In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Danielle Nicholls, Senior Content Executive and Ross Ballinger, Design & Brand Manager at Drayton Manor.
“I knew that I wanted theme parks. So I went and did a media and marketing degree. And as soon as I got to my second year, I was like, “Right, that’s it. I need to find a theme park. I need to get experience. I need to connect with as many people as I can on LinkedIn.” And it was my focus.” – Danielle Nicholls
Danielle Nicholls is the Senior Content Executive at Drayton Manor Resort.
“When I graduated from Leeds Trinity University with a degree in Media & Marketing and a multitude of marketing placements in 2017, I was set on combining my two passions – storytelling and theme parks. After a year in a marketing communications role with a tour operator, I was lucky enough to secure a role in the Drayton Manor marketing team.
Here at Drayton, I’m responsible for creating engaging visual and written content for all marketing channels – including web, PR, email, in park signage and of course, social media.
My main focus over the last 4 and a half years has been to build an engaged social community across all our channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn and YouTube. I’m forever grateful to work in such a fantastic industry, filled with incredible energy and enthusiasm.”
“We put a brand team together, firstly. And, honestly, because we’re such a small in-house team, we knew that we needed some help. So we got agency help, and we got local agencies to pitch in their best processes. So they were the experts in doing it, and they knew what protocols and procedures to go through” – Ross Ballinger
Ross Ballinger is the Design & Brand Manager at Drayton Manor Resort (Inc. Hotel, Zoo & Europe’s only Thomas Land)
“Brand protector and innovator… I played a senior role in a busy agency studio team for nearly 9 years. I joined fresh from leaving university with a sort after London placement under my belt. I now produce fresh, engaging, and dynamic design creative for digital advertising, marketing campaigns, theme park attractions, working closely alongside a talented Marketing team.
All to promote Drayton Manor Resort in the most effective and exciting method possible. I can guarantee expertise and a wealth of experience, the final outcome of the design process is not the end of my creative input, you can be assured that maintaining brand continuity and freshly injected excitement remains my priority. Spend time with me and you’ll understand why I wanted to be an Actor, but you’ll be glad I didn’t as my energy provides office enthusiasm and endless creative steer.”
What will you learn from this podcast?
- The complex rebranding process
- How building a great social community can mean your fans having your back when it comes to big change
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your host, Kelly Molson
Our guests, Danielle Nicholls and Ross Ballinger
Kelly Molson: Woohoo, I’ve got Danielle and Ross from Drayton Manor on the podcast today. Hello.
Danielle Nicholls: Hi.
Ross Ballinger: Hello there. Very excited to be here.
Kelly Molson: I love how excited you are. I’m just talking, listeners, Danielle and Ross are literally the most pumped guests I’ve ever had on the podcast.
Ross Ballinger: That’s it, we’d better live up to that now.
Danielle Nicholls: I know, right?
Kelly Molson: They’ve got a snazzy Drayton Manor background behind them, which is looking fierce. But as ever, we’re going to start with our icebreaker questions. Imagine that you’re just down your pub with your mates. This is how I need you to feel with the icebreaker questions.
Ross Ballinger: Okay. Get a few beers in.
Kelly Molson: Ready?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: What are you most likely to buy when you exit through the gift shop?
Danielle Nicholls: Pin badge, I reckon. Yeah, I’ve got a little pin badge collection.
Kelly Molson: I like this. Ross?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, I’m very similar. I’m fridge magnet.
Kelly Molson: You can’t go wrong with a fridge magnet.
Ross Ballinger: No. And we’ve got a secondary fridge, under the stairs, which where we keep the beers. And that’s where all the fridge magnets go, at the end, if we’ve been to an attraction.
Danielle Nicholls: I love it.
Kelly Molson: Is that because your house is beautiful and your partner does not want them on her fridge and you have to hide them?
Ross Ballinger: Exactly. Exactly that. The wife does not want them on the normal fridge. They’re hidden behind the door.
Kelly Molson: Oh, I like her style.
Ross Ballinger: But I’ve got to get a fridge magnet.
Kelly Molson: Pin badges, fridge magnets, excellent choices. Mine would be a rubber. Have I told you about my rubber collection?
Danielle Nicholls: That’s interesting, no.
Ross Ballinger: So you collect branded rubbers?
Kelly Molson: Right. Well, I used to when I was a kid. I’m going to show you them. I’ve got them on the desk next to me.
Danielle Nicholls: Oh my God, please do.
Kelly Molson: I’m sorry, listeners. For the people that are listening, this is rubbish. But if you’re watching the YouTube video, hello. Welcome to my rubber collection.
Danielle Nicholls: Amazing.
Kelly Molson: So they still smell. Again, this is not podcast material, but they smell absolutely incredible.
Ross Ballinger: Smell really good.
Danielle Nicholls: Oh my God, I love it.
Kelly Molson: This is an ’80s collection of novelty rubbers.
Danielle Nicholls: What’s your oldest rubber in there, which have you had the longest?
Kelly Molson: So there’s one in there from the planetarium, the London Planetarium.
Ross Ballinger: Doesn’t exist anymore. There you go, that’s memorabilia.
Kelly Molson: Look at my Thorpe Park one, that’s my Thorpe Park one.
Danielle Nicholls: Oh my gosh, that is a throwback.
Ross Ballinger: Oh, that’s a good one.
Kelly Molson: This is an old one as well. Anyway-
Ross Ballinger: Everyone still does rubbers, so we fit in there with you.
