The Art of Attractions - September 2019
During one of my visits to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, I incredulously asked Paula Werne, the park’s director of communications, “What’s the big deal with social media anyway?” It was the digital networks’ early days, and I wasn’t sold on their value. She and her team, however, had fully embraced the nascent media. According to Werne, Holiday World was the first park to introduce its own blog (in 2005) and the first to use Twitter a few months later.
That’s just the way this coaster maven rolls.
Holiday World recruited the former newspaper journalist in 1991. After leading its public relations (PR) charge for 28 years, Werne is taking a permanent holiday from the position.
“I have no business working for a theme park,” she remembers telling the late Will Koch, who was Holiday World’s CEO. Werne may not have had any prior experience in the industry, but she brought invaluable communication skills, boundless energy, and a keen knack for connecting with people to the job. “I love being a storyteller,” she says. “And working for a family-owned park has been a treasure.”
Located amid cornfields in rural Indiana, you might not expect Holiday World to be on the leading edge of social media technology. But whether it’s YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, podcasting, LinkedIn, or Pinterest, the park has always been a pioneer. And Werne has been its champion.
Rather than flogging marketing messages (“That’s what sales departments are for,” she says), Werne has regarded social media as a way to share the park’s unique history and trove of stories. For example, she helped launch Holiday World’s podcast in 2016 to celebrate the park’s 70th anniversary and regale listeners with its tales and lore.
Through efforts such as that, the PR dynamo has forged strong bonds between the park and its constituents, including guests, the enthusiast community, and journalists. In the process, she has also endeared herself to many.
After nearly three decades pitching the park and singing its praises, Werne has some advice for the next generation of PR pros. First of all, she says, be persistent. She remembers speaking at an IAAPA Expo panel about publicity some 20 years ago and offering that same advice. She also pledged to the audience that somehow, she would get Holiday World in People magazine. Her persistence paid off. Five days before Werne retired, the publication featured the park’s new Festive Flurries shakes in its pages.
Among other guiding principles, she says media reps should always tell the truth. Anything less than honesty will “invariably come back to bite you,” Werne warns. One of her most important lessons? “Don’t forget to have fun,” she says. “This is a fun industry.”
I had lots of fun working with Werne, and I am grateful for the experience as well as her contributions to the industry.
I’ll see you at parks. I’ll be the one raising a Festive Flurry shake and toasting Paula Werne, a consummate storyteller.
A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at TripSavvy.com (formerly About.com) since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.