Scott shares his resolutions, or behavioral changes, for 2022 and discusses how they apply to other members of the Haunted Attraction industry
Hello everyone and welcome back to A Scott in the Dark. I know it’s been a long time since the last show and unfortunately, I say that way too often, but this particular season has been an especially extended period of darkness with no Scott in it. So, I apologize for that, and I hope you understand that I am very excited that I’m back, but I will tell you that the reason that didn’t happen is because I was busy as all get out.
So, I’m not complaining but 4th quarter in 2021 was incredibly busy, so I really didn’t have a whole lot of time to sit down and do this show, which I think is really important; certainly important for me and hopefully you guys enjoy it as well. The one thing I will say that I’ve noticed that surprised me is downloads, especially from the PodOmatic account continued to trend, and so I was very pleased, and I thank you all for still listening, and maybe you’re just playing catch up, I don’t know. I know I’ve been doing that when it comes to TV shows, I’ve been binge watching and re-binge watching and binge-binge watching… I don’t know, but I’ve been watching a lot of the same stuff over and over again. So maybe that’s what’s happening with y’all as well, hopefully it means that we’re getting lots and lots of new listeners.
If you are a listener or viewer on the Haunted Attraction Network, great thank you, and hopefully you’ve also been listening to the other show which happens weekly–and that’s mainly because of my co-host, Philip Hernandez–but that is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. If you’re not familiar with that show and you are part of the entertainment industry, specifically the attractions industry, it’s something you might want to check out. It’s a weekly podcast that is 30 minutes long and again, the main reason we’ve been doing that consistently is because Philip and I say, “here it is we’re going to do it now.” So, we keep each other on track and make sure that we can get it all done. Philip does all the heavy lifting, I just talk.
New Year’s Resolutions, According To Scott
So, the theme for this show, because I was thinking, “gosh, I really should have a theme and some sort of educational content.” Since I am recording this on January 2nd, 2022, it’s a Sunday and I figured, “well, let’s do something about the New Year.” What do we talk about in the New Year? We talk about New Year’s resolutions. Now, I’m always hesitant to talk about resolutions, because I think most people think of resolutions as those things that we break by the beginning of February, they are those things that we say we’re going to do, but don’t really do them, or we do them for a while and then lose interest and don’t see any progress and then end up making the same resolution in 11 months.
So, I wanted to talk a little bit about resolutions and what I’d like to refer to as behavioral changes, and these are behavioral changes that I think will benefit all of you who are listening who are haunters. It will also benefit, I think all of you who are listening who are involved in the haunt industry and maybe not owners or operators, but actors or scenic folk or whatever, and just maybe just in general. So, I’m gonna try to stay focused on the haunt industry, but it will be very possible that I will ooze out into real life as well, which should come as no surprise to anyone because I do that all the time.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s talk about the difference between a resolution and behavioral change. A behavioral change is something that you actively do differently in a way that is measurable for a set amount of time until it becomes just habit. So that’s what makes a behavioral change. There are all kinds of recovery programs that are all about behavioral change. It basically gives you a structure so that you can say, “OK, I will do this and this and this today and I will do this and this and this the next day and I’ll do this”, and you keep track until it just becomes habit for you. So really what we’re trying to do is form habits. I’m going to do my darndest to start forming these habits, and hopefully, they will be beneficial, not only for me and my business but also for you and yours.
Resolution One: Planning Ahead
So, the first one I’m going to talk about is planning ahead. Now, I think this is probably, it’s going to sound counterintuitive because, let’s be honest, over the last couple of years when we have the first or second day of January, we had no idea how the year was going to turn out. I think with 2022 we’re kind of in the same boat. I don’t think we really know, are we going to be out of the world of pandemic? Are we still going to be in it? Is inflation going to skyrocket? We just don’t know any of those things. But, by planning ahead it will make it easier to adapt when those things change. I know, like I said, that sounds counterintuitive, but having a plan and changing it is very different than not having a plan and just winging it, and it’s usually much more successful.
