How To Host The Perfect Doll Event…Really.

Showtime!

Showtime!

For many doll makers, the doll convention represents something that is equal to, or even more important than, the release of its primary collections. And since new doll collections have mutated into a non-event for the collector as makers scatter their release timings across the calendar, any anticipation that comes therein is undeniably destroyed. Hence, we are left with companies’ annual conventions – events that have basically replaced the need for the release of a primary collection in favor of the over-the-top designs and spectacle that comes with these gatherings. We can only hope…because doll conventions are one of the best rewards of being a doll collector.

Black balloons make any event festive...

Black balloons make any event festive…

Basically, a doll convention is one huge commercial for the doll company – not that that is such a bad thing. Hell, we all seem to enjoy the Superbowl commercials more than the actual game, right? If the timing, location and theme are all in the dimples, then you have one of the most effective advertisements ever. However, if those dimples happen to be in your ass, then the exact opposite can also be true.

Dead or Alive...

Dead or Alive…

I have attended, organized and participated in a wealth of doll conventions, largely at the expense of my former employer – so I can actually say that I am somewhat of an authority when it comes to these events. This is far from ego…but more of the blood, sweat and scars that come from attending to these functions. I have seen asinine planning, triumphant unveils, stellar presentations, idiotic attendees, stupid decision making, infectious laughter, and vomit on the floor of the lobby (not mine, thank you)…so yes, I think I’m qualified to take on this subject.

She fights like a girl...

She fights like a girl…

What makes a good doll convention? What makes a bad event? What madness falls in between? There are elements to a successful happening that make or break your brand in one click of Barbie’s knee joint. Even the most seasoned of organizers ignore some of the most basic principles, and that is precisely why they struggle to fill 200 chairs at an event, versus 500 that sell out in 48 hours. Whether you’re hosting a luncheon for 25 octogenarians, or hundreds of collecting banshees, observing the core ideology of doll conventions can guarantee success. So let’s take a walk in Tommy’s garden…and see how to host the perfect event. If I see freesia anywhere…I’ll be very disappointed…

No, no...that wasn't a question...

No, no…that wasn’t a question…

Planning. Should be at least a year or more in advance of your event. This is non-negotiable if you want success. If you’d rather plop a few fake flowers on a table along with a handful of party glitter, I suppose you could do that, too…but it won’t have the same impact.

I got balls...well, one anyway...

I got balls…well, one anyway…

By planning, I mean you, at the very least, have set in stone: theme, number of attendees, event structure, souvenirs and centerpieces, and extracurricular events. It kinda goes like this – set a date, determine the number of attendees, get a venue, divine your theme, design your souvenirs, publicize. Of course, you want to observe some rather fine little details, as we will explore just a little further…

Watch the water, will ya?

Watch the water, will ya?

Set a date. Puddings, timing is everything – and despite one thinking your event is more important than another, it is critical you thoroughly check with other companies or clubs to see what other events are planned – doll event or otherwise. In the early days of one such doll convention, the organizers were well on their way to carving out a regularly occurring event – they had a star product – they had a great location (Las Vegas – despite the fact that I hate Las Vegas, it is inexpensive in terms of lodging, and easy to get to via air) – the one thing they thought they didn’t need was good timing. Generally held in the summertime (as are many doll conventions), this event went head-to-head with UFDC. The planning folks didn’t really care what a ‘bunch of old biddies’ did (incorrectly assuming UFDC is nothing but ‘old biddies’) – but where they really turned off a great deal of people was in shutting out other manufacturers who had an annual commitment to UFDC. That, and other companies were expected to shell out donations for the raffle room, and display new dolls in the sales room – but no one other than the souvenir manufacturer could hold an event there. And that’s just fine, really…until the organizers start to publicly badmouth the companies that couldn’t attend or make donations to their event. Not the best PR move, in my humble opinion – and one that would separate this convention from a sea of event hopefuls. If it had not been for the popularity of the souvenir manufacturer, this doll happening would not have survived.

Details matter...

