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Marketing Secrets of Haunted Promotion & Media
By Jennifer Sharlow

Promotions and media for a Halloween event should be handled with care and expertise. In such an eclectic and unique field, you want receive the best media at the lowest cost to you; however, if not done correctly, the money spent is wasted. So the question is, "How to seek out and secure media that will make your event successful?"

Press Releases
One basic mistake that Haunters make when looking for media attention is not issuing press releases. This is the most important thing a Haunt owner or Promotions Coordinator can do to drive news interest in your event. A press release will familiarize your event with the media and spark story ideas that they can use for their outlets.

Not just to announce your opening dates, press releases should be sent out whenever your event or one of your actors does something significant. Keeping your name in front of news editors in October is very important, but sending out releases year round is the key for getting name recognition for your event from the media!

It will take approximately 15 impressions (or times that your event's name is heard or seen) before your event will become familiar and memorable, be it through Television, Radio, Print or Word of Mouth. If you enter a parade, send out a press release! If you donate money to charity, send out a press release! If one of your actors does a theater production, send out a press release! This will not only give your business name recognition, but community involvement and a human-interest angle as well. The media eats that stuff up!

Always write your press release in third person, and describe yourself as an expert! Include a quote from you and one of your actors on how great the event is. Even if you are a one-story Haunt in a barn, describe your event as the biggest and the best. The media will print what they read, tell them what you want said!

Writing a Press Release
There is a basic formula to follow when creating a press release. It should be one page in length, with a contact name, phone number and email (put this on the top and bottom of the page.). You only have 10 seconds to get an editor's attention, so the bolded headline for the release should be catchy and unique! (i.e., "Nightmare At Trout Air Is Dying To Meet You!") The first paragraph should contain a quick summary of what the press release is about. Then the second and third paragraph can go into more detail. Be creative but do not exceed a page in length. Always include a scanable logo sheet in case the media decides to do a news story.

Press Kits
There are two types of press releases: A one-sheet press release, and a multi-page folder of information called a press kit. Use "one sheets" for everything except the announcement of the event itself. When it comes time to promote the event itself, a press kit should be created to give to the media. A press kit is a more detailed look at the overall event and several items should be included. A one-page fact sheet with a catchy headline and a creative verse about the event should provide information regarding dates, pricing, discount offers and special events planned during the season. Again, include a media contact, phone number, email, web address and logo sheet! Provide 5x7 or 8x10 photographs of your characters and the better scenes of your attractions. If you are not a great photographer, go to a local college and ask a student photographer to take them for you. Pick photographs of one main focal point or special attraction at your event. Include a headshot (full face, out of make-up) and biography of an actor that has an interesting background or has been with you for a long time. If you are hosting a celebrity guest during the run, include their photo and biography as well. Media people are drawn to photographs. Print editors want interesting and unusual photos that will peak the interest of their readers, and television editors are looking for interesting visuals to spice up the 10 o'clock news. Use the photographs to create curiosity and to make them read more about your event; maybe they'll do a story on you!

Getting the Word Out
There are a several ways to distribute press releases and press kit. One of the best ways to get your press release in front of editors is email. Use online resources such as www.prnewswire.com to find addresses. A service like this may cost around $130.00, but it will give immediate access to all media and newsrooms in your state. You can also track down local newsrooms though the Internet, but this takes time. Another way to get your releases out is by fax. (Try www.winfax.com). Old fashioned, but it still works! The best way to get attention for your press kits is to have a costumed character hand deliver them. You can also send them through the US mail service, or for special attention, you could send it Federal Express.

Creative Media
Once your press kit is released, you will need to advertise. The best way is through creative media, such as television, radio, and newspaper. Get the MOST advertising you can for the smallest amount of money. You have something that everyone will want: tickets to your event. Use them! Trading tickets can cut down your out-of-pocket costs and potentially boost sales. After negotiating for your ad schedule, always ask if they will trade part or all of the costs for tickets or cross promotion. Remember that this is an election year, and you want to get your advertising done early.

Print and newspaper is an okay way to get your name out, but it can be costly. Should you decide to use newspaper, avoid color ads and ads larger than 1/4 page. Run your ads on the weekends and the full week before Halloween (Using ads on television and radio the week prior and throughout the event will be much more effective). Insist that your ad be placed in the Entertainment Section of the paper. Keep in mind that the target demographic for a Haunted Attraction is 16-34. In recent decades, the numbers in this age group who read the newspaper has been declining. Unless you have a very small budget, do not use this for a main vehicle of advertisement.

Radio is a great way to get the word out to the Haunting target market and a place you should definitely use trade to increase your buying power. Radio is also a great place to get good promotion for your event. Promotions are anything that will get extra advertisement at no cost to you, e.g. a movie premiere, Halloween Party sponsored by the station, or having YOUR flyers placed on another advertiser's product. Radio account executives will bend over backwards to maintain you as a client. Have knowledge of other radio stations. If they believe you will do business with a competing station (meaning no commission for them), they will usually offer a deal you cannot pass up. Tell them you are speaking with account executives at other radio stations, trying to find the best price AND promotion. Let them "chase" you. If they offer you a "Package Deal" (which could include a promotion and a specific number of spots), negotiate the rate. In radio and television, no price is ever set in stone. Think of it as a "starting point."

