Blog-case study: a PR fail – Romantic Times Convention 2009

Nathan Kamp for Karen Marie Moning. All Rights Reserved 2009.


**Disclaimer:** This post was not intended to be slanderous or defame Romantic Times. It does not seek to discredit Romantic Times in any way, shape or form. The sole purpose of this post is to provide a real-life example for event planning, public relations and event logistics. Therefore, please don’t sue me for something completely based on an opinion that is based off of information found on Twitter, selected attendee opinions and other blogs.

With an apparently terrible singer (thank you #rt09 on Twitter for that!) at the Mr. Romance contest, a disorganized website and an event planner gone MIA (no not, Mathangi Arulpragasam), I think it is pretty safe to say that the Romantic Times Convention 2009 is a PR Fail.

It has been about a week since one of the most popular events in Romancelandia has finished. The elves, faeries and scantly-clad have gone back home to work, families and school. But their input and reflections are clogging the info-waves.

First of all, Twitter, is definitely one of the best sources to get an idea of how the event went. Just #rt09 into any Twitter search and read. But be prepared to sort through thousands upon thousands of tweets. Everything from clothing, to food, to people waiting for their airport shuttles to arrive etc. If you aren’t web or Twitter savvy, you could be sitting there for hours.

Broken down into specific points, the Romantic Times Convention 2009 is a #PRfail because:

  • The web site’s design, fees and “staff list”/contact table are badly designed and logistically questioning.

Cluttered, difficult to navigate (even for the web savvy) and linking to itself in circles, the website is really a mess. For an event of such magnitude someone could at least afford a proper website, coded by a proper designer and proofed by someone who could tell the difference between a puzzle and accessible web navigation. For example, the “invitation” tab does not link back to the home page or resemble the rest of the website. Poor web design aside, that just does not look right for the convention’s “image” no matter who coded it or how much was paid to get it done. PR Fail
On that note, the “fees” are just a bunch of titles with “$” attached to them. No links, no descriptions — no nothing. To anyone not a frequent Romantic Times Convention attendee, or to someone just unfamiliar with their system, plainly put…it’s awful.
Usually, if someone goes to a fees listing they would like to know what packages are available, how much those packages costs and what they include.  PR Fail
Also, there were no discounts or reduced rates for vendors and their staff. Having inquired upon the issue myself a few weeks prior to the event, I can attest to that. PR Fail
A friend of mine owns a romance novel company and was interested in purchasing a booth as a vendor. Having never heard back from the event planner, more than two months before the convention, she asked me to contact the RT Convention to see if I would get a response. With my luck, interestingly enough, I did and was consequently told that there were no price differences between vendors, their staff and regular patrons. The bottom line is, a few dollars here and there aside, everyone pays the same thing. PR Fail
Something is very wrong with that logic.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to charge vendors a reduced price for the convention, and a reduced price for their staff members of whom are coming to work their booth with them? These people aren’t attending all the events and are “working” most of the time. Therefore, vendors and their staff shouldn’t have to pay the same price as someone who is attending the entire convention.
By reducing vendor-staff rates, a vendor is more likely to bring at least one to two more extra people to support them, rather than just one support member or none at all. It is supply and demand really.

I want more people to attend my convention, so I supply them with the means to do that.

But at $400 a person, even for two days of attendance, it doesn’t seem worth it. In this economy, especially, I think very few vendors were willing to shell out $1,000+ for three people to attend (a fair number to run a decent booth).
Romantic Times…greedy much?
Yes, I do believe you are.
And if the reason is to break even and make a profit off the event, why not hold it somewhere more affordable?
Isn’t there a commandment of the 10 around somewhere against that? Or is it a deadly sin of the 7? PR Fail

Something else that went beyond my sphere of event management rationale is the staff list/contact list for the event. 11 of the 32 contact pin-point people are the same person. I’m not going to name names, you can figure it out for yourself, but one person handling one-third of the entire agenda for communication? Not such a  good idea. (see below “Event planning fail, major!”) That’s too much for one person to do, “back-up” or not. I think one of the only things that doesn’t seem problematic was the “hotel information.” PR Fail

  • If the panels/workshops were  the prime reason to attend the conference for readers, then someone please explain to me why the panels were all geared towards writers?

Normally, when people attend conferences, they attend them for panels and workshops. Yes, conferences are fantastic opportunities to network, travel and have fun, but, their primary purpose is some sort of learning experience. You should be getting some “content” out of them. Therefore, if the main target audience for Romantic Times are romance novel readers, I’m trying to figure out why most of their panels were aimed at the writers? PR Fail
Looking through the online .pdf guide, the majority of panels, workshops etc., talk about “gaining a following in cyberspace,” “etiquette” when meeting publishers/authors etc., “how to write [insert genre here],” and other author related topics such as when or when not to place men into threesome sex-scenes.

TIP: Conceding that, it is possible, that many workshops/panels were indeed aimed at readers, I offer a piece of advice: regardless, descriptions, as such, should have been communicated in the general .pdf guide available on the website, as it was not. This, thereby, would encourage more readers to attend as oppose to writers.

