Hello everyone and welcome back to the dark. Yes, it’s yet another episode of A Scott in the Dark. My name is Scott Swenson and I’m with Scott Swenson Creative Development and I’ve done haunts all over the place, but those of you who are regular listeners, you know that. I’m sorry it’s later than I normally record these. It’s almost past my bedtime. Anyway, this particular episode is about affiliations and connections, and why they’re so very important to haunters and really anyone in the industry.
I decided to do a show all about this because if you follow me on social media you have seen that just recently I have accepted a position as part of the Entertainment Subcommittee for IAPPA. Just to clarify, there are some people who are congratulating me on a new job. No, it’s not a new job, I’m donating my time back to an organization that I really care about. I tried to explain this to my mom.
Now I absolutely adore my mother, she’s a wonderful woman. Well, I can say anything I want to about her because she doesn’t listen to the show. She doesn’t really understand what a podcast is. When I told her that I had been nominated for this position and was offered the position and had accepted it, she was like, “OK, that’s great, but why would you want to do that? Aren’t you busy enough as it is? You have all of your clients and two podcasts, and more clients on the way, and you already belong to several other organizations. Why would this be important to you?” She asked in such an innocent way I was like, “well, you know, that’s a valid question.”
So, I figured I’d best do a show that kind of talks about why it’s important and why I feel, personally, it’s beneficial to have those affiliations and those kinds of connections within the industry. How it not only benefits the industry as a whole, which as many of you know has always been my major focus, but also benefits the individuals, and quite often benefits the business if you are a hot owner and operator
Scott’s Involvement With IAPPA
So, as far as IAPPA goes, for those who aren’t familiar with IAPPA, it’s the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. This is an organization I have belonged to for years, a long time. I so respect what they do, and I’ve contributed my time in several different ways over the years for IAPPA, everything from many, many years ago I was a host for the Brass Ring Awards, which are the IAPPA Expo that takes place in Orlando. That’s when they do all of the recognitions for outstanding performers and entertainment, outstanding marketing projects, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve been an adjudicator for that for several years, I’ve done that on and off for a long, long time.
Then just recently, over the last couple of years, I was a subject matter expert for the IAPPA certification program as well as working with some other great people in the industry from really around the world on various classes focused on entertainment. So, I’ve already been contributing, I’ve already been a part of the organization. And to be offered a position with the Entertainment Subcommittee who basically helps, especially during Expo, with the educational side when it comes to entertainment. As well as helping to guide and steer what can be offered for those of us who are members of the entertainment side of theme parks and attractions.
So, I think first and foremost the reason I’m so excited about this particular position is, it’s a way to give back even more to an organization that I have supported for many years. Seven years ago, when I left Busch Gardens… has it been seven? 7 seven years ago when I left Busch Gardens, the organization helped support me as an independent business growing on my own, and the connections, the training, and the resources that I was able to get from IAPPA were phenomenal. So, now that I’m in a position where I can give back it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to do that.
So, there’s a feel-good side of it, but there’s also there also continues to be a sort of networking side of it. I mean on the most basic level, it gives me something to post about on social media as well, so that I can continue to be an influencer. Somebody actually referred to me as an Internet influencer the other day and I was so very proud. So many people my age had no idea what that meant. Anyway, it gives you stuff to talk about in your “media”, it gives you the ability to make some great connections, and it also keeps you abreast of what’s new in your industry. But, IAPPA is not necessarily the first organization that I would say for haunters, “run out and join this.” I mean it’s a great organization and if you are a theme park and you don’t belong, you should, because there’s a ton of benefits and it really helps its members.
Haunt Organizations And How They Can Benefit You
Let’s start at the basics, I mean, let’s start with some of the haunt organizations. The first one that comes to my mind, of course, is the one that I do a lot of work with, which is the Haunted Attraction Association. I’m a member of HAA. Those who have been in the industry long enough, you know that there have been other organizations that have come and gone and morphed and changed and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Right now Haunted Attraction Association is the one that I belong to. That does not mean that if there are other organizations out there, I’m not mentioning that I do not support them, I’m just not a member because I either don’t know about them, which is very possible, or I just haven’t invested money.
