In this episode, you’ll learn how to create an exceptional experience your guests will love with the king of themed experiential entertainment, Andy White.
Andy White is the king of “Themed Experiential Entertainment” – the process of bringing Brands and IP’s to life with big ideas and innovative technology, creating something that customers will enjoy and remember forever.
His agency, Andy White Creative, uses skill and expertise to create entertaining and memorable experiences for all kinds of visitor attractions including; theme parks, resorts and retail destinations. He’s worked on some incredible projects including CBeebies Land Hotel, The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure and Sid’s Arctic Tours Ice Age Adventure.
We learnt loads about Andy’s process in this podcast and we talked a lot about how design really needs to emotionally connect to the target audience to create a positive visitor experience.
Andy is exhibiting at the Family Attraction Expo on the 6th and 7th of November 2019 – find him at stand FM 2350.
“People are paying a lot of money to have these experiences and that experience has got to be more than just four walls and a bed.”
What will you learn from this podcast?
- What’s involved in the process of bringing experiences to life – how to turn an intangible idea into a practical reality
- How creating fantastic experiences translates into increased ticket sales
- Theme books – what are they and how do they help?
- How to entertain guests in queues
- The secret formula to great storytelling
- And more
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your hosts, Kelly Molson and Paul Wright
Our guest, Andy White
Kelly Molson: Andy, it is lovely to have you on our Skip the Queue podcast today, thanks for coming in.
Andy White: Thank you very much, lovely to be here.
Kelly Molson: So Andy White Creative, is a themed entertainment design agency-
Andy White: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kelly Molson: What does that mean? Explain briefly what that is.
Andy White: Very simply, we work with businesses to develop visitor attractions. Whether [they’re] huge or small. Everybody needs visitor attractions and they need help putting [ideas] together, and we have a wealth of experience working with a number of clients.
So, we work with [attractions] to develop what they want to do or maybe they’ve already got something they want to enhance.
Kelly Molson: So, let’s talk about design agencies in general. We’re a web development agency, so a lot of what we do is digital platformed websites. What kind of design do you create for visitor attractions? And how do you start?
Andy White: I suppose the area that we work in [is] “experiential”. So, [we’re] trying to create an atmosphere and experience for people to come to – hopefully, people will come in and just lose themselves in it. We find the happier people are, the more money they’re likely to spend.
There is a very commercial level to this. We’ve noticed when you go to good places and they’re nicely designed, you don’t worry about how much something costs. You go “yes, I want a photo, yes, I want a bit of merchandise, yes, I want a keyring”. So, we create attractions for people that hopefully will help their visitors to spend money.
Kelly Molson: Can you talk us through an example of one of these attractions you’ve developed? And how you came to put that together.
Andy White: Well, we’ve done a number of attractions recently for Alton Towers, CBeebies Land… we did five of the different experiences for that! In each case, there was already a suggestion of which brand they wanted to use.
So, then it was up to us to go, how do you take that brand, which is either a television show or a children’s book, how do you turn that into something that people can actually visit and experience for themselves? That is the challenge of it really – a lot of the stuff that we do is a fantasy to start with.
Andy White: We did a little bit of work with the Gruffalo at Chessington World of Adventures, so how do you turn the loading bay of what was previously Professor Burp’s Bubble ride, how do you turn that into the forest that the Gruffalo lives in?
There’s a great challenge because the Gruffalo itself is a story that is on paper, and even the T.V. movie is a flat thing you watch on the screen. So, you’re trying to use your ideas to bring it into the real world. And [make] it repeatable, because a big queue of people, you want them all to have the same experience. This isn’t something that can only happen once, it’s got to happen day in, day out, and then for the whole season.
Kelly Molson: I love this, so it’s taking something that is essentially-
Andy White: Intangible-
Kelly Molson: Intangible, making it into a tangible, physical experience.
Andy White: Yep.
Kelly Molson: That you are part of, you walk through, you interact with, you play with, you sit on, that is essentially what you do.
Andy White: And if it’s a hotel, it’s something that you’re going to live at, or live in. We did a lot of work with Warwick Castle on the Medieval Knight’s Village, which was great.
They had a lovely meadow by the river that runs just next to Warwick Castle and they wanted to put, I think it was 50 of these lodges in. But beyond the shape of the lodge, what are people going to do when they’re there? Where are they going to have their dinner? What would be suitable?