Kelly Molson: Because I can collect them.
Ross Ballinger: Pin badge, magnet, rubber.
Danielle Nicholls: We stick together.
Ross Ballinger: That’s a perfect combo.
Kelly Molson: It’s like the perfect triangle. We’re the perfect gift shop triangle. Okay, all right, next one. If you had to live in a sitcom for the rest of your life, which sitcom would you choose and why?
Ross Ballinger: Oh, mine’s easy.
Danielle Nicholls: I feel like we’re going to be the same.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah.
Danielle Nicholls: Friends.
Ross Ballinger: Friends, yeah.
Kelly Molson: Aww. Who would you be, if you had to be one of the characters?
Danielle Nicholls: I’m like a perfect mix between Phoebe, Rachel, and Monica, I think.
Kelly Molson: Nice, okay. Again, another little triangle.
Danielle Nicholls: Maybe more towards Phoebe, I’m a bit more hippie, I guess.
Kelly Molson: Ross, what about you?
Ross Ballinger: I love all the guys. I love for all the guys. Because I just love Chandler because he’s so funny. But then Ross is funny as well, when he doesn’t try to be funny. But Ross is just such a good actor. And you don’t realise, until you watch it 17,000 times, actually how good of an actor he was. I think I’d have to-
Danielle Nicholls: Can you be a Gunther?
Ross Ballinger: No, no. I think I just have to sway towards Chandler. Just because he was known for being comedic and stupid.
Kelly Molson: And now you feel like that’s your life role?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I would go and live Chandler’s life any day.
Kelly Molson: Okay, I love this. All right, good, good answers. It’s what I thought you were going to say. This is what I thought.
Ross Ballinger: Did you?
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I thought it was going to be Friends. All right. If you had to pick one item to win a lifetime supply of, what would you pick?
Danielle Nicholls: That is so hard.
Ross Ballinger: I know. Probably whiskey, lifetime supply of whiskey, just coming out the tap.
Kelly Molson: It’s a good choice.
Danielle Nicholls: I genuinely don’t know. That’s really, really hard.
Ross Ballinger: It’s got to be food or drink, surely.
Danielle Nicholls: It’s got to be crisps or something like that. You can’t beat a crisps and dip combo.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. What about a crisp sandwich? How do we feel about crisp sandwiches?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Danielle Nicholls: Oo, I’m not sure about that one.
Kelly Molson: What?
Danielle Nicholls: I’m not sure.
Ross Ballinger: Come one, you’re Northern. You can put anything in a sandwich.
Danielle Nicholls: I would put crisps inside a cheese sandwich or something like that. But I wouldn’t just have the crisps.
Kelly Molson: See, I would do it either. I’m happy to have a filling sandwich with crisps in it. Or just a plain crisp sandwich.
Ross Ballinger: I’d do either.
Kelly Molson: What I really love about you two is how well you get on. And we’re going to talk a little bit about this in the podcast today about your roles and what you do at Drayton Manor. But you look like-
Ross Ballinger: Is it that evident?
Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s that evident. But even from your social media channels… You guys feature quite heavily across Drayton Manor’s social media channels. And, honestly, it just looks like you have the best time ever. And I want to hear more about it. But, firstly, I need your unpopular opinions. What have you prepared for us?
Ross Ballinger: Okay, do you want to go first?
Danielle Nicholls: As Ross alluded, I’m very, very Northern, I think. My accent a little bit, but more like how I am. So mine is, it’s not a bap, it’s not a bread roll, it’s not a cob, it’s a muffin.
Kelly Molson: What?
Danielle Nicholls: A muffin. That’s mine.
Ross Ballinger: It’s a cob, it’s a cob.
Danielle Nicholls: No, it’s a muffin.
Ross Ballinger: Cob. You call it a cob.
Danielle Nicholls: A muffin.
Kelly Molson: No, it’s a bun. What’s wrong with you all?
Ross Ballinger: Do you say bun? A muffin’s a cake.
Danielle Nicholls: I say batch as well. My partner calls it a batch, which is crazy to me. But muffin, we’ll go muffin.
Kelly Molson: Okay. For now, we’ll accept muffin. Ross?
Danielle Nicholls: Moving on.
Ross Ballinger: Mine is, I just think soap operas are crap, honestly. I was going to swear, but I can’t stand soap operas. And I know there’s a lot of people out there that love them. But I just can’t, I can’t watch them. I just think they’re so depressing. And if they’re on, if I accidentally get home and the channel’s on where it’s on, I get anxious.
And I have to find the remote as soon as I can to turn it off. What a waste of your life. What a waste of time, honestly. Hours and hours. And you add that up over a week and a year, think what else you could be doing. Honestly, if I turn one on now by accident, it’s the same actors that are in it 20, 30 years ago. And I think, “What have they done with their life as well? They’ve just been in a soap opera for 30 years.”
Kelly Molson: These are excellent unpopular opinions. Listeners, please let me know if you agree or disagree. Thank you for preparing those for us today. I appreciate it.
Ross Ballinger: No problem.
Kelly Molson: Right, you guys work together. Tell me a little bit about your roles and what you do there?
Ross Ballinger: So my title is design and brand manager. So I’m technically like lead designer for the resort. And the brand guardian. I look after the brand guidelines. So yeah, I’ll produce, with me and my little team, everything that goes out graphically or visually across all the channels, website, printed media. So yeah.
Danielle Nicholls: You definitely underplayed yourself there.
Ross Ballinger: Did I?
