For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been bringing stories to life as a Writer, Director, Producer, and Performer. His work in Theme Park, Consumer Events, Live Theater, and Television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years working with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment as the Director of Production at Busch Gardens Tampa, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been writing live shows, creating and implementing themed festivals, and developing communication-based training classes. Some of his recent clients include BMorrow Productions, Space Center Houston, Morey’s Pier, The Florida Aquarium, Legoland, RWS, The Vault Tampa, Viking Ocean Cruises, Fort Edmonton Park (Canada), Joe Mertz Productions, ZooTampa, MOSI (Tampa), Valley Fair Theme Park, The American Victory Ship & Museum, Neilson, Lions Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and The Tampa Theatre. Scott hosts “A Scott in the Dark: Periodic Podcasts for Haunters” and co-hosts the “Green Tagged: Theme park in 30” podcast. He has written two popular books on the Haunted Attraction Industry and four books of dark poetry and prose, the most recent being “The 13 Commandments of Haunting” and “Awake in the Dark”. He has also written or contributed to articles for several publications as well. He is a sought-after panelist and presenter for Entertainment trade shows, especially those focussed on Edutainment, Seasonal Festivals, and Attractions.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Scott to discuss her journey as an entrepreneur and here’s what went down:
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
I am partnering with larger production companies and fabricators to offer our clients a “one-stop-shop” for their entertainment and festival needs, everything from creative development to installation and strike. Since the pandemic has forced so many theme parks, zoos, and other attractions to reduce their staff, more and more are hiring organizations that can handle the projected expansion of attendance. By working with organizations that might have been considered competition in the past, I am able to participate in win-win business deals that benefit both of us while offering the client exactly what they need. I guess this means we are creating win-win-WIN scenarios! I am also hosting/co-hosting 2 different podcasts and making virtual appearances at various trade shows and seminars. This keeps my name and company in front of those who would be interested in my services.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
I use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. I try to post and tag regularly. Tagging the companies I work with on a regular basis helps promote them as well. I have started adding video versions of my podcasts to Youtube to increase my audience. I also have a growing monthly email newsletter. People join the newsletter through my website and I send out updates about current projects, articles, and appearances, as well as useful member’s only content.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
Since I am primarily a solo operation (Writer, Director, Consultant) I have found that focusing my marketing spend on attending trade shows and seminars gives me the opportunity to pitch myself directly to potential clients. I have not used traditional paid advertising.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
Having been in the industry for over 30 years, I have made a great many contacts and friends. I truly believe that this has saved me, both when I made the transition from corporate entertainment to running my own consulting firm and throughout the COVID crisis. I invest a great deal of time and effort in getting to know my clients and potential collaborators. Once they understand the care and precision I put into my work, they become the best advertising. They sell me to others. I would rather develop a client who returns project after project than do “one-off gigs”. I realize that this approach is slower than some, but it is more consistent.
My 20+ years of experience as a theme park executive also set me apart from other companies. I often tell my clients that I used to hire people like me. I have sat on both sides of the desk, so I have a unique perspective. I have an idea of what happened before I walked into the interview and I have an idea what will happen after I leave. I try to offer solutions and opportunities that will be mutually beneficial and not “gouge” either party.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
I have had great luck with in-person self-promotion. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but it has worked for me. Since I am also regularly contributing to publications, trade shows, and podcasts I am able to offer samples of my work. These appearances include more than just “here’s what I did”, they include “here is how I did it”. I have never been afraid to share my ideas and successes. I know there are those who feel that this is just giving away my product for free, but I have found that by giving “samples”, organizations are much more likely to hire me. Mid-pandemic, I offered 1 hour of free project brainstorming to the first 20 companies who contacted me. This, not only kept me busy but got my name out there…and it resulted in booking a client.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
I wish I had a dramatic answer to this question. I have always done business by “rolling with the punches”, I suppose this came from working in the Theme Park Industry. Since I am a sole proprietor, I didn’t have to adjust my staffing. I guess the toughest decision was to work as a subcontractor for another company instead of working under my own brand…but even that wasn’t too tough. It is working well and now that I’m part of their team, I have helped them/us bring on 3 additional clients.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
I am the worst at handling money! I would recommend that you find the right people for the right jobs and make sure you understand all of the direct and indirect costs of doing business.
What new business would you love to start?
I would love to open an art gallery/library/performance space/learning annex/coffee shop. In looking at the industry, more and more museums and retail organizations and libraries are banding together to create these environments where people can gather to do many things in the same place. I think this “town square” mentality can help reduce operating costs by sharing them and creates a product diversity that may be more resilient to future crises. I also believe that WHEN we get COVID more under control, people will be looking for in-person social opportunities. This small business would also put everything that excites me personally in one location.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
I think I would take more risks earlier. I was very conservative when I started my career. Other than that, I would keep things pretty much the same. I am far from the richest person in the world, but my journey has lead me to this place where I am happy with my work/life balance. I get to do what I love doing every day and get paid for it. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when I’m going crazy trying to get everything done, but generally speaking, all is well!
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
“Nothing is ever as good or as bad as people want to make it.” I have a tendency to be very emotionally tied to my work, I think all creative people are. This piece of advice from former Busch Gardens Tampa Park President, Jin Dean, has always reminded me to keep a healthy perspective. It allows me to be proud of my accomplishment without getting too cocky and learn from my failures without giving up.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Don’t Panic, Just Pivot!
Recognize that everything will change eventually, sometimes over several years, and sometimes overnight. If you build a strong skillset and genuine business relationships you will be able to apply these to whatever the world tosses your way.