April 18, 2017  by Susen Mesco  Denver, CO

PART 1- The Good Old Days of BEing Santa Claus

The Santa Claus industry is CHANGING!! From the way we communicate with clients & each other, to the outfits & accessories we don, to annual national conventions, local meetings, insurances, the digital age of pictures…
Almost every aspect of our external presentation as “Santa Claus,” has been effected.
Malls used to be the hub of social life… shopping, dining and family entertainment.
They still are, but the format and design is now evolving to pad sites for anchor stores and mostly EXTERNAL ENTRANCES… The days of the “center court” are numbered by many developers as they restructure their centers.

Thus seated Santas, indoor, stanchions with lines of visitors are evaporating. Younger Mommies do not want to wait. They are refusing to pay high prices for photo packages when they can just whip out their own smart phone, snap, overlay a filter and post to all their friends in less than 60 seconds, for FREE!

25 years ago my company (American Events) was running the Santa Photolands at 14 Colorado Malls. Giant Polaroid cameras, $100,000 worth of film, ceiling high boxes of photo folders & frames piled in a vacant store, cash registers, credit card machines, a staff of 185 Santas, Elves, Photographers, stressed out Marketing Directors, boxes of wet wipes, huge nightly deposits, staying up until 6 AM doing 14 mall reports to turn in by 10 AM, paying the malls huge commissions for the privilege of providing this grueling season to their shoppers… Not fun at all! 

Over the years, we found our corporate & private Santa business exploding because, even back in the 80’s & 90’s, people preferred the more “intimate” setting with their own “private” Santa Claus. My Santas were able to charm shoppers with our Activity Times with Santa and inspire outside bookings. My Santas were so busy out doing corporate & private gigs, that they only worked 2-3, 4 hour shifts per week at the mall and did events the rest of the time. Sweet!!

It was an awkward and embarrassing task, asking people NOT to use their own cameras (bowing to the mall’s insistence for higher closing ratio numbers for greater commissions). It seemed rude, uncaring and unfair to those who couldn’t pay the $5  (1980's) per photo or the $ 15 for the package with 3 photos, cards, envelopes & frame.

12 years ago, I decided to work with my favorite 7 malls. We now provide a FREE Santa Experience, where families take their own photos! As many as they want! Santas are free to do 2-5 daily entertainment sessions with all the children in line. Santas can hand out business cards & promote private events they do!  Parents LOVE IT! Children get to participate FREE in the “My Santa Reports” program. Malls get a database of their visitors from American Events at the end of each season. Santas are making three times the average mall rate hourly, PLUS TIPS! In the first few years, we tripled the visitor count (word got out and families are coming from other malls who are "selling" photos!). The merchants are thrilled because families are spending the funds they saved in their stores. 

It's been a long 35 years with many wonderful twists & turns,  evolving and creating new products and concepts for our Santas and our clients! The family of Santas IS my family!!

PART 2  Santa Claus in “modern times”  FREEFORM SANTAS…

So the roll of Santa Claus is changing fast to meet the desires of younger parents & technology.
More HOME VISITS, more HOA & CORPORATE PARTIES, Photo Studio MINI SESSIONS (Oct-Nov.) STROLLING SANTAS, TALK TO SANTA (video chats & messages) and now the national Wal-Mart program; “SELFIES WITH SANTA”!

In this era of Santa Claus, Santas are being called OUT of their chairs! 
Top Santas understand the business aspects, created effective marketing tools 
& have had to BEcome REAL PERFORMERS!

The days of “easy” cattle herding, one child after the next for a photo and 30 second visit for 40 days in a row, are numbered. (I’m NOT saying this genre of Santa will ever be extinct, but just not as common as it has been over the past 50 years.)
Santas who study to expand their performance skills and services to clients, are thriving in this decade!

Santas who EXCEL at doing high quality VIDEO CHATS/MESSAGES are adding funds to their bottom line each year, IN THEIR SPARE TIME, by offering this service to their own clients as well as participating in programs such as “Talk To Santa”, etc.

(P.O.L.E.S. Professional OnLine Education for Santas) offers this home course, on exactly HOW TO DO SANTA VIDEO CHATS & MESSAGES, available to all Santas. 3 months access to 28 videos, 7-20 minutes each.) Do YOU need an extra $800 added to each season??

Santas who have worked hard to develop their 3-D SANTA CHARACTER and have achieved  poise, confidence and a unique charm in this presentation, can draw upon this skill to be the very best when the interaction calls for more beyond just the traditional 60 second seated visit. STROLLING / FREEFORM Santa is born!

SELFIES WITH SANTA (Wal-Mart Stores 2016/ 2017) Santas are having a blast in their new “FREEFORM/STROLLING” role as Santa…

Here is HOW they do it

Mini Training Seminar compiled from just a drop of what we teach at Professional Santa Claus School...