So, let me give you some examples. Part of the reason that I personally need to plan ahead is like I just talked about, fourth quarter for me was incredibly busy and I kind of went through what I called 2021 burnout. By the end of the year, I was exhausted, and unfortunately, that meant that the projects that were starting in 2022 I wasn’t as fresh as I needed to be that last week of December when I was trying to get everything wrapped up before Christmas. I was burnt out, and the reason I was burned out is because I had not planned ahead. I had not tried to get as much done up front as I probably should have.
So, I’m going to make that an attempted behavioral change for me, but I’m also going to suggest it for all of you. I know you’re sitting there going, “Wow, I just woke up and I’m still hungover from New Year’s Eve.” Congratulations, it was probably one heck of a party. So, for those of you who are in that position and not even thinking about Halloween, I kind of look at the memes that are out there and go, “I don’t care what your resolutions are, what are your Halloween plans?” That’s where your mind should start going. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything now, but start planning.
Plan With Parallel Plans
Don’t just plan going, “OK, I want to do a castle theme and I want to do vampires. I want to do vampires in the castle.” That’s a great place to start, but then start planning, “well, what if all of a sudden, vampire fangs are no longer available because of the supply chain? What could I do in that castle? What else could I do in that castle?” In other words, create parallel plans. So, that’s what long-term planning allows you to do, you can create parallel plans so that if one thing dries up, you can shift to plan two without losing a whole lot of time or wasting money on scenic or costumes or whatever that you’ve already done. So, make those plans so that you can not only avoid the burnout at the end of the year, but also to help address the unknown.
Now I am not, I will be completely honest, and those of you who listen to my show will watch my show, you know this is true. I am not real good at following exact plans. But I would be better if I did. There are those of you out there who have what I call the spreadsheet mindset, where you can put everything in these little boxes and these little charts and little checkmarks and all that sort of stuff. Great, just add another column for the “what if” column if you happen to be that kind of person. If you’re not that kind of person, that would be, just make sure that you are planning for a “what if” scenario. The unknown is still there, it is still huge.
Planning Ahead Makes For Less Cram Work
Another reason that I think it’s so very important to make sure you start planning ahead is so that when you actually get into the implementation more of this stuff is done. One of the things I hear from haunters, or I hear it from people who install Christmas events, is that, “I never get to enjoy the season itself. I never get to see other people’s haunts. I never get to go to other Christmas events. I never…” because you’re too busy doing your own. That’s because you didn’t necessarily plan enough or get enough done ahead of time so that you’re rushing into the event, you’re rushing to run the event.
Go ahead and plan a night or a weekend where you’re going to go see other things, and have somebody already in place, so it’s not like, “oh, I’m gonna I’m not going to be here, so you need to cover.” Make that part of the training process so you have a second in command who becomes first in command those two nights. Let’s face it, we’re never that far away, we’re always a cell phone call away, so it’s not a huge deal, especially if you plan for it ahead of time. So, it will make it so that you will enjoy your actual holiday season a bit more, you won’t be as burnt out, and you’ll be able to handle the unknown much simpler.
When Planning Ahead, Make Grand Plans
I’m going to add an extra one in there, normally I do things in threes, but I’m going to add an extra one in here and that is, make grand plans. Go ahead and plan something really, really big, something that guests will really notice. You can always pare down as the money rears its ugly head or you have a pipe burst in your haunt or whatever. You can always scale it back, but I think that if you make grand plans early you can chip away at them throughout the course of the year before the season gets here, and then by the time you get to Halloween, by the time your event opens, it’s done. It’s done, because you don’t have to go, “gosh, wouldn’t it be neat if we had a giant octopus?” Well, you’ve been building a giant octopus since January, so more power to you. That’s a great way to approach it, I think.
