By Stacia Kirby, president of Kirby Communications
When a big convention rolls into town, many of the locals brace themselves for a takeover as their downtown becomes crowded, hotels and restaurants full. Combine that with a lack of understanding as to who is exactly coming to town, and you have a classic case of a PR challenge.
Back in 2003, Gen Con “The Best Four Days in Gaming!” moved its annual convention to Indianapolis from Milwaukee. It is fair to say that the residents of Indianapolis were a bit dubious as to what Gen Con would be like when it took place. Gen Con is not your average convention/trade show. It is the largest annual consumer fantasy, electronic, sci-fi and adventure game convention in North America. Each year over 180,000 gaming enthusiasts converge to share their enthusiasm for all things gaming; whether its tournaments, celebrity appearances, exhibit hall booths, workshops, seminars, anime, art shows, auctions or countless other activities.
At first many of the residents were unsure of all these gamers’ coming to town because at Gen Con attendees don’t just come to see, they come to play. In 2014, we hosted over 14,000 gaming events.
We have worked with the local media to educate them on all aspects of Gen Con, to help them see past reporting it as just a ‘Geek Fest’ to a family friendly, all around worthy event for anyone who likes to game. This effort has helped increase local attendance. Gen Con attracts attendees from all 50 states and 34 countries. The key to working with the local press is that we’ve allowed the media to experience what the attendees are doing and to see what good business Gen Con brings to Indianapolis.
In 2014, Gen Con brought in over $49 million making it one of the top conventions. We also have increased partnering with local companies to draw them into the mix. This past year a local brewery made a special Gen Con Beer ‘Froth of Kahn’ and local restaurants create special menus. We have brought in local talent to perform and local vendors. The essence of Gen Con is to include everyone and to have fun because that is what gaming is all about. The personality of Gen Con has revealed itself through a concerted effort to be inclusive, to educate the media about the event and allow them to observe for themselves what it means to the attendees and to the city. In 2014, Gen Con hosted its largest show yet!