Transformers convention TFNation hit the Hilton Birmingham Metropole in August 2016. Taking over from the annual Auto Assembly convention, it featured a stellar list of speakers, spanning the history of Transformers, and Event Industry News caught up with company director, Billy Edwards for the detail.
How did you and your team come to be involved with TFNation?
Everybody on the TFNation crew, without exception, is a Transformers fan and we have all seen what this incredible community has to offer. So when the chance arose to give something back we leapt at it.
How has TFNation approached the challenge of stepping into the gap left by the previous convention?
Auto Assembly (AA) left an incredible legacy, a lot of our crew volunteered and even met at AA, and a group of us came together to see what could be done to further serve the European Transformers fandom when the organisers decided they’d had enough.
TFNation is not the same convention or a soft reboot, but you will see similarities between the events, Those of us who volunteered at AA brought some elements in and helped to expand on others, but we are doing some completely new things too. This is an opportunity to reinvigorate the TF convention scene and really put our ideas together like never before.
Starting from fresh, was it possible to carry over any of the supplier relationships built over AA’s 15-year history?
As a brand new company TFNation doesn’t have any trading history with suppliers, so we’ve had to scratch build everything. That’s been good. It’s meant we’ve been able to approach people and discuss options which will hopefully be a better fit for our new style convention.
One element we’ve been very fortunate to keep is the Birmingham Hilton Metropole, which always held a spot for AA in August. It’s not uncommon for convention hotels like the Hilton to book events a couple of years in advance, so we were really fortunate to be able to take that on.
The hotel is serviced by a train station and has great motorway links. There is also an airport within walking distance and we attracted attendees from over 20 countries this year.
It has a great events team too, always willing to embrace new ideas, which is great. In fact, sometimes we find it is us having to reign them in!
For larger events, such as TFNation, organisers are free to liaise with external contractors but we opted to use the Metropole’s preferred AV provider, MCL Create. In the past 12-months, it’s relationship with the hotel has been extended and MCL now has on-site representation throughout the week, which is very useful.
Were there any other suppliers involved?
We hired in some furniture and barriers to keep people safe while queuing.The event was documented visually by Nick Hardy (nickhardyphotography.co.uk). Nick brought his entire crew along, took some amazing images and captured some great moments.
Otherwise, the vast majority of work was undertaken by our volunteers. They are a fantastically hardworking and friendly bunch and we cannot thank them enough.
There seems to be a lot more focus on interaction with the guests outside of the usual panel format?
A lot of people who attend conventions do so, in part, because they don’t always feel they can freely indulge in their hobbies back in the “real world”, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to be fully immersed at TFNation. Taking part in a voice workshop, with professional actors, in a room full of people who share your hobby and are willing you to succeed, that sounded pretty cool to us.
We couldn’t have done it without our fabulous guests, though. They would be quite entitled to pop along, sign some autographs and leave, but they really seized the opportunity to engage with fans and are just as enthusiastic as us.
How difficult was it booking guests for the convention weekend? Many have busy work schedules and some require international travel?
We didn’t bring anything over from AA, so had to build a guest list from scratch. It is important to do that as early as possible, particularly with international guests, who need a lot of notice.
People go to fan exhibitions for many different reasons. How has TFNation helped them get what they want from the event?
The aim is to get people to come along, make friends and have a great time. To reach as wide a range of people as possible we have tried to cover as many different aspects of the Transformers fandom as we could. We had voice actors spanning the 30 years of the brand, for instance. Comic fans were well catered for with our extensive guest assortment, which ranged from the 80s Marvel creators right up to the present IDW crew and for fans of the toys, we invited an amazing designer called Emiliano Santalucia who has had a hand in designing many of Hasbro’s modern era Transformers’ toys as well as concept art for the movies. We were joined by some brilliant exhibitors too. On top of that, there were fan artists, crafters, our huge trader’s hall and the incredible cosplay community, something for everybody.
There were vehicles outside provided by Transformers Car Hire too. How did that come about?
Back in about 2010, I was attending a Comic Con event in Birmingham. I went and introduced myself to a nice chap called Jason, who was providing photo opportunities with his 2007 Chevrolet Camaro. We invited Jason and the gang to Auto Assembly and my relationship with them grew from there. The whole team at transformerscarhire.co.uk are real enthusiasts. They upgrade vehicles themselves and visit all manner of events, from conventions to weddings.
If you ever see them at an event, be sure to go and say hello as they are incredibly friendly and happy to talk about the process.
In May TFNation launched TFN:May-hem, a publicity drive across social media in association with comic book stores. How much did that help in terms of raising awareness?
It played a large part while also giving attendees the chance to get involved via social media. That latter element was the more important as we wanted to encourage a friendly and inclusive community spirit. We really do owe a huge thank you to those comic stores, Forbidden Planet, Orbital Comics, Travelling Man and Proud Lion Comics. Large or small, indie or chain, they played a huge role in helping us to advertise TFNation and we are forever grateful.
Auto Assembly saw a steady increase of ticket sales over the years setting a record in 2015. How has TFNation fared in comparison?
The final attendee count was somewhere approaching 900, which for a first-year event was a good turnout. I imagine that figure will rise to between 1,000 and 1,100 in year two, now that people know what TFNation has to offer.
I’m focused on the one attendee I’m speaking with at any given time. When somebody not only supports your event but allows you that moment to create a memory for them, that is what’s important to me. That one person who steps outside of her comfort zone and has a fantastic time, the one person you’re able to help when a problem arises, the one person who walks away from your conversation with a huge smile. That’s what it’s all about. Hence our slogan – “TFNation: where all are one”.