Scott and Philip take a break from the news to discuss marketing a Halloween event at your attraction.
Scott and Philip take a break from the news to discuss marketing a Halloween event at your attraction.
Philip: From our studios in Orlando and Tampa, this is Green Tag Theme park in 30 I'm Philip and I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development.
Scott: So, 'tis the season for marketing all of our Halloween events, and nobody knows this better than those of us who are running Halloween events, like me, or those of us who were reporting on them, like Philip. So, in fact, Philip, I think you've. Seen what, 18 gazillion different haunted attractions around the country this year. In talking about this being a very important part of what's happening within the industry at this time of year, and it's been going on for a while, but we figured now we can actually report on some of the specifics that we've seen, and things that we thought worked really well and things that we thought probably should be better planned for in the future, we'll put it that way. Again, when you're dealing with media for a haunted attraction or haunted festival, if you're in a theme park, for example, it is going to be different than the media that you do for your day product. There are some unique elements that will benefit you, and if you try to do it exactly the same as your day product, chances are good you're going to miss some low-hanging fruit, or you're going to report things in a way that is not nearly as mysterious or exciting as a Halloween event could possibly be.
So, Philip, let's start with the positive stuff. You know, what are the things that you've seen? Because like I said, you've done a bunch of reporting. I can talk about the projects that I've worked on, but you've done a bunch of reporting this Halloween season, you've been around to a bunch of different places, and let's start with what has worked. Who has really sort of welcomed the media, or at least your experience with the media, with open arms, had stuff planned for them, and made it so that you could get the content you needed to help promote and sell tickets for them?
Philip: I want to take a step back just briefly and say for new listeners, this is a little bit of a special episode. If you haven't listened to any of our previous episodes, usually we do news every week, but since this, again as Scott mentioned, 'tis the season and we've done it all. So, we're doing a little bit of an unusual kind of special episode, and that's what brought us to this media point. Also, to kind of give context, what we do at the network I think it's a little bit unique. We're not an agency, but we are also not just a, I guess, single content producer. So, we have partners, we have media partners. What I'll do is, we'll trade content back. So, sometimes with my media partners, if they're going to cover an event already, I'll ask them to get some stuff for me, I'll give them kind of a list, and outline, and also vice versa. So, if I go out to an event, I might be getting content for just me, or up to four other media partners at one time, so up to five outlets that I'm trying to record software at one time, and everybody needs something a little bit different. So, keep that in mind as we're talking about the different things.
Scott: I think it's a very good thing for people to keep in mind who are on the other side, who are on the owner or the operator side, is to recognize that, in this day of multiple-level distribution, shall we say? The content that you're getting to one source may actually end up on multiple sources. I mean, we've all seen how things, especially in the digital realm things get picked up, things get shared, and things get reposted by different organizations. So, you know, you may be looking at certain entities with a very old-fashioned eye and may be thinking, this may not be the three major networks, which are no longer major anymore. This is a heavy-duty blogger, a strong vlogger, or basically a content clearinghouse, kind of like Haunted Attraction Network. So, recognize first, right at the beginning, that the content that goes out there is not just for the person who's getting it. In fact, it rarely is. If it works the way it's supposed to, it will be shared, it will be spread, but the way to do that is to make it compelling and interesting.
Philip: Yeah, I agree with that. I will say if you're unsure, before I get to the best practices, I do get asked, how do we know, basically? My answer is, if they're asking to be treated like media, they should have a media kit. They really should, even if they're just a regular "blogger", TikToker, or any of those people, they should have some sort of media kit. Even if it's just they tell you, "all I do is TikTok, here it is, and here's samples of my videos." They should be able to at least give you that. But just ask them, that's always the first thing, really, just ask and they will tell you. I will tell people if they ask me. We have a page on our website that outlines all of our different products, but also, I will tell them, in that case, Scott, usually how it goes is I will pitch.
So, for Vault of Souls, for example, I came out and visited Scott's show, and beforehand I pitched that story to all of our media partners and kind of saw who wanted to bite to get that story. Then, depending on what they needed from me, I would record a different intro, maybe, for them and do a little bit different coverage than what I would normally do. But the network itself, our native channels as to Scott's point, we do a weekly newsletter. When I go out and interview you, that interview will turn into a podcast, maybe we'll take the best thing you said and put it in the newsletter so it'll be a newsletter mention. Then, also, we do our print magazine still, that goes out twice a year, so it might end up in there if it's a really good case study. But then we also will turn it into a video, we'll take that long-form video, and we'll take short-form vertical, and we'll put that vertical on Instagram reels and TikTok. So, we generate up to 10 assets for each time that we talk, and that's just me. But then if I give it to other content partners, they might take and edit it in a different way.