Also, set your dates. Set your dates now. Because that way you can start your marketing, even if it’s just subtle, even if it’s just among your sneezers, those people have already caught the virus of your haunted attraction, you could make an announcement in January saying, “We will be extending. We’ll be doing extra hours. We’ll be doing extra nights. We’ll be doing limited nights. We will be doing special themed nights.” Make your plans now because the more often you can repeat it the more people will hear it, eventually. I know there are some marketers out there who say, “no, I don’t want to hit it until after the summer because nobody thinks about Halloween until after the summer.” They probably won’t buy tickets, but the longer you can keep them engaged or the more you can keep them engaged, the more they will be loyal to your brand, and when Halloween does roll around and that you start to market heavily they’ll go, “Oh yeah, I remember hearing about that back in January, I was excited then, this is even more exciting now because now we’re seeing pictures.” So, plan ahead. That’s my first behavioral change or resolution for 2022.
When Planning Ahead, Make Grand Plans
My next resolution, or behavioral change, that I’m going to work towards and something I think that would benefit all of us, would be more consistency. Making certain that we are more consistent. Now, considering how long it’s been since I’ve done a show that’s just laughable for me, but being more consistent would mean that I do one show a month, which is what I used to do, actually. I used to do a show a month at least. I’m going to try to do more.
Examples of How Scott Has Been, And Wants To Be More Consistent
I will say one of the things I have been able to be consistent with and will continue to be consistent with is I do have a monthly newsletter which is called a Shout in the Dark. That’s my monthly newsletter about, not just my haunted stuff, but everything else that I do. All my other clients and projects and appearances and stuff like that. If you are not already a subscriber, it does only come out once a month. And no, I do not sell that list to anyone else. If you are not yet a subscriber to the newsletter, please go to ScottSwenson.com and on the front page it says, “join my newsletter.” You click there, you can fill it out, all I ask for is your name and your email address, and boom, it comes once a month. There is always some form of members-only content in that. So, that’s the one thing that I have been consistent about is providing members-only content. Sometimes that’s a video of a project that I’m working on, sometimes it’s an extra episode, sometimes it’s downloadable stuff, sometimes it’s, “send me an email and I’ll send you fun stuff.” You know some people actually got copies of my book that way last year. Just for free, just send him out because I wanted to say thank you for listening and paying attention to my career and seeing what I do.
But, I want to be more consistent about that when it comes to this show. So, I’m really going to work, and we’ll see when 2023 rolls around, I’ll be going, “and this year, I promise I’m going to be more consistent.” But that’s a behavioral change that I’m really, I really think it’s important to do. Now, because I’m going to try to do more shows, I’m going to need more topics, I’m going to need more things that you as the listeners want to hear about. So, if you have a suggestion, please send it to me, the best email address is [email protected]. Just tell me what you want to hear about. If it’s something I don’t know anything about then maybe I can find someone who does and we’ll do a show like that, but please make sure that you do send those topics. If I’m going to do this more regularly, I have to have more things to talk about, OK?
How You Can Be Consistent In Your Preparations
When it comes to how to apply this to you, again, it goes back to that consistency. Take anything from a corner of your warehouse to a closet in your own house to start stockpiling stuff you know you’re going to need so that when it goes on sale you can consistently purchase it throughout the year. That way you don’t have to wait for it and be worried about it not showing up when you get into the haunt season. So, you know you’re going to need duct tape, you know you’re going to need Great Stuff, if you’re like me you’re going to need E6000, you know you’re going to need paint. So, when you see these things on sale pick them up. I mean none of them spoil, so put them in your storage unit, however large or small that may be. That way, also, when you’re at some wonderful barn show or a garage sale or whatever, and you see something really cool you can do that. Consistently purchase throughout the course of the year so you don’t have to wait for everything to show up at the end. That’s my application of what I’m suggesting for you for being consistent.