Be aware of the time slots you are getting. "Overnights" are cheap for a reason; they do not reach enough people to make them cost effective. The average listener has the radio on 20 hours a week, and 40% of adults are listening during "drive time" (6am-9am and 3:30pm - 6:30pm). Use the strongest Top-40 station in your market, because that is where you will find the Haunting demographic. With a larger advertising budget, you may be able to choose two or three radio stations in your area. If they are owned by the same parent company, you may be able to get a better deal! While AM stations have fewer listeners, they are very willing to trade for advertising. Just be sure that this is not your main advertising focus and that you do not spend a great deal of cash on AM radio.

Television is an excellent source of advertisement and not as expensive as people think. Because of its intrusive nature, coming straight into the viewer's home, you may have 18,000 people in your area see one spot. Most stations will produce the commercial for you when you buy a schedule, which saves you money. Having some knowledge of "avail" pricing and competition will be beneficial. Avail pricing is the cost per spot. An overnight spot could cost as little as $5.00, while a prime time spot could cost as high as $5000.00, depending on the station. Get rate cards for third and fourth quarter from the six different affiliates: NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, The WB, and UPN. You do not need to say why you are requesting them. With a basic rate card in hand, the sales reps cannot raise the price to cover production or some other benefit that they are offering. With a competitor's rate card, you might be able to negotiate a lower fee. Using "Rotators" for you spots will be dramatically cheaper than picking specific shows. This is another situation to look at your demographic. Decide which station will have the best opportunity for your event. The WB and UPN usually have lower rates and appeal to a younger crowd. Smaller affiliates typically have promotional packages available, but will hold out on offering them until they have to seal the deal. Do not sign a contract for television unless a promotional package is included. Television stations will do a limited amount of trade to have tickets on hand to give employees and clients.

With cable you can target a specific group of people (like MTV), but only 55% of homes in the United States get cable television. Out of that 55% the number of households in your area that are actually watching cable is questionable. Cable ratings are horrible and you run into the nightmares of ads getting pre-empted or not running at all. I only recommend cable if they are willing to offer a deal for trade or trade and very little cash. Overall, cable television is an inefficient and ineffective use of time and advertising dollars.

Billboards are good within a limited area around your event. Placing them within a certain drive distance (think 20 minutes from your event up to your exit) is ample. Billboards can get costly, so this is a great place to use trade to bring down cost. Do not put lots of dollars into them when you can advertise with much better forms of media.

Other Types Of Advertising
The best type of advertising is cheap advertising. This means getting the word out by getting involved with the community. We do as many parades in the summer and fall as possible. The cost to enter a parade is minimal yet the exposure and impression that you can leave with the public is huge. Flyers are another grassroots marketing tool that can be very effective in relationship to the cost. Start distributing flyers two weeks prior to your event and continue distribution through Halloween. Involve local businesses in this effort. Smaller theaters, gas stations, restaurants and the like will be more than happy to hand out your information as long as you "bounce back" the effort by handing out their information at your event. Do not discount these outlets as sponsorship opportunities as well.

Be sure to build relationships with people in the media, especially morning show radio Disk Jockeys. Everyone loves free stuff and those in the media are no exception. Junk food, candy and fun little Haunt trinkets with the event's name, logo, and contact information are great at building those relationships. Use the after-Halloween sales to stock up on the 50% - 75% off goodies and knickknacks. And do not do it just once. In all things marketing, repetitiveness is the key. Have unique items to send out all year long with a Halloween theme! Thank-you cards are another way to keep your event in the mind of the media. Each time you work with local celebrities or when someone does an interview or article about your event, send them a thank-you card. It will make them feel appreciated and make another needed impression so that the next time an opportunity for a story comes up, they remember your event and will want to call you!

Final Thought
The best-laid plans do sometime go awry. So always have a crisis plan on hand. None of us are immune to "bad press." Make sure you have an excellent spokesperson available to speak with the media if something should happen. Prep them on how to comment regarding the issue. Distribute a press release explaining what you did to resolve the problem and how your event is safer because of it! Above all, have only one person who deals with the press. It shows stability, makes your event trustworthy, and the public and media will become familiar with that person. People like to do business with companies they are familiar with. Follow these simple steps, and you will be on your way to a frighteningly busy Halloween!

With proper knowledge of each type of media, their strengths and weaknesses and how they work best for a Haunted Attraction, you are well on your way to seek out and secure media that will make your event successful. Prime spots at the lowest costs will not only bring in patrons and new guests, but also save you money and headaches! Leaving you more time for what you love…. HAUNTING!

Jennifer Sharlow is a Promotions and Media Coordinator with 8 years experience specializing in the promotion of Halloween events. Presently she coordinates parades, photo sessions, and is the spokesperson for Nightmare at Trout Air. She also assists in design and construction of props, and hosting celebrity events. You can contact her at Jensharlow@msn.com.

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