·       * Has the mobility and enthusiasm to present a truly interactive, unique & vibrant experience to visitors he ACTIVELY seeks out within his strolling area.

·       * Wears the appropriate costuming (light, lined or warm) for the environment, quality footwear, correct soles, cushioning support, etc. 

·       * Carries several pairs of extra gloves so hands are covered & white. 

·       * Santa is very conscious of bad breath, body odors, gas causing foods…

·       * Reads his audience from afar and is able to instantly develop an encounter plan

·       * Has more than 10 techniques for working with the “hesitant” child,

·       * ALWAYS MAINTAINING CONTROL of every situation using; movement,            volume, distance, gestures, re-directing the situation, etc.

* Knows how to instantly POSE with individual or groups, whether seated or standing, on the floor, on a chair or bench. 
*   * Constantly is aware of HAND PLACEMENT in every photo taken, even when Santa is NOT anticipating a photo to be taken.... there is ALWAYS a camera pointed in Santa's direction, even if Santa isn't posing for that photo from beyond! 

·       * Understands the developmental changes occurring every 18 months in children. 

*   * Santa never uses the same script over and over with all his audiences. And the audience of the STROLLING  / FREEFORM Santa constantly changes: Child, Adult, Senior, Teen, Special Needs, Handicapped, Scrooge, Non-believer, Skeptic... all in 15 minutes!

·       * Can adapt hundreds of individual greetings to welcome that child/adult into Santa’s space

·       * Instantly finds something to compliment the visitor about, to create an instant bond

·       * Converses naturally, in 3-dimensional Santa character, (GET OUT OF YOUR  BOX!) with his visitors, going far beyond the boring boundaries of the same OLD things Santas seem to have gotten stuck in over the past 50 years:
*  Santa likes cookies                           
*  Santa’s reindeer
*  Santa makes toys                              
*  Santa’s elves
*  Santa lives at the North Pole            
*  Mrs. Claus, etc!
What happened to the FUN & REAL STUFF LIKE:
* Santa’s new recycling center?
* Mrs. Claus’s new hydroponics vegetable garden?
* The health & exercise complex just completed for the elves?
* Rudolph’s son Randolp now flies at the front of your sleigh! Etc!
You’d be very wise to have a LONG LIST of INTERESTING things to say & do when you break free from that “chair!”

·       * Is prepared for the unexpected and can turn any moment into a magic experience.

·       * Knows the toys, movies, cartoons happening NOW! What age level is this toy/show geared for? How expensive is it? What colors or sets does it come in? What character or movie does it relate to? What does this movie/tv character do? Go? Are they good guy or bad guy? If YOU make the toys, you’d better KNOW your own toys?

·       * Uses compassion, humor, touch, volume, etc. appropriately & professionally

·       * Knows when and how to move along your route of “Strolling” visits.

·       * Is conscious of children running towards you – Brace yourself! Children running up behind you… Always be planted firmly, even when walking.

·       * Is conscious that in moving around, to move slowly & deliberately because little ones may (silently) be behind, beside or underneath you… in the path of “danger”.

·       * Has a plan to “deal with” boisterous, delinquent, harassing teens who heckle & badger. Sometimes even "attack".  Security!!

·       * Is ALWAYS conscious of what’s behind you in (the backdrop of) your photos. (Beer truck? Ladies’ Lingerie? A rest room or exit sign? NOT GOOD!) 

·       * Has an effective prop for carrying give-aways/candy canes. Basket, Candy Cane Bag

·       * Can find a good place to do some seated visits for 10-15 minutes but then can end the line without Elf/Site Director assistance to go back to strolling duty.

·       * Knows Santa can often pre-arrange with the client to go to a cooler spot (outside?) to keep working, greet arriving guests and cool off all at the same time!

·       * Understands that staying hydrated is critical to a good performance.  (And arranging for rest room location and breaks at regular intervals.) Using broken candy canes or “Altoids” tucked between teeth & gums is a quick fix for dry mouth.

·       * Having a good selection of props that can be “attached” without having to carry or dig in a bag to find them. Magic key, giant ring of bells that can be slipped over your wrist, belt pouch with “good coins,” teddy bear in the top of his toy bag, etc.
      Where do you position yourself for best lighting?
o   With the light source IN FRONT of you! Of course!
o   Behind you, and the camera is shooting into the light! Not good!
o   Overhead -faces are shadowed & the photo is dark.  Not good!
     * Knows how to end each visit with dignity & grace. (Make sure everyone is beyond thrilled, but they want more!)

·       *IF possible, Santa has an Elf Helper, designated client provided assistant or, best of all, your Mrs. Claus strolling with you to keep your outfit, hat, accessories and make-up in check. Otherwise do frequent checks: belt (buckle to the front/center)  & holly leaf position (on the side), etc in place!! 