Andy White: So, you think “okay, well you need something like a medieval banqueting hall”, well what’s that going to look like? All the time we’re just trying to flesh out these ideas to create this experience.
[We think about] what activities are going on. You need people on horseback, in armour, having sword fights, walking around… you know, as you’re sitting having your breakfast looking out the window, that has to be going on! Because people are paying a lot of money to have these experiences and that experience has got to be more than just four walls and a bed.
Paul Wright: It’s got to be consistent as well I suppose, the whole time they’re there.
Andy White: Yeah. You don’t want people to go along and say “when we went, this was happening” and someone else goes along “oh when we went, it didn’t”.
It’s trying to maintain that expectation and I think people expect an enormous amount! [People] expect it’s all just going to be there. I think marketing sometimes can over-egg it a bit, which is dangerous because people go “oh, we saw this, we expected this”. You’ve got to be careful – there is quite a fine line.
Andy White: Really, we’re trying to do things that people love. [It’s why] we came up with the phrase, “we design attractions that your visitors will love”. Because it’s not really a design for us or a design for you, it’s a design for your visitors.
We’re thinking of the end-user from the word go. What’s going to happen to them? What are they going to enjoy? What are they going to want to share? Because the more they like it, the more they share it, the more they share it, the more people [will come to] visit it, the more people that visit, the more sales the attractions make.
So again, it’s a very marketable thing in terms of doing the theming work, to put in key areas that people want to be photographed [in], [places] you could only be if you pay the money to go. It has a very commercial underline to it.
Kelly Molson: I want to know how you got into this because we’ve spoken to a lot of people on the podcast this season and each of them seem to have really, really exciting jobs! How did you fall into it? Did you fall into it? Was this a chosen career path from an early age?
Andy White: It’s a good question, I always wanted to make things. I always loved drawing and making things and I think a long, long time ago, back in the ‘90s, I figured out that someone had to make them. At the time, T.V. was a big influence, seeing these special effects on T.V. like Dr. Who and stuff like that. You’d think “well someone has to make that, how do they make it and how’s it done?”. I was always interested in behind the scenes – if you went to the theatre how were all the magic tricks done, how do people levitate, how does it work?
I spent ages and ages reading hundreds of books, which I’ve still got, and you just kind of immerse yourself in all of the things that you’re interested in and then you realise this flows into lots of different areas.
So, I started out making lots of models. My first jobs were working as a model maker and in architectural work. One of the earliest jobs we did was making models for Legoland, which was in about 1996.
That was probably the first themed attraction that we worked on, in terms of doing something physically. But in terms of working in themed attractions, themed attractions really take [into account] all the things I’m interested in. So, creating that atmosphere, it is using all the magic tricks and all behind the scenes things, how can you make this thing happen, so that people will walk in and experience it but without being able to see how it’s done? Without even thinking about how it’s done!
So, [my work] is a fusion of all the things that I love best. You’re creating something, you’re drawing things, you’re communicating ideas, you’re working out how it works, then you’re implementing that into the real world in a repeatable way. A lot of these things are engineering-based – it’s got to be repeatable, it’s got to be hard-working, it’s got to be strong, it’s got to be safe. How you hide all that and make it look like the things you love the most is a fabulous puzzle!
It just became a bit of everything. I did a lot of film work, T.V. work, special effects work… but when I saw stuff from the film getting demolished at the end, it made me quite sad! Because it was so cool to see it in person. But then a year later you see it on screen and it wouldn’t even have the same impact it had when you were walking around it.
And then the film industry kind of tailed off, I ended up going into the design side of it. I stopped making things because I got bored of making other people’s designs. I guess when you start your career, you’re quite compartmentalised, you end up following what someone else is doing or you’re not designing the way that you would design it yourself.
When I realised that, I thought “okay, I’ve got to become a designer”. That was when I started approaching theme park companies and larger organisations to say “look, I’ve done all these things, I know how all these things work, I think this could be of use to you, and this is what it would look like”.
Again, it went back to drawing things, designing things, just so you could prove what it was that you were talking about… making little models for proof of concept stuff, we did a lot of retail because shop windows and promotional stuff in shops was [similar to] theme park stuff. I think we did five or six Harrods Christmas grottos.
Kelly Molson: Oh amazing.
Andy White: Because you have that lovely space to play with, and they had the money to make it look really nice and every year you come up with a different design. As well as that, you were doing the promotional stuff so they would have costume characters, they would have badges that needed artwork. It was all about selling, communicating and selling, through design.