Scott: Treat legitimate digital media like we, in the "old days" used to treat television media, which basically was, get them everything they need. Television media actually started that mentality because they would often have print partners, then they got websites, then they got... So, they would repurpose the information, and repurpose the content in multiple different formats. But now that has become the standard, certainly with the more legitimate groups like Haunted Attraction Network, instead of the exception.
Philip: Yeah, but definitely ask them, because there are some people that we work with... Actually, I do think it's pretty rare to have a "content creator" like ourselves, that we give out so much content to other people, and the reason is because it's very difficult. There are some content creators that feel like things are proprietary or whatever. But the reason you should ask is because we do have a few channels we work with that only produce in one medium, and that's all they care about. So, we have a TikTok partner that I will send stuff to and that's all they do, they don't want to do anything else and that's all they do. That's fine, you know, so just ask.
Speaking of asking, best practices, I think that is kind of my first best practice, when people just ask you what you need to be successful. Or they at least ask you what you do, or they somehow show some interest in what you were trying to create, or at least trying to put you in a bucket. Do you need video? Do you need just audio? Do you need photos? What do you need? What kind of content do you create? That's always the best practice. It's very difficult to do that, especially if you are handling a lot of requests, then it can get pretty daunting. I know it's difficult, especially for people who don't have full teams, so I understand that so take it with a grain of salt.
I think some of the best media correspondence I've had has actually been with Universal. Again, probably because they have the money to employ a full team, right? That's probably the reason, but Universal, they do it really well, the one in Orlando especially, they do it well. I'm not sure they did this with everybody, but at least with me, I had to send an equipment list ahead of time, even down to sending an equipment list ahead of time. They asked exactly what I would be doing and what I'd be getting, and then they would help match you up with handlers that night that would help make sure you get what you need, but also you know in a way that they want it, of course.
Then afterward, they follow up and they ask for a list of all the places where the content has appeared, right? I think that is my next best practice as well, maybe unless you're broadcast media, but I have a suspicion that even the individual anchors enjoy this. Just like when you were creating something, content creators are generally they're invested in their creations and it's never a bad thing to thank them for what they did, or to watch it even and to say, "I really enjoyed the way that you got made this TikTok about our main character. That was great. Thank you, again."
Scott: To watch it, to share it, to like it, yes, to recommend it. So, before you get on to the next best practice, I think this is something that the theme park owners and operators, the event owners and operators, the people on the other side, and the non-media people need to take into consideration. I think it is important to recognize that even if you can't give the media everything they ask for, "I want the social security numbers of all your performers." I mean, obviously, you're not going to go that far, you're not going to give away any sort of proprietary information. You are constantly in control of what they see and what they don't see. However, that said, give them something, give them the tools they need to help promote your experience. Work that into your plan, your rehearsal plan, your costuming timeline, and your makeup artist timeline.
I have seen this happen in other locations, the media will show up and no one, as Philip was talking about with Universal, has contacted them to give them information. No one has contacted them to say, "here's what we're going to shoot." They just basically show up and fly by the seat of their pants, and then the owner or the operator gets pissed off because they see something that they didn't want them to see. So, as an owner or operator, make sure that you plan specific elements and specific moments where this is the content that we can put out there.
Work with your media partners and the media people, because they may have a suggestion. They'll say, "hey this is great. Can we look at it from this angle? Can we tweak it this way just a little bit?" Be open to those suggestions, because that will help you craft it better for the next year to certain that you are able to give them what they need. Now, don't misunderstand me. I am not saying, especially for Halloween, just give away everything. I am not saying that at all. I'm not saying, allow them to come in and do a POV walkthrough of your entire haunt from beginning to end, and then peek around behind the scenes. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is, prepare on your end so that when the media shows up, you have something compelling to offer them, and if you know that up front, you can let them know and have those discussions before they even show up. Say, "here's what we're going to offer you."
Philip: Yeah, I love that. I know that Scott and I have slightly different opinions on the POV walkthrough thing, but I think I agree with that overall. All the media that I work with appreciate that. They appreciate you telling them upfront what it is. Also, I can tell from the back end when a haunt has thought about the media plan and when they have not, and that's critical. I'm just going to say, just be aware, also, when you are discussing your media and what you're going to do, what you're not going, obviously you're going to be thinking about that early. Then, that's also going to determine who's going to cover you. So, it's like, don't be upset later, just understand that is all going to come with it, and the reason is because of economics, right? So, just like broadcast media.
