I recently completed a media essay on fandom audiences. The overwhelming facts of fandom audience coverage in the mainstream world come down to terrible, unresearched, cliched stereotypes.
Instead of being portrayed as the wonderful thing a fandom audience is, especially in the context of a convention setting, it’s seen as either a novelty, or ignored all together.
While in an academic setting, “aca-fans” such as Henry Jenkins are changing the way fandoms and fans are written about, in the general world, aka where most people reside, nothing has changed.
In mainstream media coverage of fans and conventions, it’s a given you’ll see cosplaying women in skimpy costumes, overweight cosplaying men, and an attractive, laughing (and usually faux-confused) host. Or, in the case of written coverage, a snarky commentary. Here’s an example from this year’s Melbourne Supanova, note the “Freaks” implication.
The media coverage of conventions is not technically arranged by the conventions themselves, instead they hire out PR companies to handle the press for them.
The underlying facts that drive PR are the desire for widespread reception and large audience numbers. That means, of course, the mainstream, large scale organisations such as newspapers, magazines, and radio stations are favoured. Which is all good in theory, but in practice, when it comes to conventions and fandom in general, is a disaster.
It makes me so sad. There is so much wonder and brilliance inside the world of conventions and fandom, and I’m all for spreading that message to as many people as possible. But. By only giving media rights to large organisations who will:
A) mention the convention in passing
B) only mention the celebrities attending (or, more precisely mention the one celebrity most people watching/listening/reading will have heard of and ignore all of the others)
C) make jokes about the idea of conventions and fans in general
The PRs, and those who run the conventions in general, are actually cheating themselves out of fabulous coverage.
Of course, this is not true 100% of the time – occasionally awesome articles about fandom culture and conventions crop up in mainstream media land – but it’s true enough of the time to be a major problem.
Here are some facts about media relations from two of the main Con organisers in Australia:
– Supanova will, 99.9% of the time, only grant interviews to major media organisations who couldn’t care less about the star, and ask questions we’ve all heard a million times before (to be fair, I realise this is often due to the management of the celebrity and the coverage they want, but what happens is in the end, everyone misses out)
– The Hub Productions (who run numerous conventions each year, such as All Hell Breaks Loose for Supernatural) grant zero media access into the actual convention and only give pre-event opportunities to major organisations (who will then mention said con in passing) (see above note on celeb management).
Now, here’s the thing. I may only be a first year Media and Communications student, but I’m a fast learner. I know the key is aiming for your target audience. What these Aussie conventions are doing is ENTIRELY missing the mark. The average joe watching The Project, or reading the Saturday paper couldn’t care less about some convention, and they’re definitely not going to rush out the door to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars at one. The people who would are likely to already have tickets, already be at the event. And what those people want is content targeted to their needs.
So what I would say to The Hub, and to a lesser extent but still to, Supanova, is that you are hurting your target market by focusing on mainstream media. You are not getting more ticket sales, or if you are, they’re pretty minor. Fans, aka the people you are aiming to get at your cons, already know about them, or will be told via word of mouth. What your target audience then wants is not to turn on the nightly news and see themselves being referred to as crazy obsessives. They want to read interviews asking the questions they want to know, they want to see people as passionate as they are capturing the essence of the events, they want to read articles about the fandom culture, they want to see the beauty and the passion of the fan-life at cons, just like they do when they attend them. They don’t want a puff piece, they want substance. And by denying them that substance, you are hurting your brand. You should be aiming not to reach the most people, but to reach the people who matter most. There are so many amazing fandom based writers and bloggers out there, who would create such better coverage and have a much greater impact than having the Channel Ten news show up for ten minutes, pull faces, and leave (as I witnessed first hand at Supanova this year). Wouldn’t it be better to have actual fans (well, fandom writers) interview the stars, rather than Angus from The Bump who readily admitted on Twitter he’s never seen an episode of Supernatural?
The media world is changing, and Conventions more than anyone need to realise the importance of keeping up with the trends. And if that means denying a magazine an interview (“so like, what was it like kissing *insert co-star*?) to accommodate a fandom blogger, or someone who runs a fanzine, than so be it. Your fans, aka your market and the people making you money, will thank you for it.
frangipani princess xoxo