Your Attendees Know What They Want. Listen to Them

For Andrew Moyes, pandemic closures presented an unexpected benefit: downtime for R&D and actioning fan feedback for Fan Expo HQ's immersive pop-culture events.

Our sixth “Planner of Productivity” is Andrew Moyes, vice president of Fan Expo HQ , producers of MEGACON Orlando. Before the pandemic, the company organized 17 events around North America annually, drawing more than one million attendees, exhibitors, and niche retailers.

Through strategic partnerships with celebrities, brands, and fans, FAN EXPO HQ consistently delivers next-level experiences and boundary-pushing programming—like an official Oath of CItizenship ceremony witnessed by Star Wars stormtroopers and other sci-fi characters at FAN EXPO Canada in 2019.

Events were cancelled in 2020, but Moyes found an upside amid the uncertainty: space for research and development to level up future events like this year’s MEGACON. Held at the Orange County Convention Center in August, the 4-day extravaganza offered everything from beloved sci-fi celebrity guests to hourly performances by a Victorian horror-themed circus troupe. We spoke to Moyes to find out more about what he learned during the pandemic and how he improves FAN EXPO HQ’s legacy events year after year.

VO: FAN EXPO HQ is the largest global producer of Comic-Con-style events. Tell us a bit about pop culture fan conventions and what makes yours so special.

AM: It’s a really unique style of event with a trade show, a lot of programming, and the [celebrity] guest element. There are shows out there that are only sci-fi or specifically Walking Dead conventions, for example. We don’t just focus on one fandom. We really pride ourselves on presenting that multi-genre type of convention. It’s almost every event you could imagine all wrapped up in one, a diverse sort of melting pot. People may come in as a comics fan [but] leave as a sci-fi fan or a fan of cosplay. We find more and more that we’re developing multi-genre fans.

VO: MEGACON is a legacy event that has always been based in Orlando—even before FAN EXPO HQ acquired it. What do attendees experience when they come to MEGACON?

AM: It truly is a fantastic event: 100,000-plus fans, over 1,000 exhibitors, including retailers and artists, and always a great celebrity guest list. This year, we got the guys from Full House and Stephen Amell [from Arrow on the CW network]. We have a shopping mall to get all the cutting-edge, pop-culture merchandise from different types of vendors. And then we have hundreds of well-established and up-and-coming indie artists as well.

Then you step out of the exhibit floor, and suddenly you’ve got hours and hours of programming happening in themed rooms. There’s a comic track, an anime track, a celebrity track and a sci-fi track. You may drop in to a 40-minute Q&A with William Shatner and then step down the hall for a live experience with VTubers—animated celebrities with millions of followers online—who fans could actually interact with in real-time.

**VO: How do you define innovation, and what are you doing to infuse this into the live meetings you plan? **

AM: Innovation for us means we have a responsibility to deliver the biggest and the best. Once we’ve done that in 2021, we’ve got to reimagine what that is for 2022. That means working to bring the best possible guests that we can to dazzle and excite the fans. And also, bringing the best possible key stakeholders from the industry—big box brands, unique merchandise, and exclusives are big for our community. It’s also the fan experience, looking at all those touchpoints that each fan has, from the minute they buy that ticket to when they walk back to the car at night for the journey home. It’s looking at all the stepping stones along the path and making sure that they’re the best they possibly can be.

**VO: What are some things you love about hosting MEGACON in Orlando? **

AM: We’re so lucky that the Orange County Convention Center has millions of square feet, so we can create a huge experience on the floor and in all the programming rooms and deliver a large, key event on the industry circuit.

We work to create a weekend experience. When people come, they settle down in the area because there are after-hours parties to keep the content going into the night. The parks definitely complement the event too. Like, Disney Universal, who doesn’t want to go there? When we’re trying to secure guests, there’s the bonus of being in Orlando—it has great weather, amenities and theme parks. We can’t do that in every city. Everyone loves Orlando. It is the center of hospitality, and because it does have those amenities, it makes our job a little easier.

We’ve also done a number of partnerships in Orlando. For example, there was a comic book called “Love is Love,” which was created for different charities, and we supported that. You name it, we’re open to it in Orlando, and you’ll probably see it on the show floor at MEGACON.

VO: How specifically did the Visit Orlando team support you throughout the MEGACON planning process?

AM: When we purchased MEGACON, the first two relationships we fostered were with Visit Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center. They already had a legacy relationship with MEGACON, and we quickly understood how critical they are. Now, honestly, it’s like coming home and working with family. I could not be more delighted that MEGACON was our first show back after 15 months, because we had the security of knowing true professionals were supporting us every step of the way.

This year, we were looking for private dining rooms. Visit Orlando gave us a list of restaurants in the area with rooms that could accommodate our guests and staff. Their innate knowledge of the local area is just fantastic. Visit Orlando also helped us understand the lay of the land in terms of COVID-19 testing sites, and helped us arrange testing on-site as well. They were also able to help us facilitate a very smooth transition for our celebrities at the airport.

Visit Orlando is the vessel through which to get connected. The staff leverages its partnerships and relationships, and is very open and willing to work with us to improve the experience of attending our event. Visit Orlando has connected us with excellent partners that have elevated the experience for our fans and our guests, and that makes all of us look like rockstars.

VO: The past year has forced planners to be more creative in terms of capturing and keeping attendee’s attention. What pivots did you make that you plan to continue moving forward?

AM: Obviously, we lifted and shifted through 2020. There just wasn’t an opportunity for us to activate an event. But one thing we’ve focused on as an organization is silver linings. There were some great opportunities for our fans to interact online. We started some virtual meetups to keep the community going. We had meetups in all of our different markets, originally planned in-person, but pivoted to make them digital experiences. We relaunched our YouTube page and rebranded and reinvigorated our online store as well.

Another silver lining was that [the pandemic] gave us a chance to step back and take stock. We took the opportunity to do a lot of research and development, to work on our content and our programming. When we came back, we were offering something new and finely tuned. There are some great lessons that we picked up. In a normal year, we would not have had as much time to do that.

VO: Describe a few of the initiatives you’ve spearheaded—no matter how large or small—to improve the live attendee experience.

AM: One new thing we’ve done is employ RFID technology. It allows us to manage and see where people are coming into the event and how they’re experiencing it. We might find that everyone’s coming through one door, and it’s just not comfortable to do it that way based on how we see people activating. Seeing and understanding those things helps us improve the experience.

VO: What advice would you give to peers about keeping up with consumer expectations? How should they manage this, and continuously surprise and delight attendees?

AM: You have to listen to your attendees. Those surveys are critical. I know it sounds like a pretty fundamental inclusion in your critical path. But talking to your attendees, and acknowledging and understanding what they want, then putting it into practice—it’s just so important. That’s the other thing about our fan base: They’re not afraid to tell us what they want. And we welcome that. Whether through social or through different recommendations, it’s listening to what they have to say and finding a way to incorporate it into your strategy.

This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.

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(Fan Expo HQ)