Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Carroll, Dragon Con Director – Media Engagement. He is the face and voice of Dragon Con, drumming up enthusiasm on local and national radio stations and television.
What is Dragon Con? It’s one of the largest conventions on the east coast, easily reaching 70,000 attendees each year. It has grown exponentially over the years. When I started attending in the mid-1990’s, everything could be found in a single hotel. Now there are five hotels, the AmericasMart, and a new events venue 200 Peachtree. Local restaurants and the hotels join the fun in concocting special themed desserts, and the Hilton hotel themes their lobby area as part of the celebration. Last year was The Lost World, and this year’s theme is Star Wars. They chose . . . wisely.
Located in Atlanta, Georgia every Labor Day weekend, Dragon Con was once four days of festivities but has grown to five. Thursday is the new Friday, as they say. The annual parade travels through the heart of the city on Saturday morning, where fandoms of every type are represented.
Kelly : What sort of work do you do in preparing for Dragon Con?
Dan : From a leadership perspective, there are elements that have to be arranged years in advance. Hotel arrangements, for instance, are agreed to years in advance. For most directors and volunteer staff, I would think it's fair to say more than a full year. We are already well into discussions about how to handle Dragon Con 2020 for Media Relations. The lessons we learn each year go into making the next Dragon Con better. Also, Dragon Con Media Relations is a little different that most departments. Because we are a promotions team, we have completed 90% of our work before Dragon Con begins. Everything we do onsite--managing interviews, managing registration--is just the tail end of our Dragon Con work-year. We will begin actively promoting Dragon Con 2020 before the convention is completed this year.
K: Has a guest ever been banned / forbidden to return?
D: I am not aware of of any. There may be some confusion because we try to mix up the guest list, and we avoid having guests come for many years in a row. But, no, I am not aware of any guest who has been banned.
K: What do you expect from your reporters?
D: We expect reporters to enjoy Dragon Con and then report on Dragon Con. We do have some specific policies in term of where photography is allowed, how to address guests with regards to interviews, and other related items. Mostly these are the same as restrictions on all Dragon Con attendees. While we anticipate professionalism among our approved reporters, we do not limit or censor their work, except in one way. By accepting a Dragon Con press pass, reporters agree not to participate or create any work that is insulting to Dragon Con attendees, guests, or volunteers. And our definition of insulting is very narrow: work intended to find humor or smugness in being cruel to Dragon Con attendees, guests, or volunteers.
K: Do you have any interesting stories from when you’ve been on the air : gaffes, funny moments, etc.?
D: One time I got a fight over Carrie Fisher, but that that story has been told before. Recently, I was excited to be invited into the WSB (Atlanta's ABC affiliate), to take part in a public service program discussing the Dragon Con charity efforts. This was my first time doing TV for this station, and I had built a great rapport with the host, Condace Pressley. I was exceptionally excited. In the middle of answering the first question my phone rang. I have had a radio program, I have been on Radio and TV many times before. This was the first time I failed to turn off the my phone. At least my ring tone, as it usually is, was associated with a Dragon Con guest. But, as I was talking about the seriousness of Heart Disease and our partnership with the American Heart Association, I had to stop to turn off Aly and AJ's Potential Breakup Song.
K: What brings you back year after year?
D: What brings me back to Dragon Con? Or what brings me back as the Dragon Con Spokesperson? I come back to Dragon Con every year for the simple reason it is fun! It is the most fun event in the world. I truly believe this. What brings me back as the Dragon Con Spokesperson? In short, also because it is fun. But, more than just that. I feel I have a unique opportunity to represent a community and an event I adore. The "geek" community has not always been able to adequately present themselves in the best light, and I feel that being the spokesperson for Dragon Con also allows me to celebrate the community in large. Dragon Con is about being who you want to be and letting our parts of us that we can't showcase in the office during the year. I am allowed to live out my fantasy of being a broadcaster and play TV start for a few days, while taking on a responsibility that truly matters to me.
K: Do you have any good guest stories?
D: Yes. Once time I bumped into Tricia Helfer, who played Caprica 6 on Battlestar Galactica. We had a pleasant conversation. I thanked her for her work is an actress and then I left. A few hours later I returned to the room where I had left Tricia Helfer and found Gigi Edgerly there. I start a conversation with Gigi and it was going very well and then my phone rang. My ringtone was the Battlestar Galactica theme. I lifted my phone to turn it off and said absentmindedly now why couldn't it do that while I was talking to somebody from Battlestar Galactica. Gigi laughed. I suggested next time I use Farscape theme as my ring tone
K: What can attendees expect from this year’s con?
D: Like most years at Dragon Con the most significant changes are are not big changes but rather a thousand individual small improvements. Some things that are going to be noticeable though are are increased ease of purchasing memberships using the GrowTix system, the expansion of two of our parties in 200 Peachtree, and that really incredible, amazing, outstanding guest list. But every single track and every aspect of Dragon Con will have something new and something exciting that we haven't dealt with before.
K: Dragon Con has had its share of controversies but rises like a phoenix (or dragon!) Can you explain the con's resilience and longevity even as tastes and fandoms change?
D: We have no doubt this will be the best Dragon Con ever! The longevity of the convention and its resilience through difficulty can both be traced to the guidance of our leadership, the dedication of the 2,500 volunteers, and the love in the hearts of Dragon Con attendees. Dragon Con grows and changes every year in subtle ways to keep pace with the changes in fandom and to ensure we represent current trends in pop culture while never walking away from those things that got us here in the first place.
K: What would you like attendees or potential attendees to know before they arrive, or to entice them to come?
D: Dragon Con is something that cannot be put into simple words. I know I've been trying for 11 Dragon Cons to do exactly that. When you come to Dragon Con remember there's 3500 hours of programming! There's four hundred guests. There's five hotels plus AmericasMart and now 200 Peachtree! There is a lot! Don't try to see everything but try that to see the things that matter most to you. Make a plan! And then be willing to let that plan fall aside when you find something surprising and amazing. Take care of the practical matters: keep yourself hydrated, give yourself enough time to go from hotel to hotel, don't try to pack too much in, and add breaks to your schedule. Use the app! The app makes everything so much easier in so many ways, To find out more about Dragon Con go to www.dragoncon.org.