by Richard Brandt

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 conflict-of-interest, Batman!).

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 "Press Relations".

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 gracious.

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 explanation.)

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) moments.

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 Ball).

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, 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 assurance.


  1. Interview in Progress Please Speak Gently

  2. Press Room

  3. Press Conference

  4. Press Section Please observe safety rules (to protect the participants and the rest of the audience)



    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.

  6. PRESS RELATIONS STAFF WILL RETURN AT (there will be a clock face with this sign).


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 in person.

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 approved.

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 else.

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, gratis membership).

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, 000).

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 number.

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 them.

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*?