The other thing I am going to say too is, if you're not allowing POVs or walkthroughs, don't give it to broadcast media and not to other people, because there are a lot of other channels that have far more reach than broadcast, and you'll get on a blacklist. Because attractions keep blacklists, but so do media, we keep blacklists, as well, of people. It goes both ways, guys.
On the walkthrough things specifically, just understand that different media need different content for different business models. I think that's also difficult for attractions to understand. It's kind of like when people download apps, and they're don't think about it's free. It's like, if you're not paying, then you're paying with your data. Somebody has to pay for everything, and media is not free. A lot of media, they don't operate just... You know, they have bills to pay too. So, every media has their own economics that go into the story. A lot of the people that do walkthroughs and do that whole kind of POV long-style video, the reason they do that is because they need a compelling piece of long-form content in order to monetize. Say, if they're not going to get an hour of usable, compelling footage from you, they're not going to come to you, because there's no point, it doesn't pay their bills. Unless you're going to pay them, and that's the other way to do it.
Scott: And at the same time, that may potentially be taking money out of your pocket, because you're monetizing their video instead of your attendance. So, you have to kind of figure out what that balance is and what you're comfortable with. I am not a fan of a full hour-long, "here we're going to show you everything there is to do with this attraction." I don't agree with that. To me, that is the content creator who should be paying the park for content, as opposed to the content creator advertising, because they're not advertising. They're giving away the product. They're giving away the product in a video medium. That said, there are ways to do POVs that are a dim-sum approach of the experience. We'll get into this in a bit more detail, but it's what Philip and I shot last night at the Vault of Souls, because I knew exactly what segments I wanted him to see, I knew exactly what segments that I felt comfortable sharing, and because of the unique nature of the Vault of Souls. Every 6th guest has a different experience, so there are six different ways to experience the basement. So, instead of all six and shooting every single one of them, so that there really was no need for them to come to the event they could watch it on their phone, we did one of the six and kept referencing the fact that this is different for everyone. So, that gave, I'm hoping, enough content to create a compelling story for Philip and his media partners, as well as advertising for our product.
I think Philip brought up a very good point. Everybody has to get paid. Everybody has to make money, and you have to create these win-win scenarios between the media and the attraction so that you know ones not, in essence, screwing over the other. I think that it has happened both ways. I think there are times that the parks or the attractions have taken full advantage of the media and basically screwed them over to their own benefit, and I think there are also times now, because digital media is becoming so incredibly powerful, that they have said, "no, we're here to promote." And what they're really doing is creating a special. They're creating a TV special, which should be paid for, because the park has now had to do all of this work. Now, is there some sort of compensation in the middle there because it does raise awareness, perhaps, but it may also be taking away ticket sales. So, I want to make sure everybody finds that balance.
Philip: Scott and I definitely disagree about this, so I want to make sure that's clear and underscore it. I don't think it takes away ticket sales, because I think it's the same argument as people that say... remember when people were like, "we don't need Disney anymore because we have VR." I'm like, eh. But that being said, also, I do want to point out too, Scott's analogy of it being a TV special is spot on. A lot of our media partners do this, that's why I know after having worked with them so closely all these years. That's not what we do at the network, my native content is not like that, but a lot of our partners, that's essentially what they're trying to do. They're trying to create a TV special. So, at the bare minimum what they're looking for is that 20-minute mark, or you up to an hour, that's what they're looking for, but it has to be engaging the entire time. So, it is really a TV special, and that's how they get paid.
Scott: Well, your point, as you said earlier, then they should be paying for the content. Basically, what you're saying is that those kinds of long-form media feel as though they should get their content for free, and then monetize it and make money on the back end.
Philip: But they don't. Honestly, I think of it as a wash if that's the case. It'll take a day to shoot it, so that's six hours, plus travel expenses and gas and food, and then it'll take 20 hours to edit. So, 20 hours at how much do you get paid an hour? Like 35 plus? At 35 an hour for someone who's been a professional cameraman for 20 years. So, are they going to make that much back in advertising? Maybe. I mean, so that's where you get into it. I's almost taking somebody to edit one of those, maybe almost a full week of work. So, it's like you having an employee you know working with for a week trying to do that.
