Gareb Shamus, CEO of Wizard World, can fly.
Oh, he uses a plane like everyone else, but even that pedestrian ability comes in quite handy as he oversees an expanding media and comic-con empire with annual events in 12 major markets, including New York, Miami, Toronto and New England. I caught up with Shamus by phone when he landed in Las Vegas on Wednesday, where he was stopping for a spell to check out the Vegas Licensing Show before heading to a Wizard-produced Comic-Con this weekend in Philadelphia.
After Shamus explained the Licensing Show to me (in short, it’s where major and minor toy companies and studios go to buy and sell rights to characters and concepts) we began by discussing content creation and social media.
You started this pursuit over 20 years ago as a print magazine, now online, for comic fans–what explains your current success driving both online and real-world traffic?
There’s so much focus right now on the role of the social network; what we’ve managed to build is a social network that functions pretty seamlessly both on- and offline, in digital space and the real world. And what drives that success is the way we’re able to leverage all sorts of content–our own, user-created and from industry professionals–across different channels. People read what we produce at WizardWorld.com, obviously, but when they come to shows they like to take pictures of themselves in costume and upload them to Facebook or Twitter to share the experience with their network. We’ve also set up our YouTube channel so we can create content on the fly with the thousands of artists, writers and celebrities that attend our events.
Can you think of another industry that functions with the same type of relationship between the real world experience and online content?
The sports industry is similar, actually, in that live events in local markets attended by several thousand people spur content that’s accessed by millions. It works the same with our regional events–that content is eventually packaged and made accessible in such a way as to go beyond the geographic limitations.
Still, you’re not the only game in town for conventions, or comic/sci-fi/fantasy content. What’s driving your expansion as competitors struggle?
With over 20 years of experience, we’ve become a brand which has come to mean “authentic” and “real”; we’re the curators of really cool and interesting things. Plus, our convention strategy serves both fan and client: comic-cons are launched in major markets tailored for maximum fan accessibility, meaning we can build a national reach through regional exposure; we also make sure to space the events throughout the year, so clients avoid “one-time, one-place” exposure in favor of building an audience and excitement over time, year-round.
How important was it to get ahead of the social media trend?
There’s a huge social component to what we do. My role in life is to figure out what people will be interested in next, to recognize it and to not get caught off guard when trends shift. I saw very early on that how people consumed media was changing rapidly–the massive transformative shifts away from the distribution model and intermediaries of traditional media towards the always-available digital content accessed from a mobile device. Now, it’s not companies that decide how media is accessed, but consumers–especially in terms of the delivery of the content.
And how has that helped you?
We used to worry about what TV networks would show up to a given convention, but now every person who walks in the door can be a PR person for us; many people themselves become the curators of cool and interesting things for their own social circle. The fans themselves are our greatest voice–the greatest resource we have.