Details matter…

Because we are such a small community, conflict in dates can spell disaster for your event…especially if you are looking for manufacturer participation. Even if that skank, Alex, had a private event already planned, you still need to take it into account. But don’t stop with other companies – you have to look at holidays, public calendars, and unusual anniversary celebrations (Wrigley Field is 100 this year!). And when it comes time to hold your second event, don’t automatically think you own that spot – you’re going to need to do it again.

But the location is perfect...

But the location is perfect

Get a venue. Location, location, location – nothing but truth here, folks. Many doll events move around the country to different locations – it adds variety, and it allows those in that neck of the woods to travel by simpler means than air. That being said, the location must have easy access by air, as it’s how most people arrive for larger national events.

What?

What?

The choice of your location will matter a great deal. A convention in New York City will likely be held in Fort Lee, NJ because hotels are simply too expensive anywhere in New York that means anything to your attendees (and doesn’t include other tiny crawling residents). More often than not, choosing a great place like Chicago usually means you’ll be out by the airport and about an hour from the city. Many conventioneers are happy to be shut in a hotel away from anything else of excitement or importance, and if your event is everything it should be, then you don’t really need the outside area to contribute – but it never hurts to think that some people just might want to get the hell away from that hotel and actually experience the environs – so do yourself a favor and take that under advisement.

May I help you?

May I help you?

The choice of hotel will make or break even the best of conventions. You want a place that has an attentive staff, accommodating culinary and electronic media options, and a good floor plan flow allowing you to move your shit from one place to another, and not so cavernous that attendees can easily get lost moving about. It’s probably a good idea to find out what other events are happening in your hotel during your convention – doll collectors and Seventh-day Adventists don’t really mix well. If you are lucky enough to hold your event during a men’s athletic gathering, your gay male attendees and randy female guests will thank you.

We get along with everyone...

We get along with everyone…

Make sure there’s a bar – more than one is gravy. You never know when your employees will want to sneak a cocktail away from the gossiping eyes of the Old Guard, so make sure they have an option. Liquor is important to a doll event – denying that over ‘appearances’ or prudish values of some attendees is a shot in the foot to those that will enhance liveliness by putting the festive in festivities.

Who needs a gym?

Who needs a gym?

A good workout room will attract hot attendees who take their health seriously, except when liquoring it up at night. It also gives a good space to take frustrations out in a healthy, positive way.

Score.

Score.

Book your own security to watch over your salesroom, storage areas, exhibits, etc. – make sure they are reputable, and don’t skimp on the rates to get some sketchy parolee. Hotels can help with this, but shop around. When you have your service, make sure it is CRYSTAL clear what is to be watched, during what times, and what is kept locked for only authorized personnel. I cannot stress this enough – there can be no accessible paths to anything of value (from the hotel staff or otherwise). Don’t underestimate the public or hotel employees – they might think dolls are silly, but they know a valuable item when they see one.

Some fine options...

Some fine options…

Make sure there are no renovations planned during your event, and that your contract covers consideration for poor planning when it comes to ‘surprise’ maintenance. That being said, scope out the elevators and imagine a couple of hundred people all waiting to get to their rooms at the same time. This is why a bar is handy.

One at a time, please...

One at a time, please…

Choosing a theme. If you’ve done your planning homework properly, you should have identified company milestones, entertainment industry happenings, historic anniversaries, and other great inspirations of which to draw theme inspiration. For example, a Goth-themed event in Baltimore on Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday is sheer orgasm for a convention planner (though the January 19th date is a little rough, weather-wise) – not to mention for any media attention you can drum up for your event.

What theme?

What theme?

The theme must be a cohesive concept. It cannot be so ambiguous as to allow you to do just anything you want. UFDC is a good example of cohesion in theme – you’ll find they choose a conceptual idea, and work with each club, manufacturer and artist to ensure the theme is consistently applied. Nothing is worse than going to an event unprepared, and having a strong theme leaves little to the imagination – especially if attendees might wear costumes. ‘Great Periods’ invokes anything from historical eras to literary references to a little visit by Auntie Flo from Red River. Brainstorming usually helps to clarify – and as I’ve said a million times – leave your ego out of it.

oz2

Friends of Dorothy…

Once you have the theme, you can toy with all the ideas that may encompass your event structure – primary events – secondary events (like smaller breakout luncheons, teas, or cocktail parties) – ancillary events such as seminars, workshops, and demonstrations – independent events such as a salesroom, competition or exhibits – and extracurricular events like tours and other offsite happenings. This should be a fun process…leave ‘can’t’ and ‘don’t’ out if this…dream and dream big! There will be plenty of time for the naysayers in your planning committee to bitch about what they and their friends don’t like, can’t tolerate, and won’t do. I call them ‘Negative Nancies’.

