from Con Games, February 1987
For several years I've been involved with various small local cons
in El Paso; in particular, I've been sought out as a resource in
getting the local news media to give cons advance Publicity and
decent Press coverage. I was considered such an asset primarily due
to my contacts: for five years I was a reporter at a local
television station, and I'm well acquainted with most of the news
media types in this town. I was also, for most of that time, in
charge of assigning stories for my news operation (Holy
Even so, I was a bit surprised when I was drafted as a mid-season
replacement to take over the Press Relations function for the
Austin NASFiC in 1985 (known variously as LonestarCon or Chilicon).
That experience - and just as important, help I received in the
form of departmental guides Peggy Rae Pavlat had used at Chicon -
is the basis of most of the advice I'll be passing on regarding
What is Press Relations, anyway? A good question, because some of
its functions edge closely into Publicity territory. While the
latter is concerned with advertising and Promoting the con, Press
Relations is concerned primarily with at-the-con media coverage.
However, its functions may also include setting up advance feature
stories relating to the con; and, for the good of the con, it's
best to have media stories on the con appear as early in the event
as possible, so folks who see about it in the paper or on the tube
still have time to check it out if it catches their fancy.
In essence, Press Relation's job is to (1) secure media coverage,
(2) accommodate the media while they're at the con, and (3) assure
that the media view the con in a favorable light. In spite of your
best efforts, at least one newspaper will probably run a photograph
of someone in plastic ears and waving a ray-gun, above a story with
lines like "Fans, or `trekkies' as they are known...". And no, this
is not an invented example.
The first thing you have to do is catch the media's attention, and
for that you're going to need a news release. This should be a
clear, comprehensible statement of what your con represents and the
kind of activities that will be going on there. If there aren't
many cons in your area, you should describe it in a way that it
sounds worth at least a few columns in print or a few minutes of
valuable air time. (Even if nothing that serious is discussed, news
operations are always looking for a cute feature story...)
If there are plenty of cons in your town all the time, your
challenge is to find something unique enough about your con to make
it worth sending a news crew. For example, if you have a guest
who's knowledgeable on current hot topics like SDI, play it up. If
one of your guests has written Star Trek novels, and the new
movie opens the same weekend as your con, mention it prominently.
Or, depending on how willing you are to have fans look like a wild
and crazy bunch, you can emulate Scott Blacksher, who ran comics
conventions in El Paso for several years. Scott would send out a
new Press Release ("PR", for short) for each event he thought up,
like raffling off chances to hit the guests with a pie in the face,
or the "Smash-a-Smurf" contest. On one occasion, Scott visited all
the newsrooms in town wearing a mask and a black-and-white costume
with "GENERIC SUPER HERO" emblazoned across the chest.
Things worth mentioning in a PR: the art show, especially if
prominent professional artists have their work displayed; panels on
newsworthy topics; a masquerade is worth playing up (it's a good
photo opportunity), if you can convey an idea of its traditional
quality, and not give the impression of your con as a bunch of
people running around dressed funny.
You may be able to line up coverage (advance or at-the-con) with
publications geared to a special interest. An arts journal might do
a feature on your guest artists. A magazine's book reviewer might
do a feature on regional SF writers, tying it in to the upcoming
con. And if you have a willing guest, newspapers are highly
amenable to telephone interviews with guests who will be appearing
the day the story gets into print.
It, of course, helps to have a good idea of what events will
transpire at your con, and when. If you don't live near the rest of
the committee, you should certainly get into the con APA or
otherwise maintain close contacts with anyone who's scheduling
events for the affair.
Your press release should go to every media outlet that might
conceivable provide coverage, addressed to the news assignments
editor. For a small local con, that means local newspapers,
television and radio stations, and periodicals. For the NASFiC I
mailed out 200 news releases throughout the region; a NASFiC or
Worldcon can expect to attract the attention of the national media
as well (if you're in L.A., be prepared for Entertainment
Tonight to show up).
