comic-con patrick hadley, experiential agency for comic-con

8 Tips for Comic-Con Experiential Agency and Expert Advice

8 Tips on Choosing an Experiential Marketing Agency for Comic-Con

I have been called many things in my life, one of the more interesting was when San Diego Magazine called me the “Comic-Con Guru” in their 12 Most Important People In Design article.

My experience working at San Diego Comic-Con goes back 15 years producing some great activations for FOX, Turner, TBS, Adult Swim, IMDB and FX Networks to name a few.

I sold my experiential marketing agency, Hadley Media in 2017 and started a new software platform to help brands and agencies streamline the process of managing vendors, RFPs, proposals, and NDAs.

I thought it would be a good idea to give my opinion and thoughts to those clients that are looking to hire an agency for their Comic-Con activation this year. Keep in mind, this advice is not specific to San Diego Comic-Con. It’s applicable for any major event like SXSW, CES, PAX, etc.

Okay, so here it is, Your Ultimate Guide to Choosing an Experiential Marketing Agency for Comic-Con!

Experience matters
When you’re talking with an agency, ask what their experience is working at Comic-Con. Have comic-con, experiential marketing, patrick hadleythey executed activations at the same scale as the one you are considering? If they have never worked at SDCC, what have they done that is similar?

What is their relationship with the organizers?
SDCC is run very well and from experience I can tell you that if you know the organizers and they know you, you will have a much better time working there. It is a good idea to make sure that whatever an agency is pitching to you, that they have cleared it with the organizers.

I have heard nightmares stories of agencies pitching some great concepts, only to find out later that they are not allowed to execute them.

Does the agency have local contacts and vendors?
I have produced activations around the world when we were based in New York City and then later in San Diego, so I am not suggesting that every agency you work with must be based in San Diego. What I am suggesting is that you find out if they have local relationships with printers, fabricators, staffing companies, etc. I can’t tell you how many times we were able to help clients at the last minute because we had great local contacts and vendors.

Creative yes, but the fans matter most
Once of the things I learned about San Diego Comic-Con is that the fans are the most important factor in the organizer’s decision making. They have done a great job making sure that the fans have a great experience. Although it has become a giant event, almost every activation is still relevant to the fans. People that go to SDCC are unique and the more you understand them, the more you can create something that they will appreciate.

Make sure the agency understands the demographics and that your concepts for the activation are going to enhance the fan’s experience.

Standing out at Comic-Con is not an easy feat, it is filled with all kinds of crazy, awesome activations, but you must win the hearts and minds of the fans which will in turn get you press, social, etc.

Production & execution matter
After Sunday, it’s over. You only have a few days to make an impression and you only have a few days to set up. Make sure you ask an agency what their execution experience is at Comic-Con. Ask for situations that went wrong and how they handled it. Don’t be afraid to work with an agency that has learned tough lessons. Be afraid of the agency that tells you nothing has gone wrong. You may also be able to learn about their attention to detail in the proposal they send. I would ask in the RFP for a production timeline to be included in the proposal. Did they send a general one or was it hour by hour?

Expect the unexpected
If you have been in this industry very long, you probably already know that while analyzing proposals and concepts, it’s a good idea to think about ‘what could go wrong’? I am not suggesting that you should not push the envelop with your creative activation.

During the RFP process, ask the agency to come up with a short list of things that could go wrong and how they would deal with them.

Personality Fit
You don’t need to be best friends, but there must be a personality fit. I have heard some nightmare stories where agencies thought it was about them. Remember, you have to work with these people and they may have your future promotion in their hands. Make sure that you think they are good, honest people that will look out for your best interest.

The RFP & Proposal
With the number of talented, high quality experiential marketing agencies out there, it is to your advantage to create and send them an RFP that lets them compete for your business. Be clear with your objectives, ask them questions and in return, you will get some great proposals.

Give the agency time to develop concepts and activations so you can have a good dialog back and forth with them. I am a fan of multiple rounds. If you start with 5 agencies in the first round, pick the top 2 to make the second round and then a winner. If you can, pay them a pitch fee. I know firsthand that proposals take a lot of work and a pitch fee will go a long way toward an agency committing the energy it takes to get you the best proposal.

We created Biglio to help manage the RFP, NDA, proposal and vendor management process, let us know if you would like to take a look at it.