Scott: Don't misunderstand me, I'm saying specifically for Halloween. I'm saying specifically for Halloween. Because the nature of a Halloween event is surprise, and if you eliminate all of that, you have eliminated the actual guest content. So, I find that frustrating. I also think, you talk about compelling, if you're going to represent your Halloween event, a walkthrough, a real-time walkthrough on video, doesn't do it. It does not represent. You have to be very careful as to what you show, you show the highlights, you show the excitement. Because in real life your brain lets those in-between moments go away, your brain compiles or compacts things.
So, it's like watching a videotape of a play. A videotape of a play is not nearly as exciting as being in the theater to watch the play. If somebody sees a videotape of the play and goes, "eh, it's not that good." They're not going to go see it. But if they had gone and seen it in person it would have been a completely different experience. I think the same is true with the haunted attraction. So, what I'm suggesting is, instead of doing the full beginning-to-end walkthrough, here's the POV of what a guest would experience, decide what you want to put together, what you want them to see, the highlights. I know Philip keeps saying we're disagreeing, we're really not because we're saying the same thing, he's talking about it on the editing side, I'm talking about it on the actual content side, because it has to be interesting, and it has to be compelling.
Philip: I want to push back a tiny bit on that. Not the concept that needs to be interesting and compelling. I think where we agree is that the attraction needs to make a plan for this type. When Media asks this question, you need to have a plan in place, and if you have no plan, and you just let them go wild and whatever, then they're going to go through and do the full walkthrough, and just make their version of the experience, which could be boring. Where I disagree, and where this makes things complicated, and I've said this for years. Basically, there are a lot of people that do watch these walkthroughs that never intended to go, that they could never go, like they'll watch them from another country. So, that's another thing where it's like, I'm not sure how many tickets are really being sold, because a lot of people that watch it would never have attended. Now, that being said, that is how people in other countries become aware of what you're doing, but that's a big piece we don't talk about a lot in the media, just like with broadcast media, it's very similar. You don't know exactly who is watching the story if it's picked up by national news, and what good does it do to have somebody watching 5 states away that's never going to come to your attraction, right? It's very similar with those walkthroughs.
Scott: But to me that makes it so that it's clear that that content is benefiting the content creator and not the park.
Philip: That is one of those pieces I'm like, we don't talk about that too much, but at the same time, those channels are very popular and it's a whole genre that you're going to face as an attraction, of kind of dealing with that type of content. It is a great way to get your experience out there. Where I agree with Scott is...
Scott: Philip, you just said, get your experience out there to people who are never going to go, so it doesn't benefit the attraction at all.
Philip: I think there is still benefit in it. I think it depends though.
Scott: So, how is it monetized for the attraction for people who are five states away who you just said are not ever going to go.
Philip: Perhaps a better question is to ask, why does Universal Studios put up with doing so many walkthroughs?
Scott: Because Universal Studios is the big boys. They have 6 haunts, they're not going. To do a walkthrough of every single haunt.
Philip: They do.
Scott: They do, but they don't put them all together.
Philip: They do.
Scott: I did, every channel I worked with did, and I mean there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. So, if you want to be successful, this is what you do.
Scott: If you are an international company like Universal Studios, yes, give your product away because people are going to come anyway.
Philip: I think my overall point was, if you're shooting for that overall brand awareness, like if you have a brand like that and are shooting for that awareness, then that is where it makes more sense. The other thing I would push back on is people realize that it's different to do an experience, like watching on your phone versus walking through in person, and you see that in the comments. If you have, like me, spent a lot of time reading through useless YouTube comments, you're not seeing people saying, "I'm not going to go." You're seeing people saying, "I'm going, and this is why. Because I can tell this is going to be good," or whatnot. The last point I'm going to say though, I think that what we agree on is that you should have a plan for this. Here's the thing though, here's the thing. You can't, from the attraction point of view, I would make a plan for what you're going to put them through, but not tell.
Scott: But didn't you just say to communicate upfront with them?
Philip: Communicate upfront with them what you're going to allow, and have a plan for them, but don't go in telling them you're not going to give them the full experience if you're going to curtail things. A lot of those walkthrough experiences, they operate off of the concept of, it's kind of like the no filter thing, this was our no filter version of our experience with the haunt, to make it transparent. So, my point is, you can have a plan and say here's your experience, here it is, right? Then, to them, it's authentic, but internally we know that we gave them a particular zone or whatever. Just so you're aware, if you tell the haunt that we're going to give you a different experience than the regular guest for this particular reason, then they will not be able to cover you.
