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Meet the Vendor
The Rise of the Fan Convention with ReedPOP's Mary Franklin
by Chris Carver
on January 9, 2018
Twitter @MaryPOPCon

 

INTRODUCTION
The rise of the fan convention is one of the most interesting examples of the affinity human beings have with certain brands. I also think they are an incredible example for all of us in the event world.  

Now Imagine you were hiring for an Event Director to oversee the production of over 30 Comic Con's, Twitch Con, Star Wars Celebration and more globally. What are some of the traits you'd look for? 

1. Ideally someone who has the same passion if not more than the people attending.
2. Someone who is willing to get their hands dirty.
3. And of course... someone who has the cure for Jet Lag.  

From cowgirl to commercial fishing hand and now Global Event Director at ReedPop for the last 15 years, you won't find a more diverse event pro than Mary Franklin.

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Courtesy of Mary Franklin

LET'S SET THE SCENE
Obviously the responsibilities that come with ReedPop's Global Event Director are pretty dang immense. Especially with the amount of growth they've seen over the years.

So when she agreed to the interview, I was psyched to sit down with her and discuss:

She's a wealth of knowledge, enjoy this interview. I did.

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She can definitely carry the load of a Global Event Director. Did I mention was a bodybuilder. Photo Cred: Mary Franklin and The 300

Where did you grow up?
 
A number of places. I was born in Minneapolis and I went to college at Montana State University.

What was 15 year old Mary like?
I was a huge nerd. I was really into reading science fiction. I thought Star Trek reruns were a little dumb because I thought that reading Arthur C. Clarke was so much better. I was also drum major of the marching band.

I understand you've had some pretty unique jobs in some amazing places.
I worked in Montana on commercial beef ranches as a professional cowgirl for a while. Then I went to Alaska to work on fishing boats. I was living in an Alaskan fishing village when Lucasfilm hired me to work on events for them.

If you’re friends were a little tipsy, how would they describe you now?
They would describe me as tediously determined in some ways. And that I'm still a huge nerd. I'm obviously a big Star Wars fan. I geek out over Game of Thrones. If someone starts talking about Game of Thrones, I'm like, "Well, you know, in the history of the Seven Kingdoms..." 

I smell a of Game of Thrones ComicCon coming up.
Oh, I wish.
 
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She's kind of a fan. Photo cred: @MaryPOPCon 

If you were a piece of event equipment, what would you be and why?
I would be the biggest, most spectacular video screen ever. I love video. I want to make people feel part of whatever world it is that I'm promoting.

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Preview of Star Wars Rebels Season 4 at Star Wars Celebration. Cred: @starwarscelebration

If you could work on any other event in the world, what would it be and why?
The Olympics. One of the main reasons I love what I do is I love making memories. The Olympics have brought so many countries together, and they make memories for the world. I would love to be a part of that.

And if you weren't producing events, what would you be doing? 
I've already done some of the things that I would have liked to have done, and I really enjoyed them. I loved being a cowgirl. I loved commercial fishing. I definitely would be doing something new. I think I would like to get involved in leading horse safaris in Africa.

If you could be any Comic-Con character, what would you be and why?
I wish I could be Black Panther, because that is just so cool. That's the coolest character right now.

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Photo Cred: The Daily Dot - The Black Panther at San Diego Comic-Con

Do you have a favorite event you work on?
Hands down, the Star Wars Celebration. I was hired by Lucasfilm to work on that show back in 2001, and I've been involved in all of them since infancy. I am a Star Wars fan and I have many good friends who are Star Wars fans. I'm very attached to that show.

How did you get the job with Lucasfilm in the first place?
This is crazy, but it's awesome. In the mid-90s, I was living in a fishing village in Alaska that had no roads into town. You had to fly or take a boat. Being so isolated, a bunch of us Star Wars fans found each other online. I became president of the online fan club.

I did a weekly newsletter with subscribers in 23 countries, and Lucasfilm got really interested in it and the online community. Lucasfilm started talking to me, checking into what the fans were interested in. Then in 2001, they asked if I wanted to apply for a job to work on Star Wars Celebration.

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The Star Wars newsletter Mary oversaw at Lucasfilm. Courtesy of Mary Franklin

So you go from Lucasfilm to Reed. Why and how did that transition come about? 
I came over to Reed two and a half years ago. I had been at Lucasfilm for 14 years and loved the job, but it was time to learn something new. As of 2009, Reed has the license to produce Star Wars Celebration, so I didn't have to leave that behind. As the global event director, I work with all of our global Comic Con teams. That has been a fun challenge for me.

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Everyone's friends at a Star Wars Celebration. Cred: @starwarscelebration

What is it about being a ranch hand, or a commercial fishing deckhand, and working on a Comic Con. 
There's always a new challenge in each of those jobs. Something's going to happen you don't expect. Some different occasion to rise to. Some things that'll surprise you. The job can often be exciting, and they all help you grow in different ways.  

Since you are literally traveling the globe for work, do you have any tips for Jet Lag?
I have to be honest, I think I'm just genetically lucky. I sleep well on planes. If you have been awake for more than 30 hours, do not put a meeting on your schedule where you're going to be sitting down. Have things to do, like walking the event floor or supervise hanging a big screen.

