This past week, I was able to have one of the most insightful and exciting experiences I’ve had in my entire college career with arguably one of the coolest companies in my community: Universal Studios! I wanted to take the time to look back on this “behind-the-screams” adventure and explain my newfound respect for Universal’s iconic annual Halloween Horror Nights event.
My morning class felt the longest it has in weeks if it gives you an idea of my excitement. Upon arrival, our club was welcomed by PR interns: Madison Marsh and Emily Almeida. I had no idea where they were going to take us, however, we were led into the park, passing by the new Minions Land I had not yet seen in person! To my surprise, we walked into Jimmy Fallon’s gift shop and were taken into an elevator that led to a VIP room on the second floor of the building. This room is usually where staff host their events and was the venue for the first part of our trip. I appreciate Universal’s Team for making our students feel welcome and comfortable with custom snacks and drinks in this area!
After our club members had some time to mingle, Natalia Murillo Gomez, an associate representative of Public Relations, began her presentation on Universal’s 2023 HHN PR tactics. She walked everyone through the process of the elements a PR plan needs, including media coverage, budgeting, celebrity/influencer participation, partnerships, and even included hypothetical ideas her team brainstormed. She explained how they base their goals on a return on investment, and how their team can measure those goals on an international level. She presented quantifiable data, to demonstrate the impact Universal’s PR team had this year. When we were taking questions, I asked Natalia, “Which teams outside of your own do you value the most/work the closest with?” She replied, “All of them. Every team has such a pivotal role in making this event a success annually!” It is one thing to learn about PR in class, and another to see it in the flesh. Teamwork at Universal is one of their most cherished values, and seeing the collaboration the PR team has with the Entertainment Show Directors first-hand showcased just that.
After the presentation, we were taken to another side of the park, all the way by Men In Black to meet HHN’s show directors and tour Universal’s “original” houses. Before entering the houses, the show directors, Lora Sauls and Ramon Paradoa, introduced themselves to the students and told us about their role in HHN’s success. The coolest thing about the houses is that they are all filled with their unique lore, and this storyline allows the show directors to play around with ideas within the houses. They explained that there is one week in the year that they strictly work on brainstorming, and dissect ideas on a huge whiteboard, emphasizing that “no idea is a bad idea.” The most rewarding part of it all for Universal is bringing these great ideas to life, in an eccentric, immersive experience. This “immersive experience” begins months before HHN’s debut, where “Discover Universal’s” podcast explaining the house’s storylines is released for fans to listen to. The episode “Halloween Horror Nights Haunted Tales – The Darkest Deal- Pinestraw Spruce” is hosted by Ramon Paradoa himself!
The houses we got to walk through were “The Darkest Deal” and “Dr.Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins.” To avoid spoilers, I am going to save the lore for you guys to discover yourselves. As we walked through the houses, it was all divided up into different “scenes” that tell the stories. Ramon and Lora gave us walkthroughs of all the scenes, explaining how the stories were building up, the role the soundtrack and lines play for storytelling, different scare actor tactics, the spatial design of the houses, and even different smells that are released to immerse your senses. Being able to witness the attention to detail in each of the houses, how purposeful and intricate they all were was nothing less than phenomenal. The months of thought put into detail from training scare actors, pushing new boundaries every year, and even including easter eggs in the houses is incredibly impressive, and fostered an admiration for the event I didn’t believe I could have. For context, I went to HHN 2022 and was absolutely horrified. I swore I would never go back, but I guess that means they did their job a little too well, right? This year’s easter egg is, drumroll… a secret frog in every house!
What makes the frog so unique to this tour, and valuable for Quotes, is that we never would have caught it if it wasn’t for one of our students! We then discovered that the frog was strategically chosen this year for Lora, since she is deathly afraid of them. We were then walked out of the park with Jennifer Vasbinder, one of the PR coordinators for Universal. It was a fantastic end to our trip ans we were able to debrief this amazing experience with her! A great part about Quotes is the amazing relationships we make with industry professionals and seeing familiar faces.
To conclude, I can’t explain my admiration for this event without reinforcing my appreciation for Quotes: the Advertising and Public Relations Club at UCF. By far, being Vice President of Special Projects for this organization has given me hands-on, real-world teachings I likely would not get within lecture halls. That being said, what this club has to offer for students are doors just waiting to be opened. If you are interested in participating in events like these, I encourage you to visit www.quotesucf.com and follow us on Instagram @quotesucf.