Set Measurable Goals
With all of these, I think it’s important to set measurable goals. It’s great to say all these things, but I think one of the things that we need to do in order to help change that behavior, modify that behavior, is to set goals that we can measure. So, for example, if you decide that in your 2022 season you want to increase your attendance by 10%, don’t just say, “I want to increase my attendance.” Say, “I want to increase my attendance by 10%,” or “I want to increase my profit by 15%,” or “I want to increase my guest comments or the number of news media that come out,” or you know something that can be measured. The reason it’s important to make those kinds of decisions now and set those measurable goals now is, as you are preparing ahead, as you’re planning ahead, as you’re being consistent in getting ready for your haunt, you’ll recognize, “OK if I need to increase attendance by 10% does that mean I need to plan for an extra night? Does that mean I need to plan for more staffing? Does that mean that I need to make it so that my queues hold more people? Does that mean I need to go to a virtual queue this year for the first time? Does this mean that I have to make my pathways 6 inches wider in certain areas so that guests can continue to flow through? Does this mean I need to get a better time ticketing system?”
When you set your goals, and you set your goals with a measurable component, it helps you plan more specifically, so you’re not just saying, “I just want more people to come.” It may mean that you have to increase your budget for marketing, you know there’s a bunch of different things that will be factors in whatever it is that you plan.
Examples of Measurable Goals
If you want more, for example, you want better guest comments, you want more guest comments, or you want more media to come out. Maybe that means you need to go to one of the trade shows and buy this big, gigantic over-the-top animation that you’re going to put out in your front yard so that everyone sees it, they can’t miss that, they’ve got to do it. Or, you decide we’re going to do something unlike anything anybody has ever done before, and in the haunt industry that’s really tough to find, but we’re going to, I don’t know, the one that comes to mind is the one that people have already done so, it’s not really new, but they did a whole go through the haunt naked or go through the haunt your underwear, and they only did it one night. It got them a whole bunch of press, I’m not sure how many people actually did it, but it got them a bunch of press.
So again, define what your goals are, and pick one or two that are really important to you and really focus on them for this year. If you focus on them for the whole year you won’t be like making random choices. You’ll be making choices that will help reinforce that measurable goal for 2022 and for the 2022 season.
Make Your Changes Dramatic
If you are going to set goals to change content or change product, make sure that the product you’re changing is noticeable. We tried, at Busch Gardens back at Howl-O-Scream years and years ago, we tried very hard to change out at least one, usually 3 rooms per house, if it was coming back year after year after year. It was most important for us to change the 1st room, the last room, and some big room in the middle. What we discovered is, the changes had to be so dramatic and so radical, otherwise the guests just wouldn’t notice them. I know this sounds dumb, but they have to be so blatant that if you have a full blackout like a black, blackout room, the next year, change it to a white room, just a big white looking like a safe room of some sort. Make sure it fits within your story, I won’t even go into that because you’ve all heard me yammer on about that way too much. But make sure that your changes are really, really noticeable, and make sure that is a clear goal for you.
You may say that I want to create a room that is filled with nothing but crawling spiders, which I think would be amazing. What you need to do is, you need to, throughout the course of the year, either build or purchase or procure enough spiders to make it so that every single inch of every single wall is covered, and then you create a moving lighting effect over the top and you’ve got your wall of crawling spiders. This is going to make a difference, people will notice, especially if it was previously a well-themed kitchen and now it’s something completely different. Make sure that when you make those changes, I mentioned earlier make grand plans, well make sure that they are grand enough that people notice the difference. Maybe that’s your goal, that you want to get 10 guest comments on how different the haunt was, or how much they like the new room or whatever. So, make sure that whatever your goals are, that they are noticeable and measurable. The two most important things.
You Get What You Put In
Now is the time to learn. Now is the time to take shows, classes. I mean obviously, we know that all of the haunt trade shows are coming up just around the corner. You need to make your plans to go to those. Some people say, “well, I can’t afford to go to them.” In most cases I will respond by saying, “you can’t afford not to.” Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go to all of them. There are larger shows, there are smaller shows, you will get out of a show what you put into it.
So, if you’re going to one of the great big haunt shows, it’s going to take more effort, it’s gonna take more money, it’s going to take more energy, but you will get more out of it. If you’re going to go to one of the smaller, either free or more inexpensive shows, then you may have to work a little harder to get more out of it. You may have to seek out the people. Just because they won’t have the same number of connections there, they may, I don’t know, but you just need to recognize that you can get something out of every show, but it’s not just going to come and sit itself in your lap.