Let's retire Mei Li...

Let’s retire Mei Li…

Products. So with these critical items sorted, you can now plan your products. Despite there being significant differences in manufacturing your own product or contracting out for another to make, be aware that although things like timing and location are critical to an event’s success – your product will determine if you have a single soul return to your event ever again.

Um...thanks?

Um…thanks?

Just like a restaurant, the location is your ambiance, the theme is your lure, the events are your menu – and the products are your commitment. You can’t just walk into your wedding night boudoir with a hard on and a smile and expect applause – you need to make it unforgettably special. And that goes for all the products, and not just one or two key souvenirs. Your goal is to make it so unbelievably difficult for any attendee to want to part with anything they have received during your party.

How will I get this in my luggage?

How will I get this in my luggage?

Exclusiveness of convention product is a widely debated subject. On one hand you have folks who don’t travel, and the hopes of adding a favorite collectible to one’s collection is heart-breaking if you can’t get to the only place where it is available at issue price. On the other hand, you have people who do travel, and spend a vast sum of cash to get there, stay in the hotel, and constantly be inundated by the event organizer’s onslaught of convention merchandise designed to pay for and/or offset the cost of holding the convention in the first place. Partner this with today’s TSA standards, and those folks want to be well-compensated for their travel. I understand both sides of the argument, but I have to say I have only one answer: sorry shut-ins and non-traveling folk – pay the premium on the secondary market, or shut up. Making an event-exclusive product available to the public after your event says you can’t attract enough people to your event – not that you are showing benevolence to masses who don’t travel – and it will kill any hopes of success for your second event, unless you book Lady Gaga or Conchita Wurst.

Lady who?

Conchita Who?

Non-traveling people just need to get over it. Doll collecting is a luxury. If you want that Hot-To-Trot Vanessa Perrin from Integrity Toys’ Convention, you’d better be there, or pay top dollar for it. People who complain that those selling convention products are price-gouging-greedy conveniently forget that those people paid a premium to be there. Oh yes, I hear of those who buy convention leftovers, put them on eBay and clean up – they do it because they can – or, they do it because the product was hot. Offering fairness to those who don’t travel by selling the product to the public destroys the mystique of holding a convention from the get-go. Selling off leftovers reduces the risk of excess inventory, and it plays to the ‘sold-out’ exclusivity of the event. Why should a doll maker increase its risk that the shut-ins may not have the cash immediately after the event to buy those ‘gotta-have-it-now’ dolls (a practice that happens more often than not) – because it’s fair? Thinking so isn’t fair to the company who is, need I remind you – a business. And a business person’s idea of ‘fair’ isn’t going to equate with yours or mine. Pay the premium, play the game – or get some therapy and exit the doll collecting arena – auf Wiedersehen. I’ll say this for the convention goers who take their kids – at least they are dedicated enough to their hobby to drag their children across the world to get that coveted icon and to see ‘best friends forever’ – rather than holding their own private pity party with an open bottle of vodka lamenting on their fear to fly and bitching about the unfairness of convention product availability.

You don't understand...You.  HAVE. To. Be. There.

You don’t understand…You. HAVE. To. Be. There.

Absentee solutions are a good option – these are the pre-paid secured dolls that may be leftover, or reserved for such purposes, but these are better options for the organizer who is not making the convention product. This is a risk-reducer that you won’t have leftover inventory sitting in your garage next to your Prius after the event. Manufacturers should never offer absentee product – if it’s not sold out after your event – you face the hazard of people remembering that when signing up for your next convention. Clear it out, even if it’s at a discount.