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah. You do so much. You say your little team, you and one other person. You smash everything, literally everything.
Ross Ballinger: Aw, thanks, Danielle.
Kelly Molson: That’s a lot of work for you and your team.
Ross Ballinger: It is, because if you think, in the industry, I can imagine people on a parallel with us would have bigger teams, bigger resource. Because basically Drayton Manor is a massive entity. It’s not just a theme park, it’s a hotel as well. It’s a zoo.
Then we have Thomas Land, which could be considered as a separate entity. So they’re what I consider as four blue chip clients. And then we operate as a little agency within the resort that looks after all those.
But then, you’ve got the resort’s departments as well, which could be clusters of clients. So you’ve got catering, retail, they’re the big ones I can think off my head. But they all have their graphical requirements as well, design requirements. So yeah, it’s a massive entity and we look after it all.
Kelly Molson: And how many… Did you say there’s two of you?
Ross Ballinger: There’s two of us, yeah.
Kelly Molson: That’s mad. That is mad. So I really resonate with this because I, obviously, come from an agency background. I set up my agency nearly 20 years ago. I feel ancient. But what you’re doing is you are essentially a mini agency with loads of clients and two of you. It’s crazy. So I can imagine it’s quite stressful, but also lots of fun because you get to work on a lot of variety.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah. Oh, very varied. Yeah, every day is different. And that is not just a cliche that you can just say. Literally, every day is so different. Because it’s an exciting company as well, where there’s new things happening all the time, constantly evolving strategies, or new things come in and go in. So yeah, it’s very varied.
Kelly Molson: Danielle, what’s your role? Because the two of you do work quite closely together as well, don’t you?
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah. Yeah, we do. So my role is, the title is senior content executive. So I primarily look after the social media channels, so Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok. Creating the content, taking the pictures, work with video agents. Sometimes creating a video in-house as well. And all of the community engagement that goes alongside that as well. Whilst also writing any copy, creating the content for the website, and any signage requirements.
Literally, anything that you see that has text on it, normally, me and Ross have worked together to create that. And with social, it’s both paid and organic social media. So all of the adverts you see, alongside all of the organic stuff you see on our feeds. I also help out with PR as well. So we have a PR agency that we work with, but we liaise alongside them. And now, we’re getting more into the traditional media as well. So the pair leaflets and out of home magazines, articles. Yeah, little bit of everything now that it’s-
Kelly Molson: That’s mad. I love that you were just glossing over elements of your job that I’m like, “That’s a whole person’s job there.” And we do the social community building and we do this bit and this bit. Wow, yeah, there’s a lot. I just think that goes to show, even… We talk to attractions of all kinds of shapes and sizes on this podcast.
And I think it just goes to show that even with an attraction that is a big attraction, and it’s perceived to be a very big attraction, actually you’re working with really small teams here. And there’s a lot on each person’s shoulder and a lot of responsibility. And I think it’s really important that we highlight that, that you’re doing a lot there.
Ross Ballinger: But the extended team is really good as well. We’ve got really good team members. So the rapport across the whole team is very tight.
Danielle Nicholls: In terms of the marketing side, I report into a digital marketing manager. And she is insane, she’s amazing at what she does. And then, alongside me, we also have a digital marketing exec. And how it splits out is, he looks after all of the technical side, so SEO, CRM, that kind of thing. And I look after the creative content. And then we both report in to the digital manager.
Kelly Molson: It sounds like-
Danielle Nicholls: It’s a little team but-
Kelly Molson: It sounds like such fun roles as well. Genuinely, they sound really cool. Because I know, Danielle, you are a bit of a theme park… I’m going to say nerd. But you’re theme park nut, right? You love theme parks.
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
Kelly Molson: And I’m guessing, Ross, to work in a theme park, you’ve got to love a theme park.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, absolutely.
Kelly Molson: Did you absolutely tailor your careers to make this happen? Was this always your ultimate goals? Like, “I want to work in an attraction.”
Ross Ballinger: Yes and no, kind of. So I studied to be a graphic designer, went to university for three years. And then I worked as a digital artist while I was at uni. And then I went straight into a local agency, after getting quite a sought after placement in London. And then I worked for an agency for nearly nine years. So I learnt my craft there, really. Worked my way up from a junior, up to a senior creative. And I ended up looking after all the top clients there as well.
But almost nine years was enough. I knew I wanted to go in-house because it was at that time, there was a bit of a boom of companies and clients getting in-house designers. Because they knew how cost effective it would be to have your graphic designer in-house. So I started looking about, and I wanted a fun industry. There was no way I was going to go and work for a boiler company. I don’t want to bad mouth any other companies out there but something engineering or-
Danielle Nicholls: More typically fun.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, I wanted to go full on fun. And I used to come to Drayton as a kid as well so I knew Drayton Manor.
Kelly Molson: That’s nice to have that connection, isn’t it? You know the brand, you’ve lived it.
Ross Ballinger: I’ve got pictures of me around the park when I’m seven or eight with my mum and dad. So I have that nostalgic connection. And I was a big to a big Thomas fan as well when I was a kid growing up. So Thomas the Tank Engine, I had the wallpaper, had the bedspreads, loved the episodes. So when I knew that the big blue engine was here as well, it was like-
Danielle Nicholls: Big boss Thomas.
Ross Ballinger: Big boss, yeah, Thomas is your boss, any day. Yeah. So I was a fan of attractions anyway. Who’s not a fan of going out on days out? And so it worked.
