Toy Fair 2015New York Toy Fair begins Saturday and you can expect extensive coverage from Purple Pawn. Watch for reports beginning Sunday and continuing possibly for several weeks.

With all the great reporting we do from Toy Fair, Gen Con, and other events, I thought though that you, our readers, might also be interested in what it’s like working a convention from a press perspective.

The most important factor in how we cover a major show is time. We typically report from Toy Fair, for example, with two correspondents for 3 days. But that’s still not enough to cover everything. Last year, I saw more than 200 new games (and by that I mean games that were not just new to me but also new to the market) and still I missed a number of companies with which I had hoped to meet. This year’s list of exhibitors showing board or card games includes 169 different companies!

With all that time pressure, meeting game companies at a convention is primarily about getting just enough information to give a quick report on the latest products. Some good examples of reports from last year’s Toy Fair include Goliath, Gamewright, and Wonder Forge. Good Gen Con examples include Mayfair and Catalyst. There are occasions for covering a game in greater depth but convention reporting isn’t one of them.

While in most cases company representatives don’t need a lot of prompting to pitch us their products, I always remind them at the beginning that I’m just interested in what’s new. Otherwise, they might spend a lot of time going over products that aren’t news. Sometimes I also have to remind them that we cover all types and levels of game. Some assume that we only cover games for adults, or teens, or board games (but not card games), or some other subcategory.

In order to keep things moving along, I frequently have to cut a pitch short, decline a demonstration, or say “that’s enough” once I have the highlights. On most of the products, I’m only writing a couple of sentences anyway. Convention articles aren’t reviews, they’re first looks at products just coming on the market (or as often the case at Toy Fair, planned for release later in the year).

Of course, there are games that catch my interest enough to make me pause or even play through a demo. And sometimes I spend a few extra minutes talking to a company representative about business trends or the company’s future plans.

Also, no matter how tight my schedule is, I will always defer to a buyer. It’s a matter of professional courtesy. As important as publicity is to a game company, I understand that sales come first.

Besides the scoop on new products, the secondary benefits of meeting with companies at conventions include establishing a relationship, reminding them to send announcements later in the year, getting background information and news tips, learning about aspects of the industry from those involved, and arranging for review copies.

While we’re on the subject of review copies, the rules of Toy Fair prohibit press from soliciting free products. That’s not a problem for us here at Purple Pawn, as we’re a news site and only do the occasional review. However, I find it rare to meet with a company at Toy Fair and for them not to offer samples. Gen Con is the opposite. There the exhibitors are hit up for free samples by many reviewers, enough that they seem relieved when I don’t ask (which I rarely do).

Toy Fair and Gen Con differ in other ways as well, and in almost every respect, I have to say that Toy Fair is a much better experience from a press perspective than Gen Con. Registration is easier and not limited to one representative. Arranging for lodging is simpler, more flexible, and not appreciably more expensive in Manhattan than it is in Indianapolis. And most importantly, the Toy Fair exhibit hall is huge but not nearly as crowded, and so is much easier to get around than the exhibit hall of Gen Con.

A rule that is the same at both of these shows (and at every other I’ve been to) is that press are not supposed to photograph a booth or products without permission from the exhibitor. In all the meetings at all the shows I’ve attended, only once has my request to take photographs been refused. Unfortunately, I regularly see other people taking photographs without even asking.

One more thing I should address is the issue of appointments. Personally, about half my meetings or booth visits are by appointment. Only a few—Hasbro, Mattel, Lego, and Spin Master—who’s booths are entirely walled off—absolutely require an appointment. For a few more, it’s a very good idea because they can get so busy I wouldn’t catch them otherwise (and it’s only by trial-and-error that I’ve learned who’s likely to fit this category). And in a number of cases, particularly with companies that I haven’t met before, I set up appointments to make a certain impression. It tells the person I’ve made an appointment with that I consider that company important enough to commit time in advance.

So now you have some idea of what it takes to cover an expo as press. By the end of 3 days, my feet are sore and my throat is raw. I’ve written dozens of pages of notes and run through many batteries in my camera. And yet I love it!

 For a peak in to Toy Fair from an inventor’s perspective, take a look at Kim Vandenbroucke’s article on the subject from 2011.