With retail, we did a lot of Disney stores, great big versions of The Incredibles and Nightmare Before Christmas – seeing that all over Oxford Street is fantastic.
Kelly Molson: It must be really fun to work with such recognised brands as well-
Andy White: Yes.
Kelly Molson: Be part of that.
Andy White: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: Can you remember what your first visitor attraction project was? The first one that you started from scratch?
Andy White: I think the first one I was involved with was Splash Landings Hotel, which is at Alton Towers. I had just jumped off doing model-making full time, and they were developing this water park, which was, I think, the world’s first hotel and water park at the time in Europe.
We needed numerous versions of the layout. So, they had architects who got to work out where everything was going to go, [and] I came in with masses and masses of plasticine and polystyrene and glue to make the layout. I had to work out where things were going to fit, because the plans were fine. This was back in 2002 before everything [was] digitally printed and virtual reality. It didn’t exist, it only existed as far as blueprints and ideas.
I spent about ten months on that, trying to put it together. They’d already worked out the layout and we knew where things were going to go, but [we needed to work] out the little areas, some little features, little details inside that…
Paul Wright: So, do you still make the models?
Andy White: We haven’t done a model for six or seven years. We did a big model for the Ice Age project and that was about eight-foot long by four foot wide! Because it was so big, [it was] very useful on-site. People [could] see it, in the actual space. [With the digital stuff, not everybody’s got access to it], so having a model is still very, very useful.
A few years ago, it got looked down upon [because] it seemed a quite old fashioned way of doing it. But weirdly, the last couple years, I’ve seen it come back again. People love to see a model because you can take it to a trade fair, an event, everyone can understand it.
So, we still do models sometimes but they’re very, very much proof of concept, to go “this will work, this will fit, look you know, this is what it will look like, this is how it works” because you’re trying to convey that to all the people on the team-
Paul Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy White: They’re a great way of showing [how things work] very simply.
Paul Wright: I’d imagine with 3D printing it would be easier creating these models now, do you ever use that?
Andy White: We haven’t used it yet, there’s a lot of 3D pre-visualisation done, because the architects use different software to model the space.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Andy White: The important thing with a lot of these projects is working out how everything’s going to fit long before anything is built. [Model making is] an insurance really – you’ve gone “look you’ve seen it in the space”. But, in terms of 3D printing, we haven’t used it-
Paul Wright: Okay.
Andy White: At this point, the kind of model-making we would do is very simple, to prove a point-
Paul Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Andy White: 3D printing [is useful], in terms of cutting out big characters but you still need people to finish them at the end, you know? I think that’s one of the things with 3D printing – it’s a very advanced way of making a lump of plastic or a lump of something, but you still need people to spend a lot of time finishing it and making it into something.
I’m kind of old school I think, I’d rather see someone model it in clay, make a big mould of it, then at least you knew what you had to start with.
Kelly Molson: It’s coming back to that tangible thing as well, being able to kind of-
Andy White: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: See it, feel it.
Paul Wright: More fun as well I imagine.
Kelly Molson: Yeah.
Andy White: Well yeah, I think so. I think the digital stuff has taken a lot of the fun out of it, because a lot of the fun is seeing [ideas] come into the real world. If you’ve got somebody who could physically put their hands on clay and start making [a model], you can all stand around it and go “no, can you add a bit more here”-
Kelly Molson: Yeah.
Andy White: “Oh, I thought it would be more like this, sorry” – that’s one of the factors you want to eliminate, that “oh, I thought it would be like this”. If it’s only on your screen, it’s not the same as being able to see it in the room and walk around it, you know? So, for me, I’d always rather it was there.
Paul Wright: Is that sentence your worst nightmare?
Kelly Molson: “Oh I thought it would look like this?”
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Andy White: Yeah, because we go to so much trouble to make sure there’s no doubt. You’re trying to get complete clarity on what people are going to actually receive.
Kelly Molson: How do you do that? Because my assumption would be one of your biggest challenges is you are collaborating with so many different people…
Andy White: Yep.
Kelly Molson: How do you effectively communicate with all of those different people to come up with the end product that you want to see?
Andy White: Best way to make this happen is to have it all worked out at the beginning, before anybody else gets their hands on it.
Kelly Molson: Right.
