Dawn and I get solicitations on a semi-regular basis. Not the kind (alas) that would get us picked up by the Vice Squad, but the kind seeking to offer us all manner of services along the lines of printing, or gallery hosting, or search engine optimization, or other things we might be interested in as an independent artistic outfit.
Sometimes these are “cold” queries where they got our contact information through a third party or publicly available channels and it’s the first we’ve ever heard of them. Sometimes they’re folks who make the rounds of the artist’s alley or small press area of a convention, swapping sales pitches and business cards. Nothing really wrong with either approach; in fact where the latter is concerned it’s a rare convention where we don’t get at least one such contact that may or may not be followed up later. It might be hard to see through all the merchandising and celebrity panels and such, but networking such opportunities is one of the main reason conventions of all kinds exist, and comic conventions are no exception.
But here’s one thing that annoys me. Or should I say, us, since I’m certainly not alone in this amongst my exhibitor peers.
It annoys me when people get personal.
“But wait, Clint!” you cry (shut up, you’re totally crying it right now). “What are you saying? That all potential business relations should be coldly, clinically professional? You’re a mom and pop operation, they’re a mom and pop operation, you have faces, they have faces, you should totally be friends!”
No, I recognize that the face thing is true (at least in my experience so far), and there can be fun had while discussing mutually profitable dealings. The annoying part is when someone gets “fake personal”. That’s when someone comes by, makes a brief pitch, takes your business card, and then a week later you get a really chummy email informing you, you special snowflake, that they liked the cut of your jib so much they want you to come be part of their family. They love you. YOU! Let’s keep those good times we had rolling!
Only it’s quite obvious even on a cursory read of these communications that it’s just a really informally worded form letter that’s probably been shipped off to everyone else on the artist’s alley roster, likely with the same single button click, perhaps even with a Mail Chimp tag still on it, just in case there was any doubt. “To whom it may concern” may be replaced with “Hey dude!”, but it bespeaks the same level of actual personal care.
At this point it’s hardly different from the SEO crap we get from “Donna Gabriel” or “Noah Jenkins” or whatever name the spambots cooked up this month that starts off informing us how “they really enjoy our blog zombieranchomic.com”. Zombie Ranch, folks. The name is Zombie Ranch. And despite the presence of this right here, I probably wouldn’t refer to it first and foremost as a blog.
But hey, at least they have something filled in, I suppose. The standard artist’s alley blast never mentions any individual names (how could they? That’s literally *dozens* of artists you’re talking about!). Sometimes it’ll at least mention a specific convention, which is at least a little bit of effort. But oh, they are quite, quite chummy. They’ll tell you all about their day, without you having even asked. They’ll describe the shirt they had on or some weird and distinctive accessory which might trigger your memory of having met them. Man, it was great to talk to you! Love your stuff! Here’s a link to my site!
Look, again, being informal isn’t annoying in of itself. I’ve sent and been sent follow-ups which might contain one or more or these things, especially because sometimes after a crowded convention weekend you really do need that stimulus of, “Oh, YOU were the dude in the Groo hat” in order to remember a conversation. The difference being that it doesn’t end there, it also includes some details backing up that the remembrance goes both ways. “I particularly loved the illustration of the sad astronaut boy who can’t get to his ice cream” or “I think your concept of ‘living dead livestock’ with Zombie Ranch is brilliantly insane” are still flattery, but a specific kind of flattery indicating we really did make an impact on you. A personal impact. This kind of contact puts as much of a smile on my face as the faux personalizations make me frown. Even if you’re just doing it so I’ll buy into your project, well, hell, you’ve done your research. Good on you.
It’s sad how quickly cynical the faux personal touch makes you as an exhibitor, but we notice. And unlike the SEO and other spammers who just depend on anonymity and casting as wide a net as possible, casing out convention exhibitors in this way can be as wise an idea as telling every woman in the same local bar that you find them the most beautiful. We do talk to each other. We learn to spot the red flags, even if you don’t make the mistake of telling someone “We met at your booth at SDCC!” when they didn’t have a booth at SDCC (and yes, we got an email like that, which is specifically why I’m ranting now). You’re a small business and we’re small businesses, but that means even more that your first contact shouldn’t carry the whiff of bullshit with it.
Look, I know that sending a personalized message to every single exhibitor you talked to at a convention means a lot of work, and might still not give you much return, but I really do believe honesty is the best policy. Either you put in those details which indicate you truly do love what they’re doing, which in all probability should also mean picking and choosing a handful of exhibitors where that was true, or you cast the wide net — but if you’re casting the net, don’t try to get overly friendly with the squirming fish you didn’t really take the time to differentiate, or you can bet I’ll be giving you the fish-eye in response.