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)