Andy White: So we create a document called a theme book, which is basically a manual, we call it the ultimate instruction manual for whatever it is that we’re creating.
Anyone can pick it up, look through it, understand what’s going on, where everything’s going to be, what it looks like from here, what it looks like from there, and then when you bring in the theme contractors, because of their experience, they can understand that very easily. The more detailed that document is, the less far off-track they can go, because you’ve already thought it out.
Andy White: The main thing is to make sure that people understand it, but like you say, how do you get that clarity? It’s not always easy. The more detail you put in at the start, the more people can see. The thing is, there are so many people involved, we get to do a little bit of everybody’s job.
We get to think it all up from day one. [For example], if you thought up a fabulous kitchen in a themed restaurant, [people would worry about] the kitchen staff. They won’t have worried about the entertainment space – [but I would have] already thought [about that]. From the start, we have to think of the whole thing, a year or two years in advance.
Kelly Molson: It’s such a mammoth task as well-
Andy White: Yeah, it’s huge-
Kelly Molson: I mean it’s hard enough when you’re buying a house and you walk in and think “okay, well I’ve got to visualise this in the colours that I would want it in and how my furniture would look in here”, but I just can’t get my head around the scale of some of the projects that you work on. How you even start, you know? It’s such a blank piece of paper.
Andy White: I guess there’s never really a blank piece of paper. People often come along and say “look, we’ve got this much space, we’ve got this much money” so there are some parameters on it-
Kelly Molson: It’s a parameter-
Andy White: Just as an example, when we did the Furchester Live show, the Furchester Hotel for CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, they had a square box building and they said: “Look, we’ve got this space, we want to turn it into a live show”.
So, all you’ve got is a square on a bit of paper, and I know how big that square is but how do you take that brand and make it into a theme within that space? I’ve got to theme the outside of it to what the Furchester Hotel should look like. So, if you’re a child and you come along, you go “wow, look there’s Furchester Hotel” and you want to go in.
I want the queue line to be fun, so I put monitors in the windows of the outside of the building – you might see the Muppets looking out the windows, moving the curtains, things like that.
From the start, even though you think it’s a blank canvas, it’s not, because as soon as that brand is brought in, you’ve suddenly got the rules and parameters of that world and how it manifests itself – you’re trying to recreate that world within that space.
I know we’re going to bring people in, we’ve got to get people out, so where’s the best place to bring people in? And in the show, they always go in and out through a big revolving door, so I want [that to be an] experience for people – they [should] feel like they’ve walked into the hotel and gone through the set revolving doors on the show. If you don’t have that, you’re going to feel short-changed-
Kelly Molson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Andy White: You need to go in that building and feel like you’re there, because kids won’t hold back, they go “this isn’t right, this isn’t what I’ve seen on telly, I was expecting it to be like this”.
Kelly Molson: Yeah.
Andy White: You’ve got to cover it all. How do you get the puppeteers in? How do you get them out? Where’s the back of house? Is there any storage? How are people going to exit? How long’s the show going to be? What effects are there?
And it’s terrific because at the start we go “well, this is how we’d like it to be”, [create] a great theme book and then work with BBC and Sesame Street to create the thing before we hand it over [for build]. In this case, it was built by Studios North, they did a terrific job on it, but the bit that I love is the bit at the start-
Kelly Molson: The start-
Andy White: Where none of it exists-
Kelly Molson: Yeah, yeah.
Andy White: None of it exists apart from someone saying “We want you to this”.
Kelly Molson: So, can you talk us through your creative process, because you’ve talked about the theme book, which is brilliant. What’s your step process from start to that point?
Paul Wright: And what sort of questions do you ask at the very start of a project? Because I know that’s what we have to do a lot of, and I imagine that’s what you have to do too.
Andy White: Well, if you’re working with a brand I think you already know what you’re going to do, what’s expected, you know? I’ll always push to do more, I always want it to be better than it can be, I’m always striving for it to be the best solution that it can be for the budget, but how do you make the best experience? Is doing this better than doing that? Would this be more involved than that? Is this more interactive? Which is more memorable?
How do you push towards that end goal? It is strange to be able to envisage it very early on – at the start, you just feel like “wow, there’s so much to communicate, how do I tell different people that I want this to happen here, I want that to happen there?”