Be sure to mention where at the con reporters should go to pick up
their press kit and press credentials. Even if some television crew
will probably ignore the news release, when they come steaming in
complaining about being turned away at registration and having to
lug their gear a couple of blocks to the press room, try to remain
If you can arrange it, set up a news conference with your guests
early in the convention, and mention it either in your original
news release or in a separate one. This will give assignments
editors a specific time to send out a crew, which makes their
scheduling easier. It also allows you to present the con in
whatever fashion you care to manage it.
It's real nice if you can pressure the concom to put the press room
next to the Green Room, so you can easily locate any program
participants who reporters have asked to interview. Otherwise, the
lazier reporters who show up will probably just hit whatever
function happens to be going on next door, which is probably where
Jackie Lichtenberg is running her Tarot workshop. In Austin, we had
the hotel install a coffee service in the Press Room as a perk (a
ha ha) to reporters. No one seemed to mind that we didn't also have
donuts or pastries.
You ought to have a Press Kit ready for reporters to pick up when
they check in. Typically, this is a standard pocketed report folder
(for a spiffy touch, I printed up gummed labels with the con logo
and stuck them on the cover). As an example of what goes inside,
the DENVENTION II (1981) Press Kit contained a copy of the Pocket
Program, schedule of press room hours, press conferences, and
biographies of the guests. (One bio refers to the Hugos as "the
science fiction world's Oscars", which illustrates a good principle
to remember: never assume the mundane Press will understand any of
the fannish expressions you take for granted, without an
Since you're giving these Press Kits away for free, you may not
want to include a copy of the Program Book. I certainly didn't.
Unless you think you can spend all weekend in a room answering
phone calls, handing out credentials, and handling the special
requests of every news crew, you are going to want volunteers to
help run the at-con business. You may also want to delegate
specific departmental responsibilities. For Austin, I put together
a staff comprising an Interview Coordinator, Programming Liaison,
Masquerade Liaison, and a Liaison with each Guest of Honor. Is a
separate Masquerade Liaison redundant? Depends. If your con is
going to change the site of the Masquerade at the next-to-last
moment, and have no arrangements for photography at the new
location, you may be glad you appointed one.
I was given two beepers, by the way, and gave one to the Interview
Coordinator. A pager is really quite handy, since reporters may
come wandering in at any hour. Even if pagers do sometimes beep
false alarms at the most inconvenient (not to mention intimate)
As far as how to run the show once you actually get to the con
site, I'm going to fall back on the guides Peggy Rae Pavlat
developed for Chicon, which I adopted with very few modifications
for the NASFiC:
The Press Relations Department is a part of the Administration
Division of Chicon IV. The Division Manager is Larry Smith and the
Assistant Division Manager is Ron Bounds.
The purpose of the Press Relations Department is to provide
information and assistance to members of the press, protect members
of Chicon who wish to avoid Press contact, help secure coverage
where appropriate, and help the members of the Press to understand
the nature of Science Fiction conventions, while letting them know
the regulations of the convention and the reasons for these
regulations, (e.g. no flash and no flood lights at the Masquerade
We should expect some members of the Press to arrive in Chicago by
Tuesday or Wednesday. Phone calls for Press Relations can be
expected to come in at a rather chaotic pace as early as Monday.
The time needed to handle the phone calls is enormous! One Press
staff person should come early, whose function is primarily to talk
to Press on the telephone and in person...we can expect at least a
dozen Press members to show up in person by Wednesday at noon.
The Press Releases for the Press Kit should be drafted and edited
before the convention. All drafts should be reviewed by at least
two people and proofread by at least two people.
A general Press Release for the "mundane" Press will be sent out on
or about August 1. Copies of the draft have been circulated to the
Board, Press Relations staff, and department heads as deemed
appropriate by Chicon.
WHEN YOU REACH THE HOTEL
When you reach the hotel, check in with Chicon IV. Ask the staff if
Press Relations has moved into the Addams Room (on the third level
of the Hyatt). If not, find out where Press Relations is working.
In either case, leave us a message in my box at the Headquarters
and then try to find us.