Kelly Molson: Exactly, cool. But, Danielle, you went out and made that happen, didn’t you? This was your focus.
Danielle Nicholls: It was, yeah. I think, maybe not so much early on, I guess this is different, but from the age of about 13, 14, I knew I wanted to work in marketing. But I wanted to do marketing for a dance company at the time. So I did a couple of placements at some dance companies, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance Theatre, places like that. And that was the dream up until about 17, I want to say, when I was at college. I knew that I wanted theme parks. So I went and did a media and marketing degree. And as soon as I got to my second year, I was like, “Right, that’s it. I need to find a theme park. I need to get experience. I need to connect with as many people as I can on LinkedIn.” And it was my focus.
Kelly Molson: That’s interesting. Hang on, let me just… Because that isn’t a typical 17-year-old’s path, is it? They wouldn’t necessarily go, “I know that I want to work in this industry, therefore, I need to connect with people that can help me make that happen.” That’s a really good piece of advice.
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah. And I was literally on it, messaging people. I think I messaged, at the time, the PR manager for Legoland. And was like, “Hello, anything you can help me with.” I was really a bit brutal. But yeah, then I went to uni, and did everything I could whilst I was there to try and get the connections still. I applied for a couple of grad schemes with some other groups and, sadly, didn’t make it through to those. So as a bit of a bridge between finishing uni and starting Drayton, I went to work for a tour operator, who sold overseas UK holidays, but also sold theatre, attraction tickets, theme parks. So it was a bit of a gap between the two.
And I worked there for a year, and then the job at Drayton came up. And at the time, I was living in York, working for this tour operator. And I was like, “I’ve got to go for it.” It was a marketing officer job, so a little bit different to what I do now. But I had to. So I drove two and a bit hours up, in my little… I had a little C1 at the time.
Ross Ballinger: But I feel that we both came in at Drayton in our respective roles as entry level, really. Because I had just started as a graphic designer. I took a pay cut to come here because I really wanted to start here. It was never about anything like that. So I wanted to work at Drayton. So that proves that I wanted to work. And our roles have both escalated over the seasons that we’ve been here.
Danielle Nicholls: Because I did move so far, and away from my family and stuff, it was a big jump. I had three weeks to find a house and somewhere to live as well, which was fun. But I managed to do it and, honestly, I don’t regret it. I don’t look back at all. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.
Ross Ballinger: If you want it, you make it happen, don’t you?
Kelly Molson: Yeah, totally. And I think it really says a lot about the Drayton Manor brand that you’ve done that as well. There is a real… It’s clear with both of you, how much you love it. And it’s amazing that you’ve… Ross, you’ve taken a pay cut. You’ve changed where you live to come and work and be part of what’s happening there. So I think that’s a real testimony to the brand itself. And that’s a couple of things that we really want to focus on for this conversation today. So I’m going to start with the focus on you, Danielle, if that’s okay?
Danielle Nicholls: Okay, yeah, that’s fine.
Kelly Molson: Because I think what you mentioned really briefly, when you went, “Oh yeah and we do this kind of thing as well,” is what you said around the social community side. So you have built the social community and I want you to explain how you’ve been able to do that and what that’s looked like. So tell us a little bit about that element of your role.
Danielle Nicholls: So I’ve been here just over four years now. And in that time, we’ve been through so much change but, also, social has changed so much. So when I first started I was looking at social but it was more, “Let’s just post and leave it,” kind of thing. And see how it is engaged with, see how it works. But, over time, I’ve tried to hone it so it’s more about a social community, rather than we’re just talking at them. It’s more we’re talking with them and we’re engaging with them.
Like I say, we’ve grown into different channels. So we were really just focusing on Facebook. We had a little bit of Twitter, and a little bit of Instagram, but it was primarily Facebook. Whereas now, we’ve brought in more LinkedIn stuff and TikTok as well, which has really helped. I think in terms of building the social community though, there’s so many different to-dos that you can stick to. But, for me, it’s more about seeing what works for your brand. Because it doesn’t always fit the same, it’s not just one formula that fits all.
Kelly Molson: And I guess, like you said, about bringing in different social channels, you need to work out where your audience is. I guess where you’re getting the most engagement as well. And then, you are a small team, how do you then divide up where you spend your time? You’ve got to spend it in the areas that you’re going to get that engagement. So you might then end up dropping certain channels, or not being as… I don’t know, not putting as much effort into those ones, just because it’s just not where you get the engagement.
Danielle Nicholls: I think in terms of the different channels, they all have a different audience, if that makes sense. So Facebook is very family orientated. You get the grandparents, the mums on there. Whereas, Twitter is theme park fans and slightly younger, it’s very conversational. TikTok is younger, but the demographics on there are shifting slightly to be everyone at the moment. Because it’s where all the trends are and things, there’s a big range. Our audience on there is 13 to maybe 35, 40 upwards. So it is very varied. Instagram is a mix between Twitter and Facebook. So you do get the families and the mums on there, but then you get the theme park fans that just want to see pictures of roller coasters. And with the introduction of reels as well, that’s trying to tackle TikTok, so that’s really important. And LinkedIn is corporate.
But we do have a team, like I say, we have a digital manager as well, but she’s so busy with all the other things that she’s got to look after. So the social, like creating the content and community engagement, just sits with me. So I have a big plan of all the different channels and the different days. And because I know the Drayton brand inside and out, I know what works now. So we tend to post every other day on Facebook, every day on Twitter. And we try to do every weekday on TikTok. Instagram, very similar to Facebook. But there’s not really one that I’d prioritise, necessarily. At first, it was TikTok, at the start of this year, because obviously that was where it was taking off. But now, it’s just about tailoring the message across, and trying to keep active on all of them.
