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Anime Expo 2010
SPJA Open Board Meeting

by Carlo Santos,

It is no secret that Anime Expo 2010 has run into various stumbling blocks. While some aspects of the convention ran smoothly, other areas suffered, and these issues were addressed at The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA) open board meeting on Sunday morning.

The meeting, which got off to a 15-minute-late start, was held with SPJA Chairman Marc Perez, Vice-Chair Paul Wilson, Secretary Hank Wong, Treasurer Bryant Quan, and Board Director H. Roderic Onodera. Also on the panel was SPJA CEO Michael Lattanzio.

The meeting began with opening remarks from Chairman Perez, who commented on the "drama" surrounding this year's convention and that this was a very difficult job for him. Despite such struggles, however, the Board hopes to make Anime Expo a more focused operation.

Lattanzio noted that this year's total through-the-doors attendance exceeded 100,000 (which should not be confused with actual passes sold). From a financial standpoint, Lattanzio said that numbers were up 15% from last year, and that attendees were "very, very happy" about the event.

Wong continued the discussion with an update on the organization's by-laws. According to Wong, this year's changes are mainly "a minor revision" regarding the logistics of the SPJA electoral process (which is now decided by staff instead of the board of directors) and a clarification of various ambiguities. These changes will be finalized in time for the next round of board elections.

At this point the meeting was opened up to public comments and questions. The first was from an attendee who had purchased the Premier Pass but was not given "premier" treatment during badge pickup at Registration—clearly an issue with lack of communication among Registration staff.

The next issue that was brought up was the most pivotal one: the lack of a "Con Gripe" (feedback) session on this year's schedule. Although Lattanzio tried to deflect the criticism by citing other channels of communication such as phone and e-mail, it was clear that the lack of a face-to-face feedback session at Anime Expo 2010 was a major misstep. Other members of the audience also echoed this fact.

On a similar note, there were also various comments on the current state of transparency in the organization. For example, there was a recent resignation on the SJPA Board of Directors which had not been announced. However, it was noted by the board's legal counsel that announcing changes in personnel are "typically not done in non-profit organizations." In fact, there are certain areas that are specifically not to be discussed openly, such as HR and legal issues.

Also on the subject of transparency, Perez commented that there is currently a disconnect between the SPJA and general convention operations; communication must be improved between these areas, in addition to moving to a 5-to-10-year strategic model instead of only thinking 2-3 years ahead. Onodera also added that the SPJA has hired a professional board trainer to help them run more efficiently based on the model of large-scale non-profit organizations.

The panelists also noted that this was the first SPJA Board of Directors to genuinely ask themselves, "How are we supposed to run as a non-profit?" and have brought in legal counsel and a trainer to address that issue. After going through an internal audit, the organization found that they had been making many simple mistakes and that this could be remedied by learning more about how top NPOs are run. Perez admitted that these were "growing pains" for the SPJA and that "This job is the hardest thing I've ever had to do."

Other transparency-related issues included the lack of a daily newsletter at the con. At first, Lattanzio confused the question and began to comment on the weekly and quarterly newsletters throughout the year, and that a daily newsletter (which was produced by volunteers) seemed "unproductive." However, it was eventually understood that a brief daily newsletter with schedule updates and highlights of major events during the con would still be beneficial to attendees. Some of Anime Expo's digital tools for communication such as TWitter, Facebook, Sched, and an iPhone app have been moderately useful in communicating up-to-date information, but a hardcopy newsletter also complements such services.

Anime News Network's own Zac Bertschy also commented on various aspects of convention operations. Although he found the event to be smoothly run, there were some key issues, including a lack of signage for schedule changes and deep financial concerns among Exhibit Hall dealers. Many of the vendors were financially impacted due to contractual issues in bringing goods onto the convention floor. Lattanzio said that he was striving to resolve the issue by partially reimbursing exhibitors for the difference in drayage (hauling) fees during loadout.

Other attendees and staff also brought up various issues, such as the cheap-looking 1/4" lanyards (which unfortunately were a result of having no sponsors for 1/2" lanyards with logos), the poor ventilation in the Console Gaming room (a result of electrical power issues), and extremely long lines for the film screening room that resulted in many attendees being shut out of much-anticipated events. The "secret" Yoko Kanno appearance was also a concern; many attendees had been disappointed to find out this information too late. Unfortunately the Kanno situation was the result of a contractual agreement where her appearance could not be announced in advance.

Although Anime Expo 2010 had its issues, the tone of this meeting showed that the current organization will continue seeking ways to expand and improve the event.

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