content itself came once or twice a day, both from around the Web and in-house.
At the peak of their powers, about a week before the show, Salt Lake Comic Con was reaching 2.5 million people in its local market—reach equivalent to most local TV or radio stations, Brandenburg says. Now, more than a week after the close, almost 27,000 people are still “talking about this” on Facebook, volume well above their comic con peers.