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Mary hops several continents every year. Airport Bloody Mary's and GOT reruns are a must. Cred: @MaryPOPCon

What would you say are the three biggest operational challenges you face with so many locations?

First is: People, Movement and Safety

It's the nature of these shows to have fans come and queue up early. We have overnight queuing in the hall for Stars Wars Celebration. People are so excited to get in the show. So it's how to queue them comfortably and safely at each venue—and have a little fun in the process.

Second is: Presentation

Audio-visual presentation capabilities is really important in this business. Studios want to show previews of new films and we need to make sure the fans are really wowed with the presentation. The visual component has to be high quality. We can't get complacent about that.

Third: The chow

On the fun side, we try to vary up the food selection. That sounds really pedestrian, but so often at a Comic Con kind of show, you have fans who stay there all day. I love the idea of adding food trucks when we can.

You've worked with a lot of event teams, do you have any tips for keeping your team happy?
Always have a healthy, hot breakfast every day. 

What manual operational processes would you like to see technology replace?
I would love to see technology help with queuing. Being in a queue hall in the wee hours of the morning putting wristbands on people for panels, specifically. My whole team would love to be able to stop doing that. And the fans would probably like it too.

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Photo cred: Star Wars Celebration

How do you think that is accomplished? 
It's going to be something virtual. This is one of our big challenges with Star Wars Celebration. You've got 60,000 people wanting to go the same panel. Different companies have different capabilities right now, so we're working on finding the right fit.

What type of data are you constantly looking at?
We always refer to our exhibitor space sales and ticket sales. We keep track of how many people go to each panel to see how popular they are. We have our own show merchandise store, so we keep track of merchandise sales as well.

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Cred: @starwarscelebration

If you had a operational report for a show, or across all of your shows, what is on it?
I would want to see a mix of ticket sales, exhibitor sales, sponsor sales, store sales. I like to see some of the intangibles in the report, like what the atmosphere is like or any unexpected problems. I look at how long it takes for the queue to get in and what parts of the exhibit floor were the most dense.

When you think about your production schedule, how detailed is it?
My schedule is really detailed. The stage schedule for Star Wars Celebration and New York Comic Con are a lot longer because they have more stages. I print it out before every Star Wars Celebration on 11" x 17" wide paper and tape it all together. It's always nine to 10 feet long.

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Courtesty of Mary Franklin

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So at any given time, what's the most shows you're working on?
Too many to count! I manage the global shows, but each show has their own team. We have shows in Australia, Shanghai, New York, Hyderabad, India; Jakarta, Indonesia, Paris, France, Vienna, Austria to name a few.

When you launch a show in a new market, what are some of the things you do to engage the local base of fans?
Knowing your target market is so important and it seems to vary by country. We just launched a new show in Seoul, South Korea and the team found fan influencers. Everything from cosplay, collection, animation, to the Marvel DC comics and Japanese content. They found a really good group. They created an advisory group out of them. It was a tremendous help for the show because it was authentic.

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Cred: @comicconseoul

What have been some of your most memorable moments during these events?
The first time I walked George Lucas around Star Wars Celebration before the doors opened and showed him everything that was happening. Seeing his reaction to how much people love what he created, especially seeing the things that the fans built.

This is kind of embarrassing, but I took Bob Iger around a show after Disney bought Star Wars Celebration. I was demonstrating a toy in our show store for him, and I was like, "I can't believe I'm demonstrating a Star Wars toy for Bob Iger right now." 

Do you remember what the toy was?
Yes. It was ... you know the space slug in Empire Strikes Back?

You mean this one?

star-wars-celebration-space-slug-toy.jpg

Hah, yes! The space slug pops up after you wind the handle. I'm cranking that handle and thinking, "Oh my God, this song is long. This is taking forever."

You've had an incredible career so far, so what's the dream for your career?
I don't know if this sounds believable, but honestly, my dream is to be ready and open—prepared for whatever comes next that I get to fall into.

When you hire someone, what three things do you look for?

Connection to pop culture

They have to be immersed in the fan community in some way. Show me that you're just as huge of a nerd as me.

Strategic thinker

I look for the ability to do the jobs we need, and to think strategically about what we could need in the future.

Sense of humor

They have to fit in with the team and aren't afraid to have a little fun.

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The Star Wars Celebration event staff team. Courtesy Mary Franklin

What's the best piece of career advice you've been given?
This is my own life motto: never make a decision based on fear. 

 

"Never make a decision based on fear." twitter-128.png

 

If you were giving an event industry state of the union address, what would be your top three topics?
Don't lose connection with your fan base. I think whenever any show gets successful, there's a tendency to keep doing what you're doing. Number two, never lose connection with exhibitors and sponsors. Make sure you still know what they need. And number three, always think strategically. Always think ahead.

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"Never lose connection with your fan base." Cred: Star Wars Celebration Europe

Any parting wisdom?
Don't get too tightly scripted. Take time to think openly about what could happen in your future events. We need to be strategic, and well-researched. 

WHAT IS LENND?
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LENND's comprehensive platform helps event teams manage all aspects of the logistics and operations process. From incoming requests, approvals and management of inventory needs and credentials, to document management and tracking, to production scheduling, workforce management and more. The future of event operations is here.

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