It’s the final day of VidCon and I’m sitting at the hotel waiting to pickup my suit for the day, so I thought I’d write a little guide for attendees of future VidCon events who are also entrepreneurs and want to make the most of the event.
This is my first time attending VidCon, but not my first time attending conventions. I’ve worked as a game journalist for four years, and have attended a lot of entrepreneur focused networking events. I’m used to power networking.
Also don’t think for a moment that you’re not an entrepreneur if you just make YouTube videos. Entertainment is a business.
*Much of this guide can also apply to other conventions, not just VidCon.
#1. Get a booth.
I didn’t have a booth but my friend Petros did for his show My Life as a Video Game.
It should go without saying but if you want to best showcase your product you need a stage to do it upon. Had I the marketing budget to do so, I would have gotten a booth myself instead of bumming some space at Petros’ table.
In addition to having your company mentioned in the con guide, VidCon also runs a contest where attendees can earn streamers from owners of exhibit booths, and the streamers are required to enter a contest to earn a free VidCon 2015 pass. This motivates attendees to go to all the booths and learn about the products.
But booths are great for other reasons. Not only do they serve as a beacon to bring people to you, they also allow you to do something that would otherwise be awkward; call out to groups. When I helped man Petros’ booth the first day, whenever a group passed by the booth I would call out, “Do you like video games?” and motion to them to come talk to me. If someone tried to talk to me from 20 feet away I’d tell them I can’t hear them and they need to come closer. If just one person in that group started walking to the booth, this brought the entire group of 4 to 10 people over. If a large enough group was around the booth it caused other people to gravitate over; crowds get bigger as more people come over, curious to see what is going on. It’s a snowball effect and it is very easy to build so long as you have someone to keep cat-calling herds of people to the booth.
A word about the badge streamers; damn near everyone seems to do it wrong. Many companies hire out street teams to pass out streamers like candy, but do not equip the promoters with so much as a business card to know who to contact. Worse I met several promoters who had no idea what the brand was even about. I obtained a lot of streamers and not a single person ever asked me to take any action to earn it. This is a massively wasted opportunity.
The proper way to use badge streamers is to require people to do something. In Petros’ case he required people to sign up for his mailing list and also subscribe to his YouTube channel. If they wanted a poker chip they also needed to tweet about the show.
Using this tactic Petros gather well over 1,000 qualified leads for his mailing list, several of them YouTubers with large (30K+) followings of their own. He also gained just as many new YouTube subscribers.
#2. Have business cards.
Your #1 goal at a convention is to get someone’s email address. The worst thing you can do is get a great rapport going with someone who can champion you inside their company, and then have no way to followup after the convention. Do not settle for just handing out your card; people can lose it (they can slip out of a pocket while getting their phone or wallet).
You should never walk away from someone with asking for their business card. If they do not have a business card you need to pull out a notepad and pen, and get them to write it down (don’t write it down yourself; you might mishear and write it down wrong. Cons are noisy places and I’ve made that mistake in the past).
I really need to stress this: Your business card is more important than your pamphlets. Your business card fits into a pocket easier and is thus much less likely to get lost. I estimate they have 70% more “stickiness” than any other kind of promo material. You’ll still have people lose / toss them, but it’s more likely to stay with them than a huge sheet of paper someone has to drag around all day.
Your business card should have your name, title, company, company website, your email address and your phone number. You may also want your FB Page and Twitter, too. The back of your business card should have a QR card taking the person directly to whatever it is you are trying to promote; not everyone will scan it, but many will (some marketers insist QR code usage is a myth. It’s not; I’ve watched people use them).
Believe it or not I met people from major companies who did not have any business cards. They said it was because they were “new hires”, having only worked a couple weeks and the company hadn’t issued them any cards yet. These folks had to login to their phone apps and send me an email directly, and that whole process took like 5 minutes on the crap convention wi-fi.
This is absolutely inexcusable. I ordered 500 new cards from Vistaprint the Saturday before the convention and it cost me about $50. They arrived on Tuesday; the day before the convention. Business cards are insanely easy to acquire and there is no reason to not have some before a major promotional event like VidCon. If you can pay to send your people to a convention you can surely pay $50 to get them some business cards.
#3. Ignore the panels
When I was first starting out as a game journalist I used to sit in panels waiting for the speakers to finish so I could walk up to them afterwards and get their contact info. The problem is that you and 100 other people all have the same idea.
Worse, just to get into a panel will require an hour of standing outside the door in line hoping that you get a seat inside. This is actually worse than most conventions I’ve attended, as the VidCon staff do not force everyone to leave at the end of a session, meaning many folks camp out the panel all day.
You need to think about your convention time as being an investment. The panels run from 8 am until 6 pm. You have six hours of time per day to network. You do not have several hours to waste standing in line hoping you may possibly get to speak to Freddie W. for 30 seconds, only for him to tell you to tweet at him when you ask for his business card.
And on that note….
#4. VIP Lounge is a lost cause
I got an access bracelet to the VIP Lounge and talked to several folks inside. I found that it was populated entirely by teenage singers and their agents / label promoters / bodyguards. There are a few network people in there, but mostly PAs and stage hands. Unless your business is specifically about the music industry you’re not going to find it a particularly productive place to work.
#5. Hunt for industry, press and guest passes.
Other than having a booth, this is the 2nd best thing you can do. If you see someone with a blue or purple pass then you should ask them who they work for. Validate them with your sales process; sell them a pen. If you’re just trying to get them to so much as look at a YouTube channel, ask them what they like to watch / do / etc. Your show is a product; sell it.
Yes I am telling you to cold-call people IRL. This is what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the failures; the ability to talk to anyone and risk rejection. If you can’t overcome your fear of rejection you will never take your startup anywhere.
I walked the exhibit floor all day Saturday hunting passes and collected over 100 business cards doing this, and I performed 2 minute demos of the app on my Chromebook. After the hall closed I walked around outside for two hours doing the same thing. There’s well over 20,000 attendees and you won’t see them all but you can meet a lot of them if you hunt.
The people you will meet are from companies big and small, but even if someone isn’t from a company you are specifically looking for, pitch them anyway. They probably know someone who is your target customer.
I really need to stress this last part; treat everyone with respect. At past networking events I had a lady approach me and say she was looking for a job as an account and ask what I do, and as soon as I explained I worked in web television, before I could even hand her my card she turned around abruptly and walked off. Then a week later she saw me at her new boss’ office talking to her boss. I could actually see the surprise on her face when she realized she had been incredibly rude to someone who could have introduced her to the guy who eventually hired her.
You never know who is connected to who. If they are wearing an industry pass, the leads are always good. Be cool to everyone, as you never know where it might lead.
*This advice also applies to the parents of the kids attending VidCon. They just spent $500-$1,200 on badges, airfare and hotel rooms. The parents got that money somehow, and you won’t know how until you ask them what they do.
Ideally you should have a team of people with you; you should have people at a booth, and people walking the floors badge hunting. Unfortunately this year I could only bring myself, but I hope for next year to be different.
#6. Walk to VidCon from your hotel and back.
I sold two Stations looking at badges while walking back to the hotel. That would never have happened if I had been taking a shuttle or Lyft. Walk until your feet bleed, and then keep walking until you start to like the pain. You’ve got three days to meet as many of the 20,000+ attendees as you can. You don’t have time for weakness.
#7. Don’t Expect People to Come to You
As an experiment I walked around for an hour holding this sign. Not a single person approached me.
You cannot expect people to come to you. You HAVE to seek them out.
I hope you enjoyed this guide. Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section.