Interview with Dan Carroll, Dragon Con Media Relations Director

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By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

It’s no surprise a ton of work goes in to planning a convention. For one as big as Dragon Con, there are countless moving parts and departments that must work together to make it run smoothly. This year, Dragon Con celebrated its 30th year and that’s thanks in part to Media Relations Director Dan Carroll, who has been with the con for ten years. In an email interview, Carroll reflected on this year’s DC, what makes it stand apart from other cons, and more.

How did you first get involved with Dragon Con and can you tell me a little bit about your history with the con (how you arrived at your current position, etc.)?

I first volunteered for Dragon Con in 2006, working the helpdesk. I worked the helpdesk for three years and fell in love with the convention. The Media [Relations] role opened up in 2009 and I created a matrix of my skills and assumptions about the role, using my experience in corporate communications and management. I have found a home with Dragon Con, and a position where I could use my skills to celebrate the community and the convention.

The Nerd Machine puts on our own con in Nerd HQ, but clearly every con is different. Can you tell me about what goes in to planning Dragon Con?

Dragon Con has over 117 departments working throughout the year to plan and execute this amazing convention. We have to organize our guest list, approve and manage performers, vet and assign space to vendors, and a million other tasks that will be difficult to define in a short interview. We are predominantly a volunteer organization, including my own role.

What are your main duties as Director of Media Relations and what would people be surprised are some of your responsibilities?

I have four responsibilities: outreach to reporters and media outlets, management of registration, coordination of guest interviews, and acting as the event spokesperson. My team is big enough and mature enough that I can delegate most of the first three responsibilities to our PR director, registration manager, and interview manager; however, I am still responsible for oversight and vision in these tasks. Being the event spokesperson is the most fun thing about my job. Being interviewed and being able to be the voice of Dragon Con in this unique role has been a lot of fun.

One example of a surprising aspect of my job is that I often go to interviews with Dragon Con guests. One memorable experience was going on the radio with Burt Ward, Robin of the 1960s Batman series.

Dragon Con has become synonymous with Atlanta. How important has it become to the city and why is Atlanta the best place for the con to be held?

Dragon Con is very important to Atlanta, and very much loved by the city. The economic impact of Dragon Con expands every year, and is approaching $70M. The way the city has accepted Dragon Con is very clear from the recent proclamation of Dragon Con Day by the Mayor of Atlanta and our respect and appreciation from the Atlanta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Likewise, Atlanta is Dragon Con’s home and there is no thought ever of moving from Atlanta. We started here, we expanded here, and we are staying here. We could not have grown without the Atlanta infrastructure and our Atlanta-based volunteers who welcome everyone with southern hospitality.

What do you think makes Dragon Con special – how is it different from other cons?

The real star of Dragon Con is our attendees. Dragon Con is our attendees. We are a top-up community that occurs every year when thousands of friends and family come together to celebrate a myriad of fandoms. We are not a trade show, we are not a promotions event. We are a family reunion.

Dragon Con is known for its charity work, too. How is a philanthropy chosen ever year and can you tell me about this year’s successes?

This year we raised over $100K for the ACSS, the Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency, including a $50,000 matching donation from Dragon Con itself. Each year, interesting and worthy charities are reviewed by our board and one is selected. Of course we also take part in the long-standing Robert Heinlein Pay-It-Forward Blood Drive.

How do you measure the success of the con itself? Is it through attendance, feedback, something else…?

Well, that’s an answer that changes for each person, but in my case my department succeeds when more people know about Dragon Con in a positive light. Attendance is also a fair barometer. In the end, though, it is the number of people not who attended, but who want to come back again…that’s the real success of Dragon Con.

How successful do you think this year’s con was?

This was the best Dragon Con ever for me personally, professionally, and for watching people fall in love with Dragon Con for the first time.

Looking back on this year, is there anything you would have done differently? Or is it a well-oiled machine at this point?

We start planning the 2017 convention early in the summer, and we look at what we haven’t completed or won’t accomplish and put them into our backlog for next year.

My department excelled this year and allowed me to be able to do more. Since my role is to talk about Dragon Con, I had more exciting and interesting things to talk about than ever. We have a minimal of incidents, and nothing that involved Dragon Con attendees or reporters.

We had an excellent convention, but we always want to improve and expand the entertainment value of Dragon Con for attendees.

What do you hope con-goers take away from Dragon Con and how would you encourage those who have never come to attend?

Dragon Con is the most inclusive, welcoming, and open community I know of. If you have never attended before you will find something being celebrated that you adore. You will find a home and a new family.


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