Creeping Up on Halloween Events
Halloween isn’t until the end of October, but attractions are already planning events for the scariest season of the year.
Ian Hunter, public relations and media manager at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium in Pennsylvania, says developing its annual “ZooBoo” event never stops.
“When we finish one year, we’ll reconvene to figure out what worked, what didn’t, etc,” he says. “Getting into July, we’ll really ramp up the focus. It can sneak up on you.”
Held over two weekends in October, “ZooBoo” is a Halloween celebration for the whole family. Children wear their costumes and visit candy stations throughout the entire zoo. A DJ spins tunes, and the zoo’s residents enjoy special Halloween treats.
Wamesit Lanes in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, a family entertainment center (FEC) with something for everyone, holds Halloween lane parties in its bowling alley as a fun way to celebrate the season, complete with a costume contest.
“We bring out our mascot and dress him up,” says Janelle Wagstaff, Wamesit’s marketing director. “It’s two hours long—we’ll drop the lights and put on the black lights. We play music and give goody bags to everyone.”
Cross-Promotion with Local Businesses and Events
Some venues hold their Halloween events in conjunction with local business or civic organizations’ activities. Kitty Barnes—chief operating officer for Red Vein Army Productions, parent company of Red Vein Haunted House, Red Vein Escape, and Ashland Haunted History Tours in Ashland, Virginia—says Red Vein is proud to partner with its downtown association to market its Halloween activities. At Red Vein Escape, guests hunt for the Richmond Vampire in an escape room based on the local legend; try their luck at “Phobia,” a themed game; or enjoy ghost tours of nearby landmarks that begin outside the venue.
“We use our brands to cross-promote each other, then partner with as many businesses as we can,” Barnes says.
She and her team start planning for Halloween as early as January. They determine their support events for the year, ranging from movie and trivia nights to identifying those who receive prize donations.
Wagstaff says Wamesit holds its Halloween event on a different weekend from the town’s trick-or-treat night so guests can enjoy both activities.
Expect the Unexpected
Contingency planning is a big part of executing a successful event at any time of year. Develop a checklist and prepare for the inevitable “what if” and “just in case” moments. Hunter says executing and marketing “ZooBoo” is a careful balancing act.
“You have to consider everything. You want to market it enough, and when people get there, make sure it meets their expectations,” he says. “Embrace how excited the kids are going to be. And make sure to order enough candy.”
Hunter explains that each member of the marketing department handles different components of the event, from social media promotions, to working with the press, to the smallest event logistics. “It’s really an all-hands-on-deck type of event,” he says.
Red Vein’s Barnes stresses, “Be prepared if you’re doing something outside. If you’re partnering with others, get all the details as far as what you’re going to need—staffing, other costs, etc.”
Keeping with Tradition
It’s natural to want to improve an event from one year to the next to give guests the most spine-chilling experience possible, but changing it too much can scare visitors away. Guests come to an event with certain expectations, and it’s up to the event staff to meet or exceed them. Hunter assures “ZooBoo” fans they can expect the event they know and love in 2022.
“It will look very similar to how it’s looked over the last few years,” he says. “Last year was the first year we did it since COVID. The community gets excited; the sponsors get excited.”
Setting the right price point is important, according to Wamesit’s Wagstaff. “You don’t want to charge too much or too little. By doing it a few years in a row, we’ve learned,” she says. “Halloween is a big time for us. People have gotten used to us having something at this time of year, so they know to look for it.”
Above all, have fun and give guests an experience they won’t forget. Barnes says her team’s flair for the dramatic brings that something extra to Halloween every year.
“We’re very theatrical—that’s a big part of us. We do something spooky year-round but really lean into it in October. That’s the time we don’t have to pull back—we go full on dark and spooky. It’s a fun way to get lost in the story we’ve made,” she says of Red Vein’s attractions.
At Wamesit, “Everything we do here is a little above and beyond—we’re always over the top,” Wagstaff says. “We’ll ask ourselves, ‘How can we make it memorable?’ We pride ourselves on that.”