So, with Haunted Attraction Association, and for those of you who have listened, you know that I’ve done interviews with their new President Spencer. They’re really ramping things up, and they’re finding ways new and different ways to benefit the haunters from safety training–the CHAOS training continues to be incredibly important, which is all about how to train owners and operators to operate their haunts safely–insurance, education, and of course, one of my own personal favorite elements are the Oscares, which happen every year at the Transworld Show. Yes, I’m going to announce for the very first time, at least I think it’s the first time, that I will be hosting the Oscares again this year at the Transworld Show in Saint Louis in March. So I’m really, really excited about that. So yes, I’ll probably mention that again later, because I’ll forget by the end of the show that I already told you.
Again, big haunted attraction organizations are obviously something that haunters should at least look into. I’m not saying everybody needs to join everything, but HAA, I think, now especially is really trying to make some leaps and bounds. Not that they’ve been bad in the past, they really haven’t. But the board is younger, hungrier–I don’t mean younger in age, all the past board members are going to go, “I’m not old Scott, shut up.” My point being, they’re trying to move forward. They’re trying to reinvigorate the organization, and I think that’s really important.
Like I said, they’re not the only organization out there for haunters. One of the things I would look into is, look into like local groups that may not even cost money to join, it’s just, come, show up. Florida Haunters here in Florida is a great organization, is filled with a bunch of really cool people, and when they have things that I can attend based on my schedule I totally support that. I’m sure that wherever you are, there’s a local haunt group or a local haunt organization. Let’s go even one step simpler than that, find the smaller local haunt groups on social media. You don’t even have to show up for these things anymore. You can find them on Facebook. Chances are good there’s a bunch out there that if you look closely enough at their membership, I’d probably belong to them, and if I don’t, send me a link because I always like to try to keep up on what even local haunt groups; like there’s a Southern California haunt group, there’s East Coast, West Coast, UK, there are haunt groups all over the place.
Those kinds of affiliations, I don’t know how much they actually help you with interconnectivity, although it is kind of fun to meet somebody that you’ve been kind of following online, and then you go to a trade show or a seminar and you go, “oh hey. I know that person.” That’s cool. You know, look into haunt organizations because they are great for sharing information, they’re great for making connections, and if you’re like me and what I’ve been with all my clients this past year, staffing has been a phenomenal challenge. The more connected you are in regards to that, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find the people that you need, because you can hopefully find the support within those kinds of organizations.
Local Non-Haunt Organizations
The next chunk or the next section that I’d like to talk about when it comes to affiliations and connections are what I call local groups that are not haunt-related. I was lucky enough 10 years ago, 11 years ago now, to go through what was called Leadership Tampa. Now, this is a program that is sponsored by the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and it’s a training program for future leaders. It’s multiple days throughout the session, they often refer to it as its sort of like a crash course MBA for those people who are in the Tampa Bay area. Each day that you go out you meet people in different walks of life in the city of Tampa, and it’s basically Tampa 101. It gives you an opportunity to find out what’s happening with the sports teams, what’s happening in the world of law, what’s happening in the world of criminal justice? I guess that’s the same thing as law.
For example, we spent time touring prisons and learning about the prison system in Tampa, that was one of our days out. We learned about transportation and how important that is in our city. We learned about government and we got to meet the Mayor and some other members of the Commission members and Commission Committee members and that sort of thing. So it was a great experience.
Then after I graduated, class of 11, a class so good we were number one twice–every Leadership Tampa group class says that they are the best class. But, I’m sure that different cities around the world have organizations like this, either through the Chamber of Commerce or through even tourism groups. I’m not certain, but do a little research and see if there’s that kind of opportunity for you. Because after I graduated I learned very quickly that leadership Tampa was just the tip of the iceberg. I joined the follow-up organization which is called Leadership Tampa Alumni, and you can only join this if you have been through Leadership Tampa, and as part of this group, it keeps me connected with the movers and shakers throughout the city of Tampa. So, I can walk into pretty much any situation and have at least three degrees of separation with anybody I’m talking to, and they love talking to the creative types because so many of them are lawyers or educators, doctors, financial people. Then all of a sudden you get a creative whack job in there who designs haunted houses, or writes shows for theme parks, and they’re drawn to like moths to a flame. I’ll let you fill in your own joke there. So, it was really important for me to continue to be part of Leadership Tampa Alumni.