I’m a firm believer that if you learn now, you can execute later. So, take this time to sharpen the saw, to make sure your tools are what they need to be, and whether that is learning a new skill, taking a new class… Again, this ties back to the goals that you’ve set for yourself, this ties back to planning ahead. If you know that you’re going to do a fully carved foam castle and you don’t know how to carve foam, or you think you need to be better at it, maybe that’s the class you decide to take this year when you attend one of these tradeshows. Super important in that regard.
Use Trade Shows Or Conventions To Start Staffing
The other thing that I think is important about attending shows, especially if they are somewhere near your location, but even if they’re not, even if they’re like national shows, is to get the word out that you’re going to need staffing. Start your recruitment now, and trade shows are a perfect place to do it, because you can start talking up the fact that you’re going to need people who are good, consistent, can work all the way through the season. There are a bunch of traveling haunt actors, if you can meet up with some of them and they can show up and fit into your theme and do a night here and there, great.
Normally I used to be somewhat, I won’t say opposed, but I would raise an eyebrow to the traveling actor because I used to think, “Well, then they’re just going to plug themselves in, whatever the theme is, and it may not make sense, and it may seem really silly.” But, if you’ve got trained people who are willing to work within your theme, or who work within your theme based on what they bring to the table, it’s not bad to have something fresh and new. If this coming season will be like this past season, there’s always going to be a night where somebody has called out. So, you’re going to have to fill in those spots, and it’s good to have those extra hands-on deck when you need them. So, take your time now to go to classes and shows.
Recap of Scott’s New Year Resolution
Those are my behavioral changes for the New Year. So let me just recap real quick.
- Plan ahead so that you can avoid end-of-year burnout, and at the very least get to enjoy some of the other haunted attractions, or Christmas attractions, or whatever else you do at the end of the year. It will also help you prepare for the unknown, and you’ll be ready for really pretty much any curveball that’s going to be thrown at you. You’ll have multiple paths planned, don’t just plan one solid path plan, plan a primary path and a secondary path so that when the primary path goes awry you can take all those assets that you’ve already built and utilize them in your secondary path.
- Work for consistency. Make certain that if you say, “I’m going to work three days every month on the haunt.” Then make that commitment and work three days every month on the haunt. Or, if you say, “I’m going to put out a podcast once a month, every month this year.” That would be me. Then do it. Make that effort until it becomes second nature to you.
- When you’re setting these goals, make sure that you set goals that are measurable and are noticeable, that make a difference.
Take the time now, early in the year to learn, to polish those skills, and to make certain that by the time you start installing all of those grand plans that you’ve made, all those plans that you’ve made ahead, you have the skill set or you’ve made the connections you need in order to execute them appropriately.
Scott’s Appearances And Upcoming Work in 2022
Alright, well that’s my New Year show. Tada! I do want to say that this coming year I have already more non-Halloween projects than I have Halloween projects. I will be doing some work for a major theme park corporate office right now that, unfortunately, I can’t talk about in great detail. I will also be doing some additional work for Space Center Houston. I’m also doing some additional work, I’m going back to the Florida Aquarium. I’ll be doing some work for Zoo Tampa. I’ll be doing some work for the Indianapolis Zoo, both for their seasonal events as well as a brand-new animal presentation that I’m writing, directing and producing. So, that’ll be really fun.
I do already have a trade show appearance planned, but I don’t have all of the details, but for those of you who are wondering, yes, I will be at Transworld yet again this year, and I will be doing a seminar. Currently, I am slated to do a seminar called Turning the Page From Halloween to Christmas, and it’s going to be a seminar about what are your options when it comes to wanting to do both the Halloween and a Christmas event? We’ll look at different approaches and I’m very excited. I’ve been talking to some of my friends who provide lighting equipment because if you can get stuff that will work for both seasons and you all have to do is change programming, it makes your changeover easier, a whole bunch of stuff that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So hopefully I will see you at the Transworld Show in Saint Louis, and hopefully, you will come and see the show there