Kelly Molson: Do you have to really tailor what you put out on each of the channels as well? So you don’t do, “This is going to go out across all of our socials.” You have to really think about how those… Because I guess there’s subtle nuances about how people react to certain things on different channels, and how they might communicate back with you.
Danielle Nicholls: I think, from what I’ve been doing this season in particular, is Twitter’s been very conversational. So I’ve not necessarily been worried about always having an image on there, or always having a piece of media on there. Just some text normally works, so long as it’s engaging and people feel like they want to respond to it. Whether there’s a CTA on there, or it’s just something that’s humorous, then that tends to work quite well.
Kelly Molson: It’s no mean feat. That is an awful lot of work that goes into that. And I think it’s really interesting to hear about the tailoring as well. And how you’re going to get different reactions, from different people, on different social media platforms.
Danielle Nicholls: We tend to get, particularly on Facebook, in the comments, they’re always really interesting to read. They’re so different to Twitter. Because Facebook, sometimes you get some complaints in there. But because our community is so strong now, we get other people responding for us, which is a good… It’s amazing, I love it.
Kelly Molson: That’s phenomenal.
Danielle Nicholls: Sometimes you’ve got to moderate it because they might give an answer that’s not necessarily right. But yeah, a lot of the time they’ll be sticking up for us. Or they’ll be responding to the questions for us, which is interesting.
Kelly Molson: That’s really impressive, and I didn’t know that that happened. Is that part of, because you’ve put so much work into building your community, they’re now backing you to other people?
Danielle Nicholls: Exactly, yeah.
Kelly Molson: Wow.
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah. They’ve become our brand guardians without us making them, if that makes sense. Because they’re so loyal to the brand, they just want to do all their best for us.
Kelly Molson: How does that happen? Is that a time thing? Is it purely because you’ve spent so much time investing in those relationships that that happens now? Nobody’s ever told me this before, that that happens.
Danielle Nicholls: I think it’s that but, also, like you say, Drayton is such a strong brand. And particularly since I’ve been here, we’ve just gone from strength to strength. So I think that helps as well. We also use user generated content. So particularly at the end of a big campaign, so Halloween, we’ll say, “Share your pictures with us and we’ll share them on our feeds.” And that really gives them a sense of belonging as part of the community. Because they’ll be scrolling down their Facebook or Instagram or wherever, and they’ll see a picture of maybe their little one. Or they’ll see themselves and, yeah, they love it.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I love that the whole user generated content is brilliant, because it allows people to see themselves at the place as well, doesn’t it?
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: So from a sales perspective, I think if people can look at something and go, “Oh, well, that family looks just like mine.” Or, “That person looks just like me.” Or, “They’ve got this thing, just like I have.” Then they’re more inclined to maybe buy a ticket to come and see it as well. So it works two ways.
Danielle Nicholls: It’s about recognising the top fans as well. So I know Facebook has the top fan badge. And, on Twitter, we’ve got a closed community group which anyone can join. That’s just called Drayton Manor Top Fans. And we, every so often, give them a little bit of information early before we give it to everybody else. Or little things like that, that make them feel special.
Kelly Molson: So they feel like VIPs.
Danielle Nicholls: So it keeps them interactive. Yes, exactly.
Kelly Molson: They’ve got their own mini community. They feel like VIPs because they get to know stuff early. That’s brilliant. Again, I’ve never heard any other attraction talk about doing stuff like that. Do you think that would be… I always ask about top tips, and what you would recommend other people to do that are building communities. Do you think that would be one of your top tips, is really invest in them?
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah. And also, respond in a personal manner, rather than it being very corporate. Include your tone of voice, wherever you can, and make sure your tone of voice is dead on point, according to your brand guidelines. But also, be bold and brave. We always say that, don’t we?
Ross Ballinger: Bold and brave, yeah.
Danielle Nicholls: If you sway away from your brand guidelines slightly, in order to respond, particularly on Twitter, it works really well. Then don’t worry too much about that. It’s okay, so long as it’s in keeping with your values then it’s okay.
Ross Ballinger: And it’s evident out there as well with all the other big companies. And it becomes a news story, doesn’t it, when you get supermarkets battling on Twitter. And it’s exposure and engagement at the same time.
Kelly Molson: And people love that.
Danielle Nicholls: That’s another really important thing.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, people love it. It’s a comedy show.
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah, engaging with other brands helps.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, they want to know about the people behind the brands, don’t they? And if they realise that your brand face, actually there’s a human behind it who’s got a sense of humour, I think that goes a really long way.
Danielle Nicholls: That’s what we try and do.
Kelly Molson: You do it perfectly, because I love your Twitter chat. You’ve got a great Twitter chat. We’ve talked loads about brand today, and that leads me on to what I want to talk to you about, Ross, which is the Drayton Manor brand itself. Because I think, I might have got this wrong, but it’s a 70 year old brand. So Drayton Manor’s about 70 years old.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, 1950 was when it first came about, yeah. The Bryan family started it in the 1950s. So George Bryan Sr., had this vision to create an inland pleasure resort for the local community. And I guess, in short story, it escalated from there.