·       * Santa finds ways to invigorate himself so the last visit of the day is as magical and enthusiastic as the first visit! 

     * Santa uses the energy from your audience to supercharge himself into BEing the best Santa he can be.

There’s plenty more but this should give you a good start!
For more… See other blog posts and resources listed below!!

Susen Mesco  CMP, MST
ProfessionalSanta Claus School (Denver) 1983-present
Santa Visits USA  (Programs, Resources & bookings for Santas)
My Santa Reports  (Marketing Program for Santas)
Certified Professional Santas  (Find & Verify your ELITE Santas Online)
P.O.L.E.S.   & B.A.B.S.  (Online trainings for Santas)

Santa Claus Education & Training... WHY?

Why in the world does any Santa "need" any kind of formal training?

I've been in the Santa industry long before it was an "industry!" Back in the days of the enclosed malls and running 14 locations of Santa Photolands single handedly over a 20 year period! Whew!
We attracted so much spin off business, it was easy to transition, and bring my Santas along with me, into the world of civic, corporate & private bookings.

I understand and am devoted to the notion that Santa needs to remain traditional as part of his mystique.

I know how expensive things have become in this depressed economy!

I realize that investing in new career on a fixed retirement budget is a hardship! But it's really a worthy and rewarding investment in yourself!

My wonderful father (90 years old) thinks mortgages should still be around $200 a month and hotel rooms over $40 are a rip off! Cell phones, (forget "Smart phones"!) and Facebook are a mystery! When he was "walking to school, BOTH ways uphill, bread was 5 cents...", now designer bread is $5! No doubt TIMES HAVE CHANGED! (Hopefully our current teachers instruct us to go back home the same way so we can go downhill at the end of the day! Wink!) But all joking aside...

1.) Over the past 15 years, our "Santa Entertainment Industry" has blossomed, matured, and become much more high profile. The number of Santas at top levels with whom you are "competing" for holiday entertainment dollars, even in smaller communities, has literally exploded! 

2.) Across 95% of America, (excluding L.A. & N.Y.C.,) average families used to be satisfied with making, borrowing or buying Uncle Joe a $40 Sears Santa suit and having him show up on Christmas Eve for a visit. Elastic, black hairs and gym shoes showing. (Ewww!) The head janitor or even major of most towns would rent a suit and "play" Santa for the local parade. IF he had a real beard, that was a huge bonus! IF he didn't, it wasn't a big deal.

3.) Marketing, advertising and sophisticated audiences now demand MORE and are willing to pay more for their group and private holiday entertainment. They want the "REAL" thing and to be impressed and WOW'd for their investment! Ho Ho Hum doesn't cut it any longer! 

4.) As generations X Y & Z, start becoming parents, (eeks!) they are used to electronic, interactive, visual and thumb activated, 3-D entertainment. HOW can a candy cane & a "Ho Ho Ho" compete with that? Through quality education!

So, if Santa is to remain "traditional," why would there be anything new to learn? Red suit, jingle bells, white beard, lap visits, photos, give out the gifts.. How hard can it be?

Well Ho! Ho! Ho! Rockin' Robin, the Polar Caps are a melting! Being able to combine all the NEW information and still keep it traditional, is one task your educational mentors have in guiding you along this "ancient" yet fantastically new and complex holiday adventure!

The NEW breed of Santa understands what it takes to climb to the top and stay there! Marketing! Networking! And intensive, quality Education! There are reputable schools across the USA. Find the ones that are right for YOU and continue to grow by attending different ones each year! We are all VERY different in our format, style, content, focus and especially ideology.

It's NOT just all about the snowy beard or custom designed Adele suit, although her designs are magnificent! If THE HEART that is UNDER the beard and INSIDE that suit are not glowing with sincerity, imagination, energy and passion for the role, then the investments have been in vain.

The best way to get yourself to the top of your Santa career, and stay there is through education, implementation and being involved with QUALITY Santa community! Santa America, FB Santa's Workshop (Larry Shaw) JYSW, FB Business of Being Santa, FB ClausNet (Michael Rielly), BuckEye Santas of Ohio, and perhaps one of the    ? ? ? ORBS groups, for example! The taking of action and sharing of information. Leaving the politics out.

If YOU think your conversations with the children are unimaginative, repetitive and boring... Guess what? So do they! (Sorry!) Learn, through Santa education, to make every conversation, even 500 of them a day, different and exciting! Sounds hard but it's really easy!!! And way more fun than cattle herding the little ones!

If, you get excited about making your grand entrance to the mall, corporate party or home visit, but find yourself un-amused by your own repeat, stale  performance once you arrive on your "stage," then it's time to engage in a new thought process about your "act."  Santa Training can give you fresh ideas to make your presentations exciting again! - For your guests and yourself!