One of the subcommittees on that organization that I belong to is Leadership Tampa Alumni Outreach, and that’s all about giving back to the community. I will be honest, I don’t make a ton of connections there, but the connections I do make are very strong because it’s a bunch of people from a bunch of different backgrounds who are constantly giving back. One of the things, for example, that we did last year is we adopted a middle school that needed some extra help. So, we went out and did everything from help them with their clothing and their food banks to we did morning special thank yous to the teachers. So we bring food trucks out and do breakfast and actually had a live band there one morning before classes started to get all the teachers jazzed and hyped for the day. We’ve loaded up people cars from food banks, we’ve got a whole slew of things planned for this coming year.
Then another Leadership Tampa opportunity that I have is, I now meet every leadership Tampa class as they come in because my dear friend Carrie Gets and I do the improv icebreaker at the beginning of each year. So we get to meet absolutely everybody who goes through this training class, and it’s surprising how many people will then reach out later and ask about, or book me, to do either team-building or communications classes for them. So it’s created sort of a whole side gig that I didn’t realize I had, but it’s a lot of fun. Then through that I got the opportunity to start working with a new Leadership Tampa project, or program, which is for college kids. So, it’s the same thing that Leadership Tampa is only for college students. This is a lot of exposition to help explain, I’m the day chair by the way, for Collegiate Leadership Tampa for hospitality, entertainment, and sports day. Working with college kids, it’s so exciting to see who the next level is coming up. It’s great to see some of the folks. I think back to when I was in college and I’m like, “I don’t think I was ever that smart.” In fact, I doubt that I’m that smart now, because these kids are so in tune. They have to be vetted, they have to apply, they have to go through a series of interviews in order to get this opportunity. This year’s Collegiate Leadership Tampa, their very first day was government day and they got to sit down with the Mayor of Tampa and it’s 23 kids, so it’s like a private audience with the Mayor and these kids were blown away. They thought it was really exciting.
Forming Connections With The “Day World”
So why is all this stuff important? Because it keeps you connected in your city, and it makes it so that when you walk into a city function, if people recognize you from the work you’ve done from the other committees or the other organizations that you belong to, they look at you and they may walk over to you and start up a conversation.
Why would this conversation be beneficial to a haunter? Well, let’s assume that you’re a haunt owner or a marketer for a haunted attraction, and you want to maybe get some sponsorship, or you want to get some additional news media. It’s not always about who you can look up online, sometimes it’s about calling somebody you already know if you stay connected. There’s a running joke, and my dear friend, who is no longer with us, unfortunately, Robbie Lepre, was known as being one of the most known people in the haunt industry, everybody knew Robbie. I can remember walking through trade show floors with her, and we would have to stop every at every single booth because everybody would run up and give Robbie a hug. Well, I learned from her, I learned so many things from her, but one of the things I learned from her is making friends and making real connections is far more important than just passing out your business card. So, if you’re involved in your local organizations that are not necessarily haunt-related, when you need something from the “outside world,” the daytime world, you’re already connected. You already know who to call, who you can reach out to, and it will increase your possibility of success. So, get involved.
Another one that’s here in Tampa, and I think every city has them. We have an organization called Visit Tampa Bay, which is all about tourism in the city of Tampa. If you can get involved with the tourism organization, well tourism is all about hoteliers, they’re all about booking hotel rooms and restaurants. In October, if somebody books a hotel room, why wouldn’t you be able to then get your haunts information at the concierge desk of every single hotel in your area? I mean, think about it, it’s not something that you can necessarily go in and get done even if you go to every hotel and hand it out. Chances are good they’ll kind of go, “yeah, it’s nice,” and put it in a drawer somewhere. But, if you’re connected and you already know the people, and maybe even the concierge people bosses because you’ve been in meetings with them, who knows, it could be a very good business move. One of the organizations that is important to me for different reasons, I think it’s important to every haunter because I still view haunted attractions as a form of theater. It’s a form of theater that you walk through, but it still is designed to impact the audience on an emotional level, and that’s what theater does. So, for many years I was involved with an organization called Theater Tampa Bay. In fact, I’m a past president of that organization. Now, although I’m no longer actually affiliated with that organization directly, I’m still a member, but I don’t do a ton with them, I now sit on the board of a local theater company to continue to help them out.