I guess you’re trying to work out the parameters, which is normally, how much space is there? How many people have got to go in and out? Is this a theme where people are going to be batched or [do they] go in for ten minutes, every five minutes-
Kelly Molson: Is that something the attraction will tell you so you know what their expectations are? We get given objectives for a site you know, we want to sell this many tickets, we want this many people looking at it. Do they give you a “we are expecting this many visitors” or?
Andy White: Well, most of the attractions we work with tend to be incredibly busy, so they’re never at a loss for visitors. They’re always trying to work out how many people they can get through, so I’m always trying to push the capacity because I worry about the capacity of a lot of the rides.
Kelly Molson: Right.
Andy White: Because they’re small, and there’s a turnaround time in terms of getting people on [the rides], the queue’s just getting longer and longer and longer. So, if you go to Disney and you go on Pirates of the Caribbean, one of those boats has got about 30 or 40 people in it-
Kelly Molson: Yeah.
Andy White: It never stops, and there’s still a queue, you know? Whereas, if you go on a smaller ride like a log flume, it’s three or four people per boat, and you can just see that queue getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
Often the park will say “we want to get this many people through per hour” but in terms of a show, it’s different because you can change the duration of the show – it might be a ten minute or 20 minute or half-hour kind of thing. It might be a big outdoor area or a small indoor experience. Each one is different, and it evolves as you go through it. If there’s only this much space, you can’t put that many people in, it has to be safe.
Kelly Molson: Does it come back to a question of “how happy can we keep these guests in this area, while they’re queuing for this ride”? Is that something you’re always conscious of?
Andy White: I’m always surprised at how good people are in queues, because-
Kelly Molson: Us Brits love a queue-
Andy White: Yeah, I mean there is a lot of queuing involved, and there’s only so much you can do to entertain people in the queue, no matter how involved it is. Even then, people don’t spend much time doing the things we put into queue lines, [we just see] people standing next to them.
Kelly Molson: Oh really? People don’t interact with the things that you put-
Andy White: Yeah, you just say “you can do that” but then things in queue lines often tend to get broken very easily because people are bored and they’ll start pulling it and it will get a lot of grief. So, you’re trying to make things in a way that adds to the overall theme and the look of it.
I think the queue line is almost as important as the ride, it’s getting you ready for the ride. It’s weird if you go on a ride and there wasn’t a queue – to run to the front is odd because you haven’t had that build up.
I think a bit of a queue is quite good to make you think “okay, we’re in this headspace, this is the atmosphere of this kind of thing”. And it just kind gets you in the right state of mind for it-
Kelly Molson: Yeah definitely.
Andy White: But I would do as many things as we could to keep people entertained. For me, it’s more about entertaining people, whereas I think a lot of the stuff we see in queue lines is more puzzle-based, like “can you follow this line?” or “can you find this thing?”
I would rather do something more animated, like with characters or animatronics – maybe somebody in costume or something related to it that was a pre-show. You see that in a lot of the larger parks, there is a pre-show but you still queue before you go into that pre-show. I am surprised people don’t get crosser in queues because I don’t like queuing.
Paul Wright: I’ve got to say, I hate it. So, what would you say is a great experience? If you had to bullet point it.
Andy White: I think something that stopped you thinking about your real life that day. Like, if you go to the cinema and you see a great film and you’re so engaged, you completely forget [everything]. You come out and you go “I’ve forgotten about the gas bill”.
I think things that just completely take you out of that. I love a ride where you go in and you sit on something, you’re taken around and you’re almost powerless, you’re in it and you’re going to be entertained, and stuff’s going to happen and you’re going to see things – things you’re not going to see at home.
For me, it has to be larger than life. You spend money to go to a place, so it needs to be immersive. One of the reasons we put the forest into the CBeebies Land Hotel on the interior was because it’s so much fun to see exterior stuff inside! It’s things like that, you go “oh this is different, oh this is…” you know, it touches a nerve in you somewhere. You go “this is great”.
It’s stuff that takes you out of your real life, makes you almost believe you’re in that world of that thing, like Star Tours at Disneyland Paris. Once you’re there, you’re not anywhere else. Everything looks like Star Wars or sounds like Star Wars – it’s immersive, then you come out and you’ve had a great experience.
The funny thing is, people never ask us to come up with ideas for things they hate. Everything we do is creating things for people that they love. Everyone says “oh yeah we love it, we love it, we had a great time, we love it”. You should love it! You don’t want to go on something and go “that was so horrible, I didn’t enjoy it at all”-
Kelly Molson: Defeats the purpose-
Andy White: Yeah. Because once you love it, you want to go on it again, or you want to go back – it’s like a great holiday or a great theme park or a great song, you want to go back and do it again.