If, after an hour or two of visiting with the children, you remember you need to get your oil changed or pay the electric bill when you get home... then someone isn't engaged in BEing Santa! Santa Education will teach you tools, tricks and tips to staying in character, for however long you are "on stage."

If your holiday calendar is, or is not, as full as you want it to be, so you are covering your Santa expenses (gas, insurance, dry cleaning, beard grooming, costuming, etc.) with little padding for that world cruise vacation, flying lessons or tiara for the Mrs., then maybe your client list needs to be revamped so you perform to get the kind of referrals and tips that bring you pleasure and success on all levels? The Santa School you pick should give you the knowledge, tools and support to easily accomplish this!
Do you know the "formula" for answering ANY impossible question? Come find out at school!

What should you have in your Santa toy bag / repertoire for those special moments? Awkward moments? Scary moments? Unexpected moments in front of a crowd? And how can you pull it off with nothing but your imagination and personality, when you do not have your bag with you? We'll show you what you need to know to be empty handed and get raved reviews!

Did you know that if your contract / appearance agreement, is not worded exactly properly, your client can be called on the carpet by the IRS, to pay YOUR taxes! Yes- your CLIENT!!! What a P.R. nightmare THAT would be! I found out things about contract law, that even my attorneys didn't know. Federal coffers are so empty, that the government agencies are turning over every stone, even at the North Pole, to try to find money. Where do you find out how to structure your contracts? How do you negotiate a better-for-you contract with a mall /photo company?  At Santa School, of course! It could mean thousands of dollars, back into your pocket for your tuition investment!

Who do you call, AFTER you graduate, for extreme professional support year-round to keep your career on track? The school you pick should work with you personally to achieve your goals! 

If you have that burning desire and everyone is telling you you "look" like Santa, If children are coming up to  you at Denny's, If mini-vans full of little ones are honking at you, but you don't know where to start...

If you are focused more on how you look externally, than on how you are impacting the lives you encounter...  

If you think about the money, rather than the joy, so that the income flows easily and naturally as an afterthought...   

If you think you are at the top of your game or conversely, you are boring yourself to tears with your performances and conversations... 

If you are serious about helping the Santa industry maintain the revered tradition of Santa while infusing modern technology to appease a new, youthful generation of parents, but have no idea how to merge both ends of the spectrum... 
Santa Garth and Zoo Buddy 2012

Then investing in yourself, FOR THE CHILDREN, renewing your Santa mindset, connecting with one of the several Professional Santa Claus Schools that syncs best with YOUR personality, will refresh and stimulate your enthusiasm, give you insights you cannot find anywhere else, provide you with the tips, tricks, tools and new points of view to have you impressing yourself with your newly instilled pride and accomplishments! 

Yes! It IS an investment, an effort, perhaps a great sacrifice, and maybe even a bit humbling to admit you need an internal make-over to freshen up or get you started, but you'll find (I guarantee it!) that investment will come back to you, 10 fold, almost immediately (this upcoming season)!

Seriously investigate the educational opportunities that are out there for new and veteran Santas! Dig deep! Speak personally with the school's leaders! What is their overall vision? Their commitment to YOU over time? Their level of support? Do they offer continuing education / marketing assistance and placement to keep you growing? Are they easily available to you AFTER you graduate? Are they active year-round or just at training time? What is their experience? Success rate? Their viewpoints on things most important to you about BEcoming / BEing the kind of Santa YOU want to BE? Speak with recent grads of that school to get candid insights on their experience! Consider the tuition (which can be 100% tax deductible)... How are your tuition dollars used to benefit YOU- are food, accessories, perks and things you'll want and need included? (Remember: "You get what you pay for!") Look for scholarships and creative ways to work with the school you want to attend! 

Get involved with your closest quality Santa organizations... attend regularly and find ways to bring education related to BEing / BEcoming better Santas into your gatherings! (PSCS will bring 1/2, 1 & 2 day sessions anywhere in the country for Santa groups- organized or informal!) 

Hop in your sleigh to be in Denver on labor Day Weekend!
Don't skimp! YOU are worth it! The CHILDREN (as well as their parents, seniors and adults) desperately need the magic, the warmth, new memories and the escape that a real, high quality, creative, dedicated Santa provides in today's confusing, violent and frightening world! 

It's NOT about the suit! It's NOT about the beard!
It's about the CHILDREN, the MAGIC and the LOVE you have INSIDE of you!
Let's stir it up! Grab these new ideas and make it more fun and rewarding for everyone!

See you at Professional Santa Claus School Conference 
in Denver, over the Labor Day Weekend!
(We'll show you how, by THIS season, to double, even triple +++ your investment back into your pocket!)

Susen C. Mesco
Master Santa Claus Trainer since 1983!
31st Annual Professional Santa Claus School Denver, CO
August 30 – September 3, 2013