The reason I think this is important is because, and this is kind of a good transition into the next group that I want to talk about, theater is a parallel industry. So, if you can stay abreast of who the great actors are in town, what classes are being offered for actors, who are the good lighting designers in town, who are the good audio designers in town, when you need them you don’t have to look for them, they’re already there. You already know, in the palm of your hand, “OK, I’ve got so and so such and such. So and so I met them at the meeting last week. Maybe I’ll call out to them and see if they can help me light my new facade, or help me make this animatronic, this hydraulic work that I’ve been trying to restore since it arrived.” If you’re listening and you have ever ordered from certain companies, you know exactly what I’m talking about it. “Never worked when it got here!”
We always joked the first thing our tech people would do at Busch Gardens is they’d rebuild all of the animatronics, A so that they would be sturdy enough to last the season and B so they understood how the darn things were put together. But that’s a whole other show. I think staying involved with local theater organizations is important because, again, it will help you with staffing when that comes around, and it will also make it so that you can find those tech people as well.
Parallel Organizations And Associations
So, that’s kind of my transition between local since it’s Theater Tampa Bay, and what I call parallel industry organizations. Some of the organizations that I belong to Themed Entertainment Association, TEA, that’s a great organization because it’s all about, as the name suggests, themed entertainment. The same theory that goes into creating something for an immersive attraction in a theme park goes into the idea of a haunted attraction. So, it’s a good organization that’s not necessarily haunt-related, although there’s a bunch of haunters in it. It’s not necessarily haunt-related, but it is a good parallel organization where you can find a lot of useful information and people.
I also belong to an organization, or did until just this past year, I let it slip during COVID but I’ll probably go back, called The Special Event. Yes, it is a trade show that usually takes place either in California or Las Vegas, and it’s all about special events, as the name suggests. But again, there’s a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of overlap between the world of special events and the world of haunted attractions.
Another organization that I have belonged to on and off is the League of Historic American Theaters. The League is fascinating, because you can get some of the best ghost stories by attending some of those meetings. I will be honest, the reason that I became affiliated with this organization was the Tampa Theater here, it’s just a great creepy place. If you ever get a chance to do a ghost tour at the Tampa Theater, take it. It’ll probably be led by my friend Jill, who’s the head of their marketing department and say, “hey Jill, Scott says hi.” Anyway, I got involved because they were going to New York one year for their convention and I was invited to be involved by one of their board members, Nancy Hudson, who was also my former boss at the time. Well, she was my boss at the time, is now my former boss. So, I got to hang out with all those theater folk, and while I was there I actually got to teach a seminar on sort of banking on the haunted side of your theater, because every theater has a ghost story somewhere. They don’t call them “ghost lights” for nothing, if you ever walk into a dark theater and there’s a single bulb burning on the stage, that’s what that’s called. It’s a ghost light. Yes, it’s primarily there for safety, but it was believed that by keeping a single light burning, it would keep the ghosts off the stage. But that’s a great organization.
Now, to sort of come completely full circle, IAPPA. I started this show with talking about my affiliation an my appreciation for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and I’m going to finish my show talking about IAPPA. I mean, let’s face it, theme parks, FECs, zoos, aquariums, they all do Halloween events, they all do haunts, they’re all involved. So, by being a member of this organization it puts me in touch with a bunch of people that overlap with the haunted attraction industry. Now, I happen to be one of those overlap people, because those are my clients as well, it’s not just the independent haunter. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still take the same mentality that I do with independent haunters, it’s just their budgets change, or there are more guardrails. You know I’ll be told, “no blood,” or, “it has to fit in with our brand,” or “it has to be family-friendly.” Or I’ll get an independent haunter who says, “just scare the crap out of us.”
All of the same ideas and theories go into place, and a lot of the same vendors. You walk around the IAPPA trade show floor and between sampling Dippin Dots, you’ll see a bunch of things that every haunter can use. Not necessarily the rides, although if there’s a way to haunt a ride I’m all about it. But, you get all of that additional information, you get all of those additional resources, and of and of course you get to see Christmas stuff, you get to see fabrics that can be used, you get to see lighting, you get to see fog, there’s everything that’s used in a theme park is also used in the haunt. So, insurance, there are insurance vendors that are part of the IAPPA Expo. The training classes that IAPPA offers, not just because I’ve been a subject matter expert for some of them, but they are really amazing. I’ve taken several of them as well, so they’re really cool. So all of these things, even though it is a parallel industry organization, will help the haunted attraction participant.
Scott’s Take Away
So, just to kind of sum things up, here’s what I want you to take away, don’t live in a bubble. Don’t only hang out with your own haunter friends. At the very least, hang out with other haunter friends, and not just once a year in March when you all go to Transworld, you all go to Hauntcon, you all go to Midwest, or whatever. Go ahead and make those connections with people, either in your own industry, in your own area, or in parallel industries to the haunted attraction industry.