Good loot...

Good loot…

There is always the tender balance when exclusive products become more of the focus than the regular offerings of a company – and in the case of conventions, it can be successfully argued that the better designs are reserved for such exclusives. This is largely a cost factor as products designed by a company for its own convention have no middle-man – no retailer to which one wholesales the product. So they can put more money into said product when selling it directly. Those poor schmucks that hold an event and pay for their product to be made by a manufacturer or artist are simply buying at wholesale – they risk lack of specialness because their products are held to the same cost confines as an ordinary line product. No amount of cost-offsetting such as raffles or secondary souvenir sales will make up for unsold product if it’s a loser. There are the criminally insane event organizers that return unsold product to the maker for a refund – but this is not the norm, and more of a control factor such event planners have on the manufacturer/artist. If you can’t sell it yourself, don’t bother with your event – and don’t bully a doll maker into taking it back because you failed at holding a successful soirée.

I know - I know - Pick Me!

I know – I know – Pick Me!

But what if the product is a dud? Ahhh…now that’s a fine line between the event organizer and product maker. If all the elements of a successful event are in place, sufficient promotional efforts have made it THE event of the season (they all are, right?), and the right product has been selected, then the responsibility to sell it should be a partnership between organizer and maker. So don’t come crying to me when your community center luncheon failed to sell a doll nobody wanted in the first place. Whose mistake is that, really?

A perfect ten.

A perfect ten.

The product needs to be in demand – greatly in demand – and by a shitload of people, too – not just the Old Guard who are saving them for their great-grandchildren. This also isn’t the place to debut something new unless you have such high confidence that you, the maker or the organizer, think it is truly as fabulous as you (or someone else’s ego) think it is. If you have to question it that much, scrap it and decide on another. There are exceptions to new dolls debuting at a convention – but best be damned sure it’s so drop-fucking-dead gorgeous that it will make the blind see and the deaf hear – because no miracle will help you recover if it doesn’t.

What the f...?

What the f…?

The product mix can be a very interesting debate – it basically winds down to this: know thy customer. When you’re Mattel, you wouldn’t dream of sending out Sofia The First to support the organizers of the Barbie National Convention, now would you? But for Tonner and Madame Alexander, this is more of a dilemma – they both have a crossover audience for their fashion and child dolls – so how do you target the right audience? Well for Tonner, I would forget the child dolls, because they don’t have enough of an impact to tie up your convention goers’ time unless it’s directly related to a fashion doll (this does not include Marley Wentworth and Janet Lennon) – for Madame Alexander, they haven’t done a good fashion doll since 1996’s reissue of Cissy, so that’s a moot point as well. Seriously though, you would think they could combine child and fashion dolls to create a unified event, right? I used to think so when I was at Tonner, because he made successful child and fashion doll lines then – but the truth is, there’s simply too much disparity to make it work reasonably. Child dolls have a very different appeal, and they serve nothing more than a consolation prize at a fashion doll event.

No, really...where's my souvenir?

No, really…where’s my souvenir?

Child dolls don’t garnish enough faithful anymore to warrant a dedicated event, which is why you see lackluster Madame Alexander Doll Club Events, low attendance at Modern Doll Collector’s Convention, and evaporating interest in Tonner conventions, among others if they even still exist. UFDC still manages to make it work with a large artist doll following, or those that have to be there – because UFDC is mostly a business and educational gathering. People still love child dolls, just not enough to pay the big bucks traveling across the country to get one. Fantastically conceived dolls like Betsy McCall, Ann Estelle, Nancy Ann Storybook, Käthe Kruse, Helen Kish’s Riley – even Alexander’s Wendy (when they got rid of her little mustache) could still be done well, if not too done like an over-boiled chicken – these dolls’ events had their day during the late 1990s and early 2000s – but no more. It will happen again, but it certainly won’t happen soon enough to save many annual events from disappearing (if they haven’t already).

Have you lost your mind?

Have you completely lost your mind?