Danielle Nicholls: We’ve got a book all about it in the shops.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, we owe a lot to the Bryan family, really, for escalating such a tiny little brainchild into a massive attraction that we are today. So yeah, I can remember thinking that we needed to rebrand years ago though, when I first started. Because I think it’s just one of those that was a little bit… I don’t want to say anything bad about it but obviously it needed to change. It was a little bit outdated.
Danielle Nicholls: It was a bit archaic, wasn’t it?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, it was a bit archaic. It stood the test of time and it did a good job.
Kelly Molson: So how long had the existing brand been in place, before you got your mitts on it?
Ross Ballinger: I think the last logo that we had in the brand was probably in place for about 20 years. I think it’s early 2000s, the last logo.
Danielle Nicholls: There was always slight variations, wasn’t there?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, there was always a few modifications on it.
Kelly Molson: But I can imagine that things had changed quite dramatically over those 20 years as well. So you talk about the need for a rebrand, it was really needed.
Ross Ballinger: Absolutely.
Kelly Molson: What I always think’s quite interesting is how long some of these things take. Because I think that people don’t fully understand how long a rebrand can actually take you. So can you remember when those conversations first started?
Ross Ballinger: Since I started, it’s always been a project that was a pinnacle project that we always wanted to try and get on to. But just in terms of budgets and time, we never got around to it. Obviously, it came to the point, I think it was November 2021, when we first sat down and said, “Now is the time to do it.” Because, obviously, we were bought out by a big company, Looping Group, and it was the perfect opportunity to do it. It’s obviously a new era so it made perfect sense.
Kelly Molson: So when did you launch it? So November, you sat down and went, “Right, November ’21, we’re going to do this.” When did it actually launch?
Ross Ballinger: Literally-
Danielle Nicholls: Two minutes later.
Ross Ballinger: Six months.
Kelly Molson: Six months?
Ross Ballinger: Six months, yeah. We put a brand team together, firstly. And, honestly, because we’re such a small in-house team, we knew that we needed some help. So we got agency help, and we got local agencies to pitch in their best processes. So they were the experts in doing it, and they knew what protocols and procedures to go through. And we chose a really talented local agency in Birmingham. Yeah, started the project in ’21, and launched it six months later.
Kelly Molson: Wow, that’s a phenomenal amount of work in six months.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah. In, I don’t know, design industry terms and the size of the business, that’s no time at all, really.
Kelly Molson: No, it’s not. I honestly thought you were going to say we started talking about this three years ago and it took two years. It was a two year process.
Ross Ballinger: The best thing was, is that we were doing that, alongside launching our brand new Vikings area. So we’ve got three new rides launch. We’re launching a new website at the same time.
Danielle Nicholls: We had a new booking system.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, a new ticketing system. As well as the regular day to day work and seasonal campaigns to market. It was literally like all Christmases come at once.
Danielle Nicholls: It was. Everything we’d wanted for so long, they just went, “There you go.”
Ross Ballinger: All at the same time.
Kelly Molson: You can have it all, but you need to do it in this amount of time. Wow. That is such a lot to all be happening at the same time. But I’m not going to lie, this happens at attractions. Suddenly, they just spring into action. We have just worked with a client with exactly the same. They did a rebrand, new website, booking system, all at the same time. And you’re like, “Ah, the world is on fire. What’s happening?”
Danielle Nicholls: It was great though.
Ross Ballinger: It was good though. We collaborated for most of it. The agency were a bit of a rock, really. And they did a lot of the legwork in terms of the brand personality, putting together the guidelines, creating the initial design concepts. But I did sit alongside them and collaborate with them.
It would’ve just been a too big a task solely, on my own, internally, which it wouldn’t have been possible. But I’d like to think I had a lot of input, inspirational design ideas along the way, that probably helped chisel the final outcome and the look of the brand that we’ve got now.
Danielle Nicholls: Just logos in itself, you had sheets and sheets of-
Ross Ballinger: Sheets and sheets of logos, yeah, logo concepts and variations. But I know I wanted something that was super flexible in terms of composition and layout. Because I know what I’d created before, it was archaic, but it was flexible. It would work on all different platforms. And then the typeface that we chose for the final logo was one of my early typefaces that I pitched in. And the swirl, that was one of my babies, that was one of my original concepts. So I always wanted to push that.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love that. But that’s what makes for a good agency client relationship is that you do collaborate. That’s how it should be. And they obviously nailed it. And I know that you would’ve had so many stakeholders involved in this process as well. So I can imagine how big a challenge that was to actually come to a final, “This is what it’s going to be like,” and everyone be happy.
Ross Ballinger: It was a challenge, but only because we had a lot of passionate stakeholders that wanted valued input. And they had strong views, which was very fair.
Kelly Molson: So the bit that ties these two stories together, the things that we’ve talked about today, is that… I think you alluded to the fact, Ross. That when the brand launched, it’s a big change for people. The way that you’ve talked about the brand is incredibly passionate. I can imagine that local people, people that come to visit every week, every month, they are so… The brand is in their heart. So a big change like this can be quite uncomfortable for people. And when the brand launched, there was a little bit of-
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, there was a bit of uncertainty, yeah, and a bit of shock. Yeah, they’ve had a logo installed in their brain for 20 years. But when we wanted to launch the rebrand, it wasn’t just about a logo. We did focus on the logo probably, in hindsight, more than we should have.
Danielle Nicholls: I think that’s maybe a bit of a learning curve, particularly on social. The asset that we used was the old logo going into the new logo, which we thought was great. But then when we put it out, we were like, “Actually, maybe we should have focused more on…” Like you say, brand personality and visions and values, rather than just the logo.