The benefits are simple, great connections, great access to resources, and in my opinion, the most important in many cases, the feeling of giving back, the feeling of helping out an industry which we all care so very much about you. You know even the most gruff and grizzled haunter will say, “yeah, I’m just in it for the cash”. Well, then you’re in the wrong industry, because any of us who are in this just for the cash, we could be making much more money in a much simpler way. You care about it. You care about what you’re doing. People can argue that till they’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is if you really want to make big bucks, opening a haunted attraction, especially in the middle of the pandemic, is probably not the best way to do it. Just saying. So, find ways to make yourself feel better, make the industry feel better, and make those connections. So that you can continue to make your business better.
Where Is Scott Update
So, I guess that’s really all I wanted to talk about on this particular episode. However, I would like to point out just a couple of things I know I mentioned at the beginning. I will be at the Transworld show coming up in March, and I’m very excited. If you are going to Transworld in March here’s just a public service announcement, make sure you have your hotels because they are apparently selling up very fast. I always do AirBnB because that way, to be honest, it costs me a little less than a hotel and I have my own kitchen so I can make my own food as opposed to having to go out every night, but that’s just how I do it. But I’ll be hosting the Oscares for Haunted Attraction Association, and although I don’t have a scheduled time yet, I’ve also been asked to teach a seminar called, well the working title is, Turning The Page From Halloween To Christmas.
So, if you are going to attend Transworld, March 17th through the 20th I believe it is, then please stop by and say hi. Say, “I listen to your show and,” you can just stop there, just say, “I listen to your show,” that’s all that really matters. No, let me know what you think. If there’s anything that’s helpful, if there’s anything you’d like to hear about that I haven’t talked about, please let me know. So, seminar and hosting the Oscares.
I’m traveling a lot this year. I’m doing projects at Space Center Houston, which has nothing to do with Halloween. I’m doing some Halloween work for a major theme park chain for their corporate office, which I can’t talk about in great detail. But, that takes me out of town, out of Tampa, at least. I’m doing work in Indianapolis. I’m doing work in Philadelphia. I’ve already got plans to visit all of those in the coming year, so I’ll be bopping around everywhere.
Conventions And Expos To Look Forward To
I do want to mention, I talk about these organizations, and everybody talks about the Transworld show because let’s face it, it’s the granddaddy. It’s the big one. But there are a bunch of other great shows out there. I wish I could attend all of them. Unfortunately, my schedule does not always allow me to do that. One that I just missed in Las Vegas was the Halloween party Expo, although this is not necessarily the most targeted for haunters, it was an excuse to go to Las Vegas that I missed. It does really focus on the retail stuff too, and I think by understanding what is happening with Halloween retail it can help guide you, especially if you’re looking for intellectual properties or ideas.
There’s also another relatively new show. I think this is its second year, maybe, second or third year. I think they did it virtually one year. Anyway, that’s Fear Expo, which is just around the corner from the recording of this particular episode, and that will be January 21st through the 23rd. It’s in Owen’s Burrow Kentucky, I will be completely transparent, I know very little about this event. I do know that some of the people affiliated with this event are people that I really know and respect. So, I will say that it’s a recommendation by recognition, I don’t know. But, a lot of the folks who sit on the board for this event or who are involved with this event are really good people. You’ve seen them and know them from other, in fact they’ll all probably be at Transworld as well, but you probably know them from other organizations or other events. But if you want to know more you can go to fearexpo.com and just check that out.
Other shows that, again I’m not going to mention them all and I apologize because I just don’t know them all. There’s everything from the Haunters Against Hate show, which I keep saying I’m going to go to and then I always get booked so that I’m actually working; so instead of paying money, I’m getting money, sorry. No, not sorry. I like working. The Haunters Against Hate show, which I’ve heard great things about, Midsummer Scream which I’ve been to several times, Midwest Haunters. Like I said, there’s a bunch of other ones, so just poke around, see what you can find. Attend those shows, join those organizations if you feel they’re right for you, and make those connections, because when the tide comes in all ships rise and it just makes us all better.
So, that is my rambling about affiliations and connections. This is Scott Swenson with A Scott in the Dark saying, until next time, rest in peace.