A kindly word on your souvenir designs, please. Generally speaking, the designers know what they are doing, so if you are contracting a company to make your souvenir, let them design it. You’ve picked your theme, and you’ve given ideas (just ideas, people) to the design staff – so let them do their job and create it. You will undoubtedly screw yourself when you tell them the budget, trying to make much more money on the doll than you should given other opportunities to bring in the bacon at a convention. But time and time again, whenever someone has in their head that a doll should be something very, very specific – or an eight year-old niece scratched out a pretty princess gown on her slip during church services – it will fail spectacularly. Of course, there are ignorant moments in souvenir doll design where the design staff hasn’t a clue – but for the most part, they got the reins. Hey – they went to school for this! You can always reject it. Then again, if you do insist on offering up your own idea, then man-up when it also fails miserably.

Can I trade up?

Can I trade up?

Along with the dolls, you have secondary products such as table souvenirs, centerpiece dolls, companion gifts, and souvenir bags. Relevance is key here. Coffee mugs, keychains and other trinkets are a waste of money. If they are not directly related to the doll, don’t bother – they stir up quite a bile stench when an attendee sits fondling such foreign objects wondering if they could get any amount of money for it later. Same goes for trading cards, fashion prints, out-of-scale hatboxes, and/or anything Little Orphan Annie. The exception to this is the lapel pin, customized to reflect the event – for some reason, these go over big, but often left me feeling like I’m just a little too old and I paid too much money to become a fashion doll-collecting Girl Scout. Keep it to doll clothing, shoes and relevant accessories, basic dolls, wigs – anything that will enhance your souvenir and enrich the dolly nirvana experience of obtaining serious convention loot.

Can't wait to see what they took off the doll to make this!

Can’t wait to see what they took off the doll to make this!

The souvenir bag is a necessity, though why I don’t fully understand. It’s usually filled with advertisements and what-not from retailers, doll clubs and other businesses hoping desperately you’ll actually go through all that shit to uncover some significant prize. And the truth is, many will – just to see what’s in there – or to scarf down the little morsels of candy often bestowed in mini-goodie bags. This bag is never large enough to actually carry the host of things you receive at a convention – and with company logos plastered all over the outside, why not just save a little money to invest into your prize souvenirs and offer nice paper shopping bags? Why? Perception, largely…and yes, I may actually be in the minority on this one – some actually like those bags. Tonner always seemed to spend a huge amount of time and money making bags that are actually travel luggage-worthy – but I’d rather you put this into the doll and doll-related souvenirs – because I am a doll collector, not a bag lady.

We're having an event!!!

I’m at table #1, bitch.

Promotion. Once your convention products are all designed and submitted for manufacture, THEN is when you should promote your event – not one single second before. Promotion of a doll convention is critical for planning and competition with other events, so you may think the longer you publicize, the better. Wrong. Too many things can happen that change a convention’s structure and/or product timing. So don’t hit people with promotions until you know what you are actually promoting. By the way, sending out a ‘save-the-date’ notice isn’t publicizing – it’s a courtesy…and a necessity.

Lights, camera...

Lights, camera…

Promoting your actual event and its offerings should be one of your biggest planned expenditures in your annual budget. The Barbie National Convention and Integrity – even Tonner and Madame Alexander, to some extent – need only send an email out to its list to gather attendees. But for the smaller event organizers, lack of planning for promotional budget is going to kill your event…especially if you are relying on the revenue generated by the event to support your business or organization. This is beyond the classified ads listing in doll publications and other trade media – and a business card ad in the back of these magazines is also a waste of time and money. You want your advertising and promotional efforts to be bigsignificantworthy of your event – unless your event isn’t really worthy – then there’s always Collector’s United’s, which is kinda now available online for all those aging doll collectors who don’t even have computers.

The elevators are over there.

The elevators are over there.

Marketing your event includes print advertising, social media interaction and advertising, trade publication announcements, mailings (electronic and snail mail), teasers, and word-of-mouth delivery – and then its follow-up, follow-up, follow-up! Only an event with Cher actually in attendance sells itself, so get off your high horse and don’t be cheap or lazy with this.

Trust me, I'm a professional...