Ross Ballinger: Because the end user hasn’t really seen the six months of graft that’s gone into creating that. And we did portray it in five seconds.
Kelly Molson: So they just get the, “Hey, this is new, you should love it.” But they haven’t understood about the process of why you’ve done certain things, and the decisions that have been made.
Danielle Nicholls: Exactly, yeah. We had a blog which explained it all perfectly, but you had to click through to the blog. People didn’t necessarily do that. They just saw the logo and keyboard-
Ross Ballinger: But I like the journey we went through because the people that didn’t actually really like it in the beginning and really just sacked it off straight away, they’re the people that have warmed to it now. And seen it in execution, and how adaptable it is, and how we can get our messages across. And the fact that they love it now, and I love that, that we’ve turned them round.
Danielle Nicholls: Because the main thing we were trying to do, really, is come away from fun family memories, and turn it to fun for everyone. That was the main message that we wanted to portray, particularly on the social channels, and in brand in general. But I think going forward we’re definitely going to achieve that.
Kelly Molson: But it’s quite interesting because I think what you talked about earlier, Danielle, your social community, they would’ve played a big part in this when you launched it. So I guess it would’ve been harder if you hadn’t already built those relationships and nurtured that community.
Launching something like this, would’ve been 1,000 times more difficult than actually… All right, there was a bit of a bump in the road, but it wasn’t the end of the world. And people, like you say, are now warming to it and loving it. Would that have happened if you hadn’t put all that work into the social community aspect?
Danielle Nicholls: Possibly not. I think, like I said earlier, there was a lot of people, they had our backs. So there was people like, “This is…” Being very negative. But people were responding saying, “Look, they have to move forward, they’ve been through this, that and the other. They have to move forward. See the positives,” which was good.
Ross Ballinger: I think as well, probably because we’ve got such a good social community, they felt comfortable with saying what they thought about it and being honest.
Danielle Nicholls: Which helps because we did run focus groups beforehand, as part of the rebrand process, with suppliers, annual pass holders, staff members, literally with so many people. But until it’s out there, you’re not necessarily going to get that big, full, wider picture. So it did help us with how we were going to move forward with the rebrand as well, looking at their feedback.
Kelly Molson: So you actually took some of their… So obviously from the focus groups, you would’ve taken on board some of the input that you got from those. When it launched, was there anything that you took on board from the feedback that you were getting at that point? That you could look to, not necessarily change, but I guess look at the ways that you implement it in a different way?
Danielle Nicholls: I think the main thing was, like we said, the logo situation. Because everyone was so focused on the logo, we knew that, moving forwards, as we were going to explore the brand even more, we had to make sure it was about the imagery and the personality. And including the shop line there and things like that, rather than… I think that learning curve definitely came from the feedback.
Kelly Molson: Brilliant. It is such a huge project to go through a rebrand. And I think there’s always that anxious moment when you unveil it to people and they go… It could be a bit Marmite. But I think the way that it’s been managed, that’s the important part of this story, really. And that comes back to, again, it all fits together about how the two of you work together as well. And I think that’s quite an important aspect to take away from this podcast episode as well. It’s about, it’s a team, this is a team thing that happens here. And it’s not just about one person. So the brand has launched and then, suddenly, it’s all on Danielle’s shoulders to deal with all the stuff that’s coming back. It’s, this is a team thing.
Ross Ballinger: Well, no, it cascaded all the way through the company, didn’t it?
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah.
Ross Ballinger: People would be like… Even engineers, and everyone, and HR, they were like… They felt the same… It was almost a little bit of disappointment that the reaction wasn’t amazing. But then, everybody felt it.
Danielle Nicholls: But we all came together and-
Ross Ballinger: Yeah.
Danielle Nicholls: Our director of people bought us a box of Krispy Kremes in the office that day. And was like, “There you go, guys. Are you all okay?” And we were like, “Yeah, it’s all good.”
Ross Ballinger: But there’s obviously horror stories of brands doing this and reverting back. But we knew that we’d got something that was amazing that we were going to stick to. And once we knew we could roll it out, that it was going to flourish. So we’re just glad that we stuck to our guns and just… We had the negativity at the beginning and, now, people love it.
Danielle Nicholls: Like you say, we have people coming up to us, just telling me it’s good. Saying, “I wasn’t sure at first? But now we love it.”
Kelly Molson: Ah, see, and that’s what you want. You want it to be loved by everybody that sees it now. That’s brilliant. You just reminded me of something that I saw a few weeks ago. Have you seen the video when Staples changed their logo, they put out?
Danielle Nicholls: Yes.
Ross Ballinger: Yes, yes.
Kelly Molson: That’s just like, as you were talking about it, I was going, “Oh my God, I watched that last week.” And it’s so crazy.
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah. And they’re all like, “Whoopa.” It’s amazing.
Kelly Molson: “Wow, look at us.” And I just didn’t think it was amazing either. But I just felt really sorry for the whole team being forced to clap it and, “Yay, a logo.” Oh dear, if that’s what they thought brand was-
Ross Ballinger: I loved it. I just think that’s how you should do it, even if it is a bit cringey.
Danielle Nicholls: I thought it was hilarious.
Ross Ballinger: What they’ve done is open up the stapler in the logo, and put it on the side. But sometimes that probably would’ve cost them an arm and a leg just to do that as well.
Danielle Nicholls: So much time.