The more you can tap into that, the more people want to come back, so it’s not like we’re ever trying to persuade people, we’re not really selling in that way going “go on, go on, it will be really good”. You [can already] see it will be good. So, for me, I think an experience is something that takes you right out of your nine to five life.
Kelly Molson: One of the things you said at the start of the interview was how you’re conscious of where people can take photographs.
Andy White: Yep.
Kelly Molson: It’s interesting – there’s been a whole spate of blogs recently about Instagram and whether that’s a good thing for museums and attractions, you know, should we be encouraging it? How do you feel about that? I mean, obviously sharing the experience is something that you’re happy for [guests] to do.
Andy White: Well, you can’t share the experience through a photo as well as if you were there-
Kelly Molson: No.
Andy White: So, it kind of doesn’t matter how many photos you take, it’s never as good as being there. But I think it’s really important that you have eye-catching things that people will only see in that place. We will often put in a significant entrance feature because it becomes an icon for that attraction.
And that is important in terms of getting people to share it, so much better than having a big board with a logo behind it that no one really cares about or wants to stand in front of. You want to be seen at this iconic thing, like when everyone goes to Universal they stand by that great big metal globe where the fountains are-
Kelly Molson: Yeah, yeah.
Andy White: If that wasn’t there, you’d just have a big flat plaza. In that case, everyone would probably stand in front of the gates. It’s those things that go “I am here, I’m doing this”, so even though you are sharing it through a photo, you’re making other people want to go.
It’s important to consider those things at the start because, as I said earlier, so much of what we’re doing is trying to increase the number of people that will [visit]? We’re not doing this for charity, it’s about creating a venue that people want to spend money on and keep going back to.
One of the weird things we see is a lot of attractions hidden from view. So, if you turn up at the theme park, if you’re at the gates, you can see a great big bit of metal rollercoaster up in the sky, everyone will make a bee-line for that because you can see it from the carpark, you can see it from the gates-
Kelly Molson: Right.
Andy White: If you’ve got a smaller attraction, that’s possibly like a dark ride or an indoor thing, people can’t see it from the outside, how do they know it’s there? How do they know what happens? So within the park, you would have to market that more to show visitors “no, go on, look, this is going to happen if you come in here, it’s this kind of thing”.
That’s interesting in terms of sharing photos, because people can share photos of that kind of attraction and someone else will look at it and go “I don’t even know where that is” you can say “well look, it’s at this park, you’ve been there loads of times” you know?
Kelly Molson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy White: So that’s an interesting challenge – the indoor/outdoor experience-
Kelly Molson: Yeah – I guess that’s the beauty of going back to a place as well. If you go to a well-known attraction, like Alton Towers, you’d go to their biggest rollercoaster, but they’re the ones you know about – you might miss some of the smaller ones-
Andy White: Well, two things that just sprang to mind, one was Secret Cinema, which we did a few years ago, the Star Wars one, which was fantastic, but they basically put your phone in a [heat-sealed plastic bag] so you can’t use it.
Kelly Molson: Oh gosh.
Andy White: Which meant there were no photos of any of it-
Kelly Molson: Yeah-
Andy White: But on the flip side of that, before the event, I was going “I don’t know what’s going to happen here”. [You’re being told] “come along to the secret venue, and it will be great” – and I’m going “well okay”. It’s a leap of faith because you’ve just spent quite a lot of money on this, but it was terrific.
[But on the flip side, you have] Lapland U.K., which is an amazing Christmas attraction. We took thousands of photos because it’s so photogenic. You want to be there – I don’t want to look at someone else’s photos of it, I want to be there and see my kids meet Father Christmas and have an amazing time. So, in that respect, you can’t have too many photos, because it’s never as good as actually being there in the atmosphere of it.
Paul Wright: Are you ever asked to create spaces that are Instagram-able?
Andy White: Not yet, no, but I think it’s at the back of everybody’s minds, or it should be. [But photos have to be] shared mercilessly to get people to come along.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Andy White: And the posts go so fast, in seconds.
Paul Wright: That’s true.