Trust me, I’m a professional…

Of course, loads of detail goes into convention planning, and if you follow these guidelines to the letter, and get a star product, anyone could have a hit event…anyone. Now, by ‘could,’ there are certainly other things to know and understand…and they all begin while actually AT your convention. No, dear…this ride isn’t over yet…

Let me entertain you...

Let me entertain you…

Entertainment. One of the most important aspects of holding a successful convention is keeping your attendees entertained, but not too entertained…meaning, don’t wear them out. They’ve already paid you and traveled to get there – you have a captive audience – that doesn’t mean you have to hold their hand and smother them like an obsessive mother. If your events have been well-timed and you host other optional functions like a salesroom, raffle room or special exhibits, then attendees can decide what they want to do – when you don’t have them held prisoner. If you’ve chosen your location thoughtfully, folks can hit the town (if you’re actually close to one), hit the pool, or cruise the workout room – rather than unload and nest in the hotel lobby which makes you (and doll collectors in general) look bad.

Well I for one, enjoyed your hour and fifty minute program on doll feet very much.

Well I for one, enjoyed your hour and fifty minute program on doll feet very much.

During your events, it’s critical that you observe your event timing. An unrehearsed program can have ass-clenching results when awkward quiet moments have to make up for actual dialogue. Everything needs to be staged and timed, with a short leash on your hotel’s banquet manager. Nothing is worse than the wait staff clearing the tables during a program – have a little pellet gun on hand for the overzealous OCD waiter that just HAS to make sure Gertrude’s half-eaten cheesecake has been cleared away. Get coffee and water topped off, and then tell the staff to back off.

Let me - entertain you...

It’s rehearsed, trust me…

When it comes to your program – rehearse in front of non-doll people and gauge their reactions. Many speakers can’t keep track of time (again, the pellet gun is handy when they can’t take simple hand signals) – or they are so boring, even injection of boiling coffee directly into the veins won’t help (why did you book this person anyway?). Keep awards and honors to a minimum – and don’t take more time than absolutely necessary to say your thank you’s and acknowledgements, particularly if you’ve invited your family and hometown friends, and feel the need to introduce each and every one of them to a group of people who couldn’t give two shits (just give us the damn doll already!).

I find your lack of faith in the doll disturbing...

I find your lack of faith in the program disturbing…

When I was at Tonner, planning of the programs was great fun – creative, funny, engaging – all the elements to keep your audience focused on the front of the room, and be entertained. Entertainment is vital to the energy of your event (you don’t want to rely on alcohol, puddings). Don’t skimp here, either – make it a big splash! Know that hotels extort a ransom to rent equipment and services for audio-visual presentations, but the show needs to be clearly visible and audible to everyone, so your home projector screen probably won’t do.

I do!

I do!

Oh my…we did silly adventures with dolls in slide programs, giving way to videos in the later years. We held full scale runway fashion shows. We even had an actual wedding with models posing as Tyler Wentworth and her beau, Matt. It was offensive to hear from some people later that they thought it was odd and uncomfortable attending someone’s wedding that they didn’t actually know. Really? Pfft…whatever. You show me anyone today who goes to such lengths to entertain in expensive, unique and thought-provoking ways – it’s a rarity (but some are still giving it their all, thank God).

Just two little ghouls from Little Rock...

Just two little ghouls from Little Rock…

For your event, don’t make this mistake – don’t just throw some lame speaker on the stage unless they have something to truly offer the audience. Having someone like Carmen Dell-Orefice at 2014 Tonner Convention was a coup, though not really relevant to the convention theme ‘It’s About Time’ – but what the hell, it’s Carmen! This is one of THE most recognized fashion icons ever – getting her to speak was no small, inexpensive feat, I can assure you. She could have sat there farting the Star-Spangled Banner for all anyone cared – luckily for them, she was much more gracious than that. Getting someone like Carmen is a headliner – not something that bores you with its shock value, like say having a doll company executive ride into the banquet on a bull – that’s not the way to entertain doll people, folks…that’s how you shoot porn.

Speaking of which...

