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Campaigning at the Con

Getting the Word Out

by Mike DeSanto
Jan 30,2003


Campaigning at the Con: Getting the Word Out

Great GMs, dramatic story arcs and engaging adventures are not enough to make your campaign successful. For success, you need players, and you can't attract players if they do not know about your campaign.

There are hundreds of ways to advertise your campaign. I am not going to try to list all of them. Keeping the ideal of laziness in mind, i will give a few examples of how to get the word out without too much effort.

I organize my suggestions in three groups: Free, Cheap and Expensive. Cheap is anything less than $10. Expensive is anything over $10.

Free Marketing

Word of Mouth: The best marketing will come from your players. Nothing beats a happy player telling their friends about the great adventure they were in. Still, you are not going to attract players by being shy yourself. Talk up the campaign at gaming stores and gaming clubs. Talk about it at the convention. Ambush people you see flipping confusedly through the convention booklet. Make sure everyone within earshot knows about your campaign.

You do need to plan your pitch. Saying "I'm doing this campaign thing and ... well ... it's really cool. Wanna join?" is not going to win many converts. Be prepared to explain the campaign concept, the setting, and answer questions. Be enthusiastic, but be ready to explain your enthusiasm.

The Convention Preregistration Book: This may sound obvious, but you should always make sure that all games are listed in the preregistration book. Many players decide what games to play well before the convention by reading the preregistration book.

Make sure that all the events for your campaign have similar names. The event title should not only describe the event, but also identify it as part of the campaign.

The Strategicon conventions generally identify the game system in the event title. Davenford were named with the system (GURPS) the campaign (Davenford) and the individual event title. For example, "GURPS: Davenford - Murder in the High Quarter".

If the convention allows a blurb - a short description - for each event, use it to identify the campaign. You could even use the blurb to give an e-mail address or web page with more information about the campaign.

The Internet: Everything and everyone seems to have a web page these days, and so should your campaign. I place this in the Free section because most Internet providers give space for web pages these days. Hopefully one of the GMs will donate some space. The web page should contain the setting description, the character creation rules, the date of the next convention and the event schedule (for the campaign) if available.

A web page is good not only for giving information to perspective players, but it is a good place to keep the campaign constitution.

Cheap Marketing

Flyers: Most game stores have a bulletin board, and most conventions do as well. Put together an ad; quarter page, half page or even a full page, and display it everywhere you can. Always ask permission before posting anything, be it at a store or at the con.

The flyer is a good place to test your technical writing skills. It needs to draw the eye, which usually means you need artwork. Don't make it too long, but describe your campaign well enough to draw in players. Include contact information, a phone number, e-mail address or web page interested people can use to get more information. Remember that your advertising is about your campaign, not anyone else's. Do not describe how your campaign is better than something else is. Attacking a campaign or game system will only drive people away.

One of the Davenford GMs once made a flyer entitled "Ten Reasons Davenford is better than Living City." He did not show it to the other GMs before posting it, but he did show it to the convention organizers. They, thankfully, did not allow it to be posted. Such an ad could only create a rift between Davenford and Living City players when Living City players were the main group we were trying to attract!

Event Lists: The average convention has dozens, even hundreds of role playing events, and it's easy for your campaign to get lost in the pile. A simple list of just your games, handed out at the events and posted on the Bulletin Board can help people looking for your games to find them.

For Davenford we used business cards with an advertisement on one side and the event list on the other. You can buy business card sheets at any office supply store for about $10 for 250 cards, which should last at least 4 or 5 conventions.

Newsletter: There is no use in creating a persistent game world if you are never going to reference what happened in the past. A good way to thank your players, set up new story arcs and attract new players is through a newsletter. Constructing a newsletter is easy. First, write a short (one or two paragraph) summary of each event, including the names of all the Player Characters involved. These stories are the primary items, since they will at least be interesting to the players who participated. Then add other 'fluff' items: Rumblings of war on the eastern border, reports of piracy in the Froboz system, or confirmation of a new FBI Director. Use these pieces to wrap up completed story arcs and to start new ones. The work for this can be spread out among the GMs, or even to players though journalist PCs or purchased ads. At 3-5 cents a page, you can easily produce enough to give to each participant and distribute a stack through the convention. Remember to include contact information!

Expensive Marketing

Convention Booklet: In this case, I am talking about ad space purchased in the convention flyer, not the blurb for an event. Many conventions supplement the printing costs of the booklet with a page or two of ads. I am not familiar with how much this space generally costs, but I am sure it is more than $10. Purchasing space in the convention booklet guarantees that everyone attending the convention and everyone who has attended it in the past will see your ad. Use the same rules as for a flyer, the ad must be eye catching, informative and concise.

Campaign Introduction Booklet: This is a booklet with a detailed description of the campaign. Think 10-16 pages. It should include detailed backstory to give the flavor of the campaign, all the necessary rules for players, and character generation rules with a blank character sheet (or two). All of this information should be contained in the Campaign Constitution, but you will need to pretty it up. Add illustrative short stories with the history of the setting. Give examples to clarify rules that may be unclear. As the campaign progresses, add a Frequently Asked Questions section. Everything a player needs to play in the campaign and every reason for them to want to should be in this booklet. A booklet this size will cost somewhere around 50 cents each to produce, placing it in the 'expensive' category, but most of the cost will be in time. You will need skillful writing, editing and layout to produce a booklet that will attract players.

Party Favors: I am stealing this idea directly from another column about running demos at GenCon. If you can find some inexpensive toy or trinket with a relation to your game and have the cash for a bunch of them, give them out to players. Toy space ships for a Buck Rodgers game, toy soldiers for a WWII game, or invisible ink pens for an espionage game. This will work best with other ads, so players know that your are giving stuff out. The trick is to find something interesting and inexpensive that players will keep. It doe not do your campaign any good if your handouts just fill up the garbage cans.

Davenford did very little advertising. We handed out business card ads with the schedule for the current campaign, we identified ourselves clearly in the convention booklet and we had a web page. About half way through its life, we started producing a newsletter after each convention.

As you can see, I have little experience with the marketing ideas outlined, and there are dozens of great marketing ideas that I missed, but it's a start. The important thing is that people hear about your campaign in a positive way. The best marketing in the world is still running good games. Consistently running events where six players leave with smiles on their faces is better than any ad or toy.

The next installment of Campaigning at the Con will cover story arcs. Particularly how to combine a dozen events written by a dozen different people into a few cohesive stories that still make sense! See you next month.

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