One of the very first assignments for each staff member will be to
learn to navigate the Hyatt. With at least a semblance of
NO FLASH/NO FLOOD/NO STANDING
The Press Room is not open. If you will go to the information area (fill in location of information area here), the staff will help you answer your questions or contact us for you. We're sorry to make you wait.
We have been able to get Jay Kay Klein's permission to use his
photos of the GOH's, with the stipulation that the pictures are to
be clearly marked to signify that they have been copyrighted by Jay
Kay Klein and that they can be used only with appropriate credit.
A rubber stamp to that effect has been made. When stamping photos
with rubber stamps, be very careful to let the ink dry before
putting them into a pile.
We will plan to have 110 Press Kits. FYI, 104 press credentials
were approved and picked up at Noreascon II. The process for
granting credentials is as follows:
1. Look in the Press Credentials Requests Book. This book will
contain all the correspondence regarding Press Credentials requests
received before the convention and the Notice of Press Contact
forms which will be filled out by the Chicon IV office staff before
the con as well as by our own staff once the Press begin arriving
at the convention. We will fill out one of these forms whenever we
talk with a (new contact) member of the Press on the telephone or
The last names of persons for whom credentials are requested is to
be printed, clearly, in the upper right hand corner of the page.
Pages should be three-hole punched and placed into the Black Book
in alphabetical order. More than one request per organization is to
be handled by writing the name of each (and all) of the approved
persons on the face of the document and also by clearly printing
the last names on the upper right hand corner. A separate
Registration Form is to be filled out for each person. Unless
specifically requested, give only one Press Kit per organization.
(If requested, one per person is not prohibited.)
For clarity, let me repeat, look in the Press Credentials book to
determine if the person has already requested Credentials (be sure
to check in the black book - if the person s Credentials are light
or nonexistent, we don t want to have to make the same decision
several times!). If there is a letter or a Notice of Press Contact
form in the Black Book, go on to Step Two; if there is no form or
letter, fill out a 'Notice of Press Contact" form. Fill out a
registration form and a name tag for the person if credentials are
2. Ask to see the person's Press Credentials. When in doubt, make
a "common sense" decision; if unsure of what to do, ask someone
FYI: What do Credentials look like? When you give someone
Credentials for the convention, what do you give them? Their own
Credentials can be anything from a 4"x5" laminated card which says
"PRESS" and gives the name and address of the person requesting
Credentials to a letter of authorization on the media's stationery,
to press clippings with the person's byline. Freelance folks have
the most problem coming up with Credentials, but most of the
produce something official enough so that it shouldn't be a big
problem (the type of material they show are letters requesting them
to cover the Worldcon for a particular newspaper - with no actual
guarantees that the paper will buy the final product).
When you give someone your Credentials, first ask them to "Read and
Sign" the Credentials Agreement. Call the person's attention to the
section at the bottom of the questionnaire which asks them to check
off events in which they are interested. Give them the membership
card stamped PRESS (in a holder if they are entitled to a full,
3. Levels of Credentials - Full membership, gratis: obvious
major media, i.e., Washington Post, Detroit Herald, L.A.
Times, WCGG Radio, TV commercial stations, PBS, known national
or regional magazines (NOT college press). (note: this last was
exempted for Austin, where UT's newspaper, The Daily Texan,
is a major paper, if not THE major paper). This also applies for
Phoenix where the State Press at ASU sometimes supports
conventions with good articles and has circulation daily over 10,
One day membership, gratis: less obvious, but still
established working press, freelance with Credentials.
Pay: their choice of day or full membership: college press.
Mark 20/75 as the code to tell other Press staff that these folks
are to pay ($20 is the price we'll have them pay if they are coming
for only one day - if the Board of Chicon doesn't object when they
read this operations manual - and $75 is the price for an
at-the-door full membership at Chicon IV). Full paid memberships
are to be secured at the regular registration desks.
No Credentials: Fans looking for "a neat thing to do",
obvious flakes and not-so-obvious flakes, general circulation
fanzines, and other people who are not legitimate members of the
working press. (Note that news fanzines, e.g. Locus, SF
Chronicle, File 770 are eligible for credentials.)