Speaking of which…

During your event, you also need to be mindful of what and how you offer up entertainment or programs to your attendees – they are, after all – your guests. Lectures, programs or other attention-necessary activity during a meal is rude. People are eating, and for some, you want to make sure they have all their attention on that plate of food to save you some choking nightmare – unless you want a group of stripping EMTs to pick up the pace. If you have live music, make sure you know the artist’s program, and they know your timing – they should also understand (in writing, if possible) that they are not the star of the show.

Barbie Girl

Barbie Girl

At the Barbie National Convention celebrating Barbie’s 50th Anniversary, there were Broadway-style numbers with singing and dancing that generated such an excitement and energy in the 1500+ person audience. When Robert Tonner was the souvenir manufacturer for the 2005 UFDC convention, a football field-length runway treated 150 tables to a live Tyler Wentworth fashion show. Gregg Ortiz often choreographed musical revue numbers to entertain guests during IDEX’s charity auction. You need not go as big as all of these instances, but don’t underestimate the impact of your entertainment – they are memory makers.

Ortiz doing it up right.

Ortiz and Company

Putting It Together. Staging your forum for an event takes time, patience…and common sense. Centerpieces need to stay out of the butter dish. Pre-setting tables with a salad saves you time. Having a dais with all the VIP people overlooking the room is condescending – who wants to sit and watch the ‘important’ people look down on them while they eat like a disapproving grandparent? Souvenirs must be organized and ready for delivery when the time is right. And make haste to get the people the hell out of the room if you have another event planned after it, or if the hotel will charge you fees for over-staying your booking. No…pulling the fire alarm is not an option (unless you want those EMTs to return).

It's so hot in here...

It’s so hot in here…

When it comes to the accounting for your event, don’t freak out when you do the math with the hotel estimate, quote from the manufacturer, and other resources who (for some strange reason) insist on being paid for one’s work (volunteers don’t count). If you’ve planned companion product well, you have some type of salesroom with which to rent tables, and you’ve supplemented the event with a rich and well-stocked raffle room, these should help to defray your expenses quite nicely.

Destined for the raffle room...

Destined for the raffle room…

Sometimes, an organizer will choose a charity to which it will donate a portion of the proceeds from raffles and/or special auction items. This is a great idea, and a great way to help a cause in need. But understand that the charity is not the focus of your endeavors, your customers are. And as such, also know that while a live auction can be very thrilling to some folks, most of them will find it one huge stinking bore. Best to hold your charity auction in a separate space and time (thereby giving you another secondary event) and let those who want to attend do so with verve and cash. Don’t hold your entire collective captive while four or five people flaunt their wealth and go ape-shit-crazy over one-of-a-kind dolls most of us only dream of owning. It’s just a little insulting after people have just spent a few hundred bucks and a kidney to come to and support your event. Yes, there are people who just love the excitement of those things, so give them all one big room to themselves, put on some Barry White, and let them make sweet generous charitable love. The rest of us will be in the bar.

Sold! To that chick back there with those EMTs...

Sold! To that chick back there with those EMTs…

Setting up a successful event also needs a successful competition. Everyone enjoys a little die-hard head-to-head when it comes to dolly play right? How wonderful to sit from afar and judge everyone silently. Your rules need to be clear, and you need to make sure entrants understand how they are to be evaluated. Be mindful of your categories, too. A broad range is nice, but you want to focus on the groups that will get the biggest show (ahem, fashion dolls, right?) – “Little Betsy’s Skip through Ho-Hum Americana” just doesn’t muster much interest. That being said, design categories need specific direction to yield the best entries. Simply stating that you should design a 16inch Tyler or ‘friend’ in a theme befitting of the Summer Solstice just misses the mark in its ambiguity – rather, choose something more inventive like “Tyler celebrates the season by garnishing the power of the summer wind in her best brightly-colored chiffon, georgette or charmeuse formal gown.” If they have to ask what charmeuse is, they shouldn’t be competing anyway. Oh yes, and have your judges put their best Project Runway Bitch Hats on and tear those little creations apart – it’s going to be sold on eBay later, so make sure you’ve run it through the mill with a Nina Garcia-sharpened razor opinion of boring v. fashion ecstasy.