Scott: I never once said give you something to give somebody a different experience than the guest, what I said was, give them an experience that you feel comfortable with the media getting, you feel comfortable with people seeing. For example, again, going back to what happened last night. No matter how much I am opposed to a walkthrough from beginning to end experience, what we covered last night, and correct me if you feel that I'm wrong, but what we covered last night was a sample of the entire guest experience, from the mobile arrival throughout the entire experience through every one of the three acts. But it wasn't a linear walkthrough of it, and that's what I caution against. I will tell you one of my favorite comments that I've received, and I'm using this specifically for Vault of Souls because that just opened this past weekend and I'm very much focused on it. One of my favorite comments was somebody who had never been there before said, "we had so much fun. It was so exciting, and we knew all about it, but we didn't know the details, and that made it fun." So, I caution independent haunts or smaller theme parks to just open their doors and say, "yeah, shoot everything, do the whole nine yards."
Philip: Yeah, I agree with that too.
Scott: I don't think that's compelling to an audience.
Philip: I also think it makes it more difficult for the media creators too. What I enjoyed about working with Scott from that angle was that I met Scott and I had discussed with him, this is what we'd like to do. I need my interview for me, because as a network that's what we do, we interview people, and then we do highlights. That's what we do, just like traditional news media, that's what I do, and I need the podcast interview. I told him, our partners, want a walk-through kind of POV style if they were to walk through the haunt. You want to see it in real-time, the real-time thinking of the puzzles and all that. What I enjoyed as the media partner is that Scott helped me get that, he didn't just set me loose and was like, "good luck figuring it out."
So, I think that's exactly what we're saying, where you're meeting them in the middle where you're helping them, but also, then in that way, you're able to control the situation. You're like, "we're going to start here, then we're going to go to here, we're going to go here, and we're going here." Then, that way... We all have been there, the worst thing, and actually this happened to me Universal, this is actually a great moment. I did two video walkthroughs of one of their houses, both times we missed one of the main characters because they were on break. That's the type of thing that shouldn't happen, because the handler should have said, "let's do a different house first, and then come back to this one." Because you don't want to get it... Of course, in one argument you could say, "well, that's a normal guest experience, a guest would have missed them too," and it's like that's correct, but...
Scott: That's exactly what I'm saying. This is exactly what I'm saying. So, even though we've spent this entire show sounding like we're arguing, we're saying exactly the same thing. We need to make certain, though, that both sides, both the content creators and the owners/operators need to work together so that both are satisfied. Create a win-win scenario. If you are comfortable with saying, "yeah, go do a walkthrough." Because, Philip, you told me multiple times that you shot certain haunts like four or five times and still didn't get anything usable, because it wasn't focused enough, it wasn't what you needed, it wasn't distilled, it was just, "yeah, go do it." That doesn't work because it wastes your time as the media, it wastes the attractions time because it just means there's somebody else with the camera interrupting even more guests' experiences.
The one thing I will say, because I've worked with a lot of media over the years, in working with. Philip and the Haunted Attraction Networks, it's one thing that Philip is very, very cognizant of, if you're shooting during operation, not to impact the guest experience, or to minimize the impact. Again, I think the bottom line that we've talked about here in this in this show is, you have to recognize that the content creators need to get what they need to run their business, the independent operators need to get what they need to operate their business, and the real sweet spot is when they overlap perfectly in that great little Venn Diagram so that no one feels as though they've been taken advantage of or denied anything. You just have to have a plan for it, and communicate that plan as transparently as possible, right up front.
Scott: All right, well, we are out of time. We spent this entire time chatting. The funny thing is, as Philip mentioned at the beginning of the show, it's a rarity for us because this was just us kind of riffing on a topic that we knew had multiple legs, and we didn't get to all of the things we wanted to talk about. Anyway, I think it's important, and I think it's important to recognize that media for Halloween is different than media from everything else. Find that sweet spot so that content creators and operators/owners can all be comfortable with it, and all be happy with it so that you either, don't have to pull footage later that you've already edited, or that you don't feel as though the media has screwed you over by taking ticket sales out of your pocket. So, you've got to find that sweet spot, you got to plan ahead and find what is right for you.
We are, again, out of time. This is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, my name is Scott Swenson, my co-host is Philip Hernandez, and we will see you again next week.
For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.