Thanks for posting it.
Like many of haunt managers, I'm always trying to figure out what forms of marketing are the best investment for getting the word out about our haunt. Throwing money at radio and TV can be a total waste if you don't pick the right stations, as well as the best time slots for your audience. (And it may not be worthwhile at all if there are too many stations in your area carrying the same type of programing.) Likewise, Billboards can be a waste if they are in the wrong place or can't be seen.
This town has very strict billboard rules, and only allows about 200 or so billboards for all 300,000+ residents. I decided to invest in a billboard if I knew it would be seen by our college audience. They sent me a map with pictures showing the signs and the stats of what they claimed were the demographics and average number of daily views. I picked one that was close to the stores where students bought beer from. (After all, what other places could be you CERTAIN they would frequent, even more than the library?) It looked like a good deal. The sign was close to the road and lit at night, so people would see it the same time we were open. Time was short, so I signed the contract and they promised to have it ready w/in a week...
BIG MISTAKE... I trusted the pictures and didn't go see the spot in person before signing the contract. When I went by and actually saw the billboard, I discovered the photograph was several years old, and in that time, tree limbs had grown way, way out in the road and blocked the view of the sign for all but a few seconds as you actually passed it. In other words, few if any drivers would see it, and only the passengers on the right side of the car would notice it at all if they were looking to the right when they passed it. Distraught, I emailed my rep and asked if they could trim the trees ASAP. She promised she'd get right on it... Unfortunately, a few days later, I heard back that the tree was not on the same lot as the sign, so they had no right to cut it. So tough toe nails.
I wrote back and asked if they could ask the owner of the lot permission to cut the trees. The response was, they really had no incentives for anyone to give permission, so it was basically hopeless, but I was free to ask them if I wanted.
Of course, they were right. Why would anyone let a third party cut the bottom portion of their trees back just so others could view a sign that the home owner received no benefit from whatsoever? In fact, it probably caused light pollution and was a nuisance. If anything, the limbs helped block the glaring lights at night.
Still, I wanted to give it a try. I liked our sign and wanted students to see the darn thing. How could I test its effectiveness if only a fraction of the drive by traffic could physically see it? It turned out the house was a rented duplex, and the owner didn't actually live there, he rented it out. The money went to a management company, and they didn't want to give me the owner's name, but would convey a message to him or her if I wanted. I wanted. But again, I didn't know how I was going to convince this person to help me out. It wasn't like I had extra money to pay them to trim the trees. Just paying the tree trimmer was going to double my investment as it was. Oh, and one other thing-- the big football game was coming up so I was in a hurry to beat the weekend, as half the traffic to the stadium went by on this road.
The very next day I received a call from my landlord (the one renting me the building for the haunt). He said he would be glad to cut the trees for me, any way I would like. I appreciated his sentiments, but getting help cutting the trees wasn't the issue (I had already found a tree service for that). What I needed was PERMISSION from the owner of the duplex to allow the service to cut them. And by the way, how did he know I was trying to cut those trees anyway, 'coz I never bothered telling him about it... That's when I heard got the big shocker: It turns out he was ALSO the owner of the duplex.
Now I'm no math genius, but what are the odds that the same person who rents you your business building also happens to own the very duplex, nearly a mile away, that has an overgrown tree blocking your sign for his building? (In a town of this size, I believe that comes out to 1 in 300,000.) Long and short of it is: it was trimmed, the sign was seen, and we won that football game that weekend and every one since (currently rated #1.)
So the moral of the story is, 1. always check the billboard location BEFORE you rent it and, 2. even if the experts tell you it's hopeless to try, it never hurts to try anyway!
Thanks for posting it.
Thanks for posting your story, it will be advice I will follow.
I've learned the hard way about billboards myself... the key is to have as few words on it as possible. The main thing I think you want to get across is HAUNTED HOUSE - THE BEST HAUNTED HOUSE - and WEBSITE address.
I didn't do any this past year and overall I haven't done many if any so ... I am not a big believer in them overall.
I agree that they are very touch and go. WHERE it located matters a lot, as does WHAT it says. And even then, you're probably not going to get many (if any) people who say they went to your haunt because of them. I literally ask everyone who enters how they found out about us and the answers are. 1. Saw it driving by.... 2. Found it on the web... 3. Been coming for years (or) came with a friend (or) word of mouth. Hardly anyone says flyers, posters, or billboards. And that's a problem, because we used to get lots of flyers back with discount coupons at the ticket booth, so the people were either lying or they forgot where they found out about us. (Surely, the latter case.) So I suspect poster and Billboards and other "quick glance" type of advertisements help remind people to go if they were thinking about it anyway, or inspire them to go to the website and that's what they remember (instead of the ad) as convincing them to come. It also ads to an air of excitement, making the show more of an "event." (Spot lights do the same thing-- but who can afford those?) So I would NEVER rely on billboards or radio ads to make or break recruitment to your event. They only supplement it. So using a select few with killer images, short messages, and WEBSITE info is essential (at only logical locations that can be seen, including seeing them at night when people are on the prowl for entertainment.) Billboards along the highway? FORGET IT. People are not going to stop in a town to go to you haunt unless they were planning on it to begin with. Besides, even if they did, what are the odds they'll be passing by during the few hours you are open? If not, they'll be in another town by the time your doors open. So get them close to your demographic in your town (high schools and colleges).
Getting reliable information on where people REALLY hear about your place is hard. The truth is, if you're really good, they hear about you from SEVERAL places, and each of those places are important. Word of mouth trumps them all. If they saw your ads and plan to go, but then a friend says it stinks, that usually kills it. But if the opposite is true, they saw the ads but decided it was too expensive (What?! $!5 for a haunted house? A movie is only $8!) but then a friend says "Oh yeah, that place was great. It goes on forever and they really get you." Then they will come no matter what. (And hopefully the next year too.)
Our favorite customers are our repeat customers, who often make up over half of the audience. I've had experienced haunters tell me not to offer discounts because it cheapens the experience, etc. etc. It makes people think your haunt isn't really worth the full price. But I want repeat customers to keep coming and not be discouraged by the cost (many are, after all, starving students. Not that that starvation prevents them from buying extra $5 rounds of drinks, but let's not talk about that here.) So the compromise I've established is that I offer a discount, but I don't advertise it except to existing customers. It's no longer on flyers, but on the website under the "more" section. Newcomers rarely notice it unless they really explore the website, but we tell everyone who comes that we hope to see them again next year and invite them to save money by coming early and using the discount coupon on the website (and tell them where.) The earlier in the month they come, the bigger the discount. Subsequently, most of those who come early in the season are vets who want to save the most. It helps with the long lines and traffic later in the season as well.
Marketing is one of the funniest, and yet hardest parts of running a haunt. I wish I had a twin that would do NOTHING but the marketing. It doesn't have to be just about spending. It can be very creative and cheap-- but you do need a spend something. Throwing money at it can be a total waste. It's an art all onto itself. One I can't claim to have mastered, but one I'm enjoying learning.
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