The last time I checked, readers were the reasons writers had a platform to begin with. PR Fail

TIP: Simply put as a suggestion for the convention in 2010 — include price differences, package information and differentiate the activities, based on packages, for the writers and the readers. While both of these target audiences overlap, they are not the same, and should not be treated as such.

  • Mr. Romance.

In a nutshell, Mr. Romance is a competition between beefy men to grace the cover of numerous romance novels in the future. Think Fabio!

Fabio in dark hair. Photo from Smart Bitches. All Rights Reserved 2009.

The Mr. Romance contest is supposed to be one of the highlights of the convention (aside from the Ball).  However, it was never given a large amount of publicity and had lots of empty seats at the actual event. Twitter’s timeline and various audience members can attest to the fact that while there shouldn’t have been lounging room (for a few hours worth of soft-core, manly goodness: “man titty!” thank you Smart Bitches) indeed there was. PR Fail
There were also a few complaints about the prizes for the Mr. Romance contestants and winners — they should have been grander. The trophies were rather small, not a lot of prize money was given and there just wasn’t a “lovely package” put together for them. PR Fail

TIP:  The biggest issue with this, is that, regardless of whether you can or cannot get the large monetary backing for an event like this, you need to look like you did. Presentation is everything.

For example, rather than giving out small trophies, why not hand the winners glass plaques or unique knick-knacks?

TIP: Using engraved glass “paperweights” are cheaper than tropies and tend to look more elegant.

One a side note, the pre-show entertainment singer apparently sounded like she was “yodeling.” I do recall seeing one person say, “this is why Mr. Romance needs booze.” PR Fail

TIP:  Next time, hire a deejay. If you aren’t sure about if your talent selection will be well recieved. Go with something safe. I heard Mark Ronson is available.

  • Event planning fail, major.

I don’t say this solely based on opinions, or the experience for having attended the convention (as I did not, but rather, as you know by now, was contemplating attending as a “staff” member for a vendor as mentioned above), but as a simple communication error.

TIP:  Bottom line, if you are planning an event, whether you are the main person in charge or a staff member, the people attending your event should be able to get in contact with you. Simple.

The event planning team took days to respond to emails sent to them. I know of cases were emails were sent to the event planning team weeks in advance and were responded to the week of the convention.
By this point, whatever questions the patron had, either a) was already answered or b) they said to themselves, “to hell with it,” and didn’t bother.
There were cases of messages being sent on the Tuesday (April 21, 2009) of the week of the convention, and were responded to eight days later (April 29, 2009) — after the convention was over.
These late-emails were accompanied by an “I’m sorry for taking so long to respond…” which yes, is understandable.
But eight days later? PR Fail

Needless to say, I know of quite a few local Central Floridians who simply weren’t impressed, so much so, they thought the convention was more trouble than it was worth, thus decided to skip out…even if it was in their backyard.

TIP: Regardless of where you are hosting your event, you should have at least someof the local city-folk in attendence. If, even the people who live in the city, of the location of your event, could care less about attending, that should be a red-flag-major. PR Fail

You can check out the Romantic Times 2009 Convention website here.


Little Pink Book’s Rule of PR #4:
When in Rome, be a Roman.
When planning an event:
research! research! research!
 Please, know your target audience
and maintain open lines of communication
with your patrons.



Sasha Muradali runs the ‘Little Pink Book’ and ‘SashaHalima PR.’ She holds a B.S. in Public Relations and an M.A. in International Administration.

Copyright © 2009 SashaHalima PR. All rights reserved



  1. There was actually an interview posted online on Katy Perrys blog (I think) showing John Mayer’s current alleged girlfriend talking to the media. Needless to say, Katy called it “Interview FAIL”

  2. lol, that’s awesome.

    I think the convention was a logistical nightmare. But I think another part of the problem is there wasn’t enough planning/support staff. I mean one person was doing 1/3 of the entire set of relations. That’s OVERLOAD.

  3. It’s definitely a convention with a lot of interest especially considering RWA is geared strictly toward published authors and aspiring writers. It gets a lot of PR in Romancelandia on blogs and by authors and readers. It’s been around for I don’t know how many years but a system should have been in place that was better.

  4. Konstantinos Lelis says

    Hello,my name is Konstantinos Lelis and I was one of the Mr Romance 2009 contestants.
    After all it was an experience,what can I say.
    I learned a lot during these 5 days.
    I learned that it was not obligatory to stay in the hotel during the whole convention,like the Rules were saying,and I could have stayed in my friend’s place and save my money.
    Like the fellow contestant Mr Stefan Pinto that stayed in his uncle’s place during the whole convention.
    I learned that not always the best man wins but the one with the best connections.
    I learned that if in your resume has chippendale experience (like earlier Mr Romance winners) or you’ve been featured in a porno magazine it is like a Romance diploma.
    Must be Romance=Sex.
    There is so much more for me to learn…
    It was an experience though.

  5. Thanks for your candor. Your feedback is much appreciated.

  6. hey this is a very interesting article!