I wrote down on my card, "excrement in high heels."

I wrote down on my card, “excrement in high heels.”

This is a competition, after all. And in the case of a tie, let those bitches mud wrestle for that shiny blue ribbon (only ONE blue ribbon should be awarded per category – the entrants had to make choices, so should those damn judges) – a fine banquet entertainment option if I ever saw one. Having a bookie take bets increases your revenue, too.

I'm so sorry you passed out during my choke hold - I WIN!

I’m so sorry you passed out during my choke hold – I WIN!

In organizing your raffle room, get the word out to every doll maker in the world – you heard me – all of them. It’s good PR and a much more reliable contribution pool than having your club members empty their closet full of dolly refuse all over your guests. People love winning things. But even free shit is still shit. If all else fails, frame a twenty dollar bill and put a raffle ticket bag in front of it – we are obsessively compulsive people, and the prospect of winning free cash easily justifies the $100 you spent on raffle tickets. If you don’t win what you wanted, there’s always time later to threaten that one person who ‘only put one ticket in’ with a cup of acetone poised right in front of his/her prize. If nothing else, the look on that face will be well worth it, despite your certain ejection from the convention.

Here's your stinkin' prize.

Here’s your stinkin’ prize.

For your salesroom, this usually works with most events, but make sure it does work. Rub your rabbit’s foot, cast a spell, bribe vendors if you have to – but make sure there are plenty of shopping options for your attendees, and not just your shit. Room sales, if permitted by the hotel, can be great fun and an automatic extracurricular event you didn’t have to lift a finger to organize! Public days are also a good option if you’ve publicized your event well to your local audience – charge an admission fee – your vendors will thank you. A successful salesroom will be a social hive of activity at your event – the more you do to promote it, the better it will do in terms of participation. Remember that vendors pay a significant price to rent a table and transport their goods to your site – they want a good return, and they will turn to your promotional efforts to determine if it’s worth their time or not.

Be flexible, and hang out with the cool kids...

Be flexible, and hang out with the cool kids…

All-in-all, above else – you must embrace being flexible. Things can (and will) go wrong, but as with any good customer service – it’s not the problem, it’s how you deal with it. Your guests will remember this above all else, even if they hate your souvenir doll.

No...this is mine...yours is over there...

I’m sorry, but there’s no refund.

Finally, if you are a manufacturer with employees hosting your own event, or if you have a group of people volunteering for you and your doll club – when the event is over – let them do what they want to do. They’ve already endured you and your event, breaking their backs to achieve your success, and make your organization look good. If they want to hang out in the hotel bar with conventioneers and get hammered, by all means let them do so – you’re not their parent. Don’t even go down the ‘I paid for them to be here’ diatribe – so what? You couldn’t have done it without them, that’s for damn sure. Know that they know what their responsibilities are, and don’t worry about how it ‘looks’ to the boring guests and prudes who gossip. What they see (jealously, I might add) is a group of hard working people relaxing after a (hopefully) successful event, and no amount of money buys that kind ambassadorial interaction. Don’t assume everything is one giant naked vomit party…they mostly are not.

I'll drink to that!

I’ll drink to that!

It’s a long road to a successful doll event – with care, planning and forbearance, you can do it, too. Reaping the rewards of establishing an event to sell your wares takes experience and good products – and you can repeat the success, if you’ve played your cards right. This financially important ballet builds more stigma and panache for your products and/or organization. It’s a brand-builder that need not be a dying breed, but rather a renaissance of happenings across the planet to celebrate dolls with comrades, and to make new friends along the way. I can’t think of anything more glorious, can you?

Some talent wouldn't hurt.

Some talent wouldn’t hurt.

4 thoughts on “How To Host The Perfect Doll Event…Really.

  1. As always, very informative. I’ve only been to a couple of conventions, but I totally agree about putting the money into the souvenir rather than silly little trinkets… 🙂

  2. I love the way you write :)…..lots of info here, humorous as usual. I did love volunteering at the Tonner Halloween conventions, and felt honored to have been chosen to do so. Your presence at those conventions made them that much more enjoyable 🙂

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