Andy White: Unless you share it, and share it, and share it, in terms of trying to get stuff to go viral or marketable, it’s very tricky and very problematic. Things do tend to fly, sometimes the most unexpected things, but none of them are as good as being there.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
Andy White: You know, when you look at someone else’s holiday photos, you’re not going “oh these are great photos” you’re going “yeah, I want to go there” – it’s that kind of thing.
Kelly Molson: I guess one of the business challenges that you have is a lot of the projects you work on are secret? Under NDA? Possibly [projects] you can’t talk about. So how do you go about promoting yourself? How do you go about finding projects to work on?
Andy White: Yes, it’s an interesting question. I hope that we are reasonably known within the industry, but that only goes so far with the people that you already know. In the last year, [we’ve thought about] how do we begin to market ourselves? How do we get out there and meet new clients? And [how do we] describe what we do, because the people we work with know what we do without really thinking about it – but new clients don’t appreciate how much is involved or what benefit it can have for them. It is a tricky thing to sell.
Part of the thinking behind that is we are exhibiting at the Family Attraction show this year at the NEC, which is on the 6th and 7th of November.
Kelly Molson: Don’t worry, we shall put all of this in the show notes, so no one will miss it.
Andy White: If you’d like to come along and meet me and talk about visitor attraction design, that would be fabulous. It is very much about trying to get out there and meet new people, really help them understand how we can [help], because I think that what we’re doing is intangible.
We are selling people ideas and dreams for things they want to happen, and we can help them make it happen. I think a lot of the time, [people] don’t realise that it can be done, or how you’d even start to go about it.
Very pleasingly, we’ve picked up a few projects this year where the clients have understood it because we’ve been able to refine the process and the way we talk about what we do. And it’s very simple – we think it, we draw it, and we make it.
Kelly Molson: I think that summed it up perfectly.
Andy White: I mean, obviously it’s a bit more involved behind the scenes but that’s kind of what it comes down to.
Paul Wright: How would you know before you’ve created something that it’s going to be a good experience? Is that just through your experience that you’ve had and your knowledge and working on other projects? Or is it, have you got a secret formula?
Andy White: I think there is a secret formula to it, definitely.
Paul Wright: Are you willing to share that? Or is it-
Andy White: I can share some of it. Everything we do is about telling a story – a good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. So, depending on how long that experience is, you’ve got to have a great start, a great middle, and a great finale. As long as it’s got those things, then you should be onto a winner. If you don’t, you’ll come out at the end into the daylight and go “oh I didn’t realise it had finished”, you know?
Paul Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy White: So, there is a formula – but in terms of it being a tangible formula, you can’t touch it-
Paul Wright: No, no-
Andy White: It is about looking at key areas, working out what the beats are of the story, how long each bit’s going to take, how long are people going to be in there? How long should this effect go on for? If you’ve got a pre-show, how long does that last? How much do you tell people about what’s going to happen? Or not. Is it a ride they can see as soon as they walk up to it? In that case, it’s quite straightforward.
If it’s a dark attraction, where people have to queue up and go in, then that’s a different kind of sell. It requires a different kind of marketing. But I think that really it’s based on the experience that I know what works, I know what has worked, and it is the same set of rules across all of the industries that we work with. You’re trying to create something good.
Paul Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy White: You’re trying to create something that people will know is good, and you know yourself when you’re working on something whether it could be better than it is. So, you push, and push, and push until it’s as good as it can be.
Paul Wright: Are visitor attractions coming back to you and asking you to freshen rides up or add new rides because they just want people to come back and experience new things?
Andy White: Yes, because it’s a constantly evolving process. Things go in and out of fashion, so five years ago your newer ride might have been based on something that now isn’t that relevant. It might [need] a facelift.
But the onus is always on the operator to come up with something new to entertain next year’s visitors, so you’re always having to come up with more and more ideas, and everybody’s in competition with everybody else. So yes, we are working with people to refresh what they’re doing and facelift stuff, which is terrific because everyone loves to see it look slightly different and, yeah.
Paul Wright: I’d imagine you’ve got clients you’ve worked for, for years then?
Andy White: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: That’s nice.
Andy White: But I can’t tell you who they all are.
Paul Wright: We won’t ask.
Kelly Molson: Andy, it’s been really lovely having you on the podcast today, thank you so much for your time, and thank you for sharing so much of your knowledge today.
Andy White: Thank you very much.
Do you know someone we should be talking to?
Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?
If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ll get back to you shortly.