Kelly Molson: There’s a massive buildup to that happening as well. And I was a bit like, “Wow, that’s a massive anticlimax.”
Danielle Nicholls: A big press conference for it.
Ross Ballinger: I just loved everything about it, honestly.
Kelly Molson: The next rebrand, that’s what you’ll be doing, Ross. You’ll get everyone in the attraction, you’ll launch it on a big screen. I think what you’ve done, and what you’ve achieved, is phenomenal. Thank you for coming on the podcast and talking to me about it today. I really appreciate it. As ever, we always ask our guests if they’ve got a book that they love that they’d like to share with our audience. So you can pick one each.
Danielle Nicholls: I think for me… And going back to me being a theme park nerd, this ties in very well. John Wardley, who is-
Ross Ballinger: No.
Danielle Nicholls: I know, right. John Wardley, who is a big theme park, mainly rollercoaster, designer. He’s done work for Merlin, PortAventura, Oakwood, so many. He was really, really big. He worked on things like Nemesis, Oblivion, Katanga Canyon at Alton Towers, was Megafobia at Oakwood. He had an autobiography called Creating Your Nemesis, which basically spanned through his life of how we got into the theme park industry and where we went through. And it’s very story based and anecdotal, but it was really inspiring. And helped me create the courage to knock on doors and do that kind of thing.
Kelly Molson: Oh, I love that. Great book. Great book choice.
Ross Ballinger: That’s a really good response to the question. See, I’m a designer so I don’t really read. I can read, but I just don’t read. I’m very visual, as you can imagine. So I’m just not a fan of reading. I prefer to just scroll through Instagram and TikTok. But I have read books in the past.
I remember one book, I think it’s probably the only book I have read, was The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I think it’s Dan Brown. But that’s only because I was interested in Leonardo da Vinci, who was obviously a scientist or an… He was a bit of an artist and an architect. So I was more interested in his theories, and his Vitruvian Man, I think it is. So I was more interested in his works, really. But other than that, I do own every book by Jamie Oliver, so if a cookbook works.
Kelly Molson: I don’t know if you should be sharing that.
Ross Ballinger: So yeah, I love Jamie Oliver. 5 Ingredients, 30 Minute Meals, brilliant.
Kelly Molson: Jamie Oliver gets a bad rap and I don’t really know why because he seems like a nice guy.
Danielle Nicholls: Are we going back to unpopular opinion?
Kelly Molson: Well, I think we should. But also a little story in that. I live in Saffron Walden, Jamie Oliver lives five minutes around the corner.
Ross Ballinger: He’s down the road.
Kelly Molson: He goes to the market in my town every Saturday, and goes and buys his-
Ross Ballinger: Oh, I’d love to meet him.
Danielle Nicholls: You’d be there for a selfie.
Kelly Molson: Ross, join the queue. I’d love to meet him. I’ve lived here since 2019. I’ve never seen him once. All my friends have seen him. And now, it’s a thing with them. They’re like, “Have you seen him yet? Have you seen him?” No. And I feel like, I’m not a Jamie Oliver stalker. I’m not going to go and harass him.
I just would like to live in the town and be like, “Oh yeah, I saw him this morning.” I’ve never seen him. My mum has been messaging me once, and she’s been in the cafe in Saffron Walden, and been like, “I think Jamie Oliver’s on the table next to me. I’m not sure if it’s him though. I don’t know if it’s a fat version of Jamie Oliver, or if it’s actually… Oh no, it is Jamie. It’s Jamie Oliver.”
Ross Ballinger: Oh no. I can understand why people don’t like him. But he just sploshes his olive oil everywhere, sploshes it around. But he has got that passion for cooking, which is what I resonate with. So he loves what he does, he’s so-
Danielle Nicholls: You can’t knock his passion.
Ross Ballinger: You can’t knock his passion. So I’m in tune with that.
Kelly Molson: All right. Listeners, well, I think that we should scrap Ross’s book choice, and I think we should go with the Jamie Oliver book. So if you head over to Twitter, and you retweet this Twitter announcement with, “I want Ross and Danielle’s books,” then you might be in with a chance of winning Danielle’s book and a Jamie Oliver cookbook. Does that sound fair?
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, that’d be ace.
Kelly Molson: I feel like you were more passionate about that.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kelly Molson: All right, let’s do that then. Thank you. It was lovely to have you both on. I’ve really, really enjoyed it.
Ross Ballinger: Thank you.
Danielle Nicholls: Thank you.
Kelly Molson: And also thank you for the lovely little tour that I got of the new Vikings area at Drayton Manor, when you hosted the UK Theme Park Awards earlier this year.
Danielle Nicholls: I’m glad you liked it.
Ross Ballinger: Yeah, we did, yeah.
Kelly Molson: It was awesome.
Danielle Nicholls: It was amazing.
Ross Ballinger: I think that’s where you spotted us.
Danielle Nicholls: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: Well, look, I’m not going to lie, you guys were sitting behind me and you were extremely loud. And I thought, “They’ll make great podcast guests.”
Danielle Nicholls: We were whooping everyone.
Ross Ballinger: We had so much energy that day though. I was knackered by the end of the day.
Kelly Molson: I loved it. No, you hosted it perfectly. It was a brilliant event. But the new area is fantastic, so definitely go on, book your ticket.
Ross Ballinger: We’re very proud of it.
Kelly Molson: And go on and see that while you can. So thanks for coming on, guys.
Ross Ballinger: Thank you.
Danielle Nicholls: Thank you.
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