Our records need to be accurate, including addresses! Staff should
(LEGIBLY) fill out at least one of the forms which require an
address, rather than letting the individual fill out everything. In
addition, we need the regular Registration Forms, which must always
be filled out by our own staff.
4. If the person seeking *our* Credentials is represented in the
Black Press Credentials Request Book, the Registration Form should
already be completed. If Credentials are requested for a person who
is not shown in the Black Book, then a "Notice of Press Contact" is
to be made out as well as the Credentials Agreement. New people
also need to have a Registration Form completed by staff for them.
Also a name tag must be completed. The name tags for people in the
Press Credentials Requests Book (whose Credentials have been
approved - not those which have been questioned or disapproved,
obviously) will be made up in advance. (It should be noted that we
will need gophers who can type. The name tags will need to be
typed, Press Releases will need to be typed, etc. Please remember
that each of you has been requested to recruit two gophers for
Press Relations at Chicon IV!)
5. Full membership - they get a black and silver name tag holder
with the "normal" color insert, stamped "PRESS". Day memberships
get a clear badge holder and a name tag, stamped "PRESS" - the day
of the week (e.g. Saturday), should be clearly marked on the name
tag above the person's name.
A Press number is assigned, sequentially, and is placed in the
lower right-hand corner of the Registration Form and of the name
tag (either Full or Day) and in the upper right-hand corner of
"Notice of Press Contact" or letter of inquiry.
6. When the Credentials are actually issued and the name tags
handed over, etc., mark "P.U." (Picked Up) or "pick up" and the
date on the upper right-hand corner of the "notice of Press
Contact" or the letter of inquiry, just above the Press Membership
7. Insert the name tag into the badge holder; if day membership,
check carefully to be sure that "PRESS" is stamped on the name
badge, that the Press Membership Number is clearly visible, and
that the DAY of the membership is clear.
8. Take off one copy of the Registration Form and give it to the
Press person as a receipt (even if no money is exchanged - if we
can figure out how to negotiate it, Registration will handle all
money for us).
9. During quiet moments, file the other copy (or copies) in
alphabetical order in the Press Credentials Requests Book (they are
to be inserted in the front of the Book as registration, for a
person requesting Credentials, is completed).
10. Tell the person that they should be careful not to lose their
badge holder, that if it is lost, there is nothing you can do, you
MUST charge them for a replacement at the official replacement cost
designated by chicon IV for all members.
11. Send them off with a Press Kit and a smile and friendly words
(Hope you enjoy the Convention, Please let us know if there is
anything we can do to help...Or, Press conferences will be posted
(point where) as soon as they are set up, Or, Will I see you
tonight at the Masquerade? etc.)
The staff meetings will be from 11:00 am to noon, on Thursday (for
all staff who are at Chicon IV), Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This
is the one sacrosanct time! I have requested that our calls be held
during this time (and I haven't been told "no", yet). We will have
the callers told that we will return the calls at noon. After the
meeting is over, Jane Wagner will get our messages and return calls
or will designate someone else to do so. Ellen Franklin will check
in with Bruce Weber at the Information Area to see if any Press
have tried to contact us since we were last open. Ellen will then
contact these folks or designate someone on the staff to contact
The Agenda for each meeting will probably be much the same each
day: a run through of how that day s/evening's events will be
handled from the point of view of our staff and the Press, then
other issues which need to be addressed- For example, Jim Hudson
will fill us in on how interviews will be arranged. Lisa Diercks
will walk us through what will happen for the GoH Speech and Press
Conference. Laurie Mann will similarly brief us on the Masquerade
Ball arrangements and the Hugo Awards Ceremony on the respective
days of these events.
And that's all she wrote. Needless to say, if you're only running
a smaller local con, and don't expect a flock of reporters invading
your turf at any one time, considerably less at-the-con
organization will be required. All the same, if you do your job
right, your con, fandom, and SF in general should be held in higher
esteem by the Public. Then again, even if you do your job right,
the Press may paint a picture of us as a horde of wild-eyed Spock
worshippers: but who said the world is *purfact*?