In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Mark Lofthouse, an Immersive Experience Specialist.
“You can’t learn enough. You can always absorb, you can always take advice, you can always work on yourself. And I think you don’t know who you’re going to bump into along the way.”
Mark Lofthouse is a themed entertainment creative and digital designer. During his 16-year career within the themed entertainment industry he’s had the opportunities to work with theme parks, heritage sites and leisure facilities across Europe – creating fantastical experiences that wow audiences.
His background spans varied roles from operations management of theme parks and head of business for a manufacturing business right through to the lead creative for scare mazes – this combination of creative and operational knowledge has helped him carve out a varied career that now sees him working with the biggest names in theme parks!
The Business Creative are a Creative Agency specialising in entertainment experiences that connect an audience to a brand, in a real life environment.
What will you learn from this podcast?
- The career path Mark took to work in the sector
- The four pillars needed to succeed as a creative designer in the Theme Park industry
- Why the right mindset is crucial to success
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your host, Kelly Molson
Our guest, Mark Lofthouse
Kelly Molson: It is so good to have you on the podcast. I feel like we’ve been talking about doing this for ages and we’re finally here. Welcome.
Mark Lofthouse: Thank you so much. Yeah, it does seem like it has been forever ago, doesn’t it? Actually, that we started talking, but we’re here, life is good. That is all we can ask for.
Kelly Molson: Exactly. And we’re going to have a good chat and good things are going to come from it. But first, I need to ask you some icebreaker questions. So what ingredients would you go for in your perfect sandwich?
Mark Lofthouse: You know what I’m a bit of a fan of? I like chicken, but spiced chicken. I love a bit of cake in my life, so I’d have that. I’d have jalapenos on it, turkey, bit of lettuce, some onions, a bit of chorizo, if they’ve got it. Yeah, but that’s like my perfect sandwich. And lots of chipotle sauce. The Southwest chipotle sauce is like to die for. It’s my favourite thing ever.
Kelly Molson: I love it. Mark likes a bit of hot stuff there. Yeah, you had me at chorizo. Not going to lie, you had me at chorizo. All right. Okay, good. If you could enter the Olympics for anything, what would you be Olympic level at? And when I say anything, I’m saying, like, the Olympics could be, like you could be like the Olympic baker or like, the Olympic complaining champion. What would you be like Olympic level at?
Mark Lofthouse: I think I’d be like maybe jumping to conclusions. I think something like napping. Do you know what I think? Genuinely think that would be the best Olympic sport ever, wouldn’t it?
Kelly Molson: Olympic level napping?
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah, because you know what, I work that much and I’m always on the go all of the time when I have a nap, I feel like I’m the best person ever at napping. So I think I genuinely would be the best at that. I’d win gold.
Kelly Molson: Are you like one of these people that a nap anywhere? If I said to you, now you can go and have a 20 minutes nap if you want, you’d be like, yeah, I’ve done. And 20 minutes later you’d wake up, because it would take for me if someone gave me 20 minutes nap. I’d be like, oh, I’ve got to think about that for a while. And then I’ll lay down. But I might look at my phone and then I might get a five minute nap out of that 20 minutes.
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah. If you give me the opportunity to go and have a nap because it doesn’t come around very often, I will be very good at that. I’m a very efficient napper.
Kelly Molson: Okay, good. I like that. Efficient napper. Olympic level napper.
Mark Lofthouse: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Gold medal.
Kelly Molson: All right, final icebreaker. I would like to know what your favourite visitor attraction is. It’s a really horrible question that I ask people who come on a visitor attraction focused podcast, but I’m intrigued to know what yours is.
Mark Lofthouse: Right, I have two kind of contrasting ones. I’m always a fan of theme parks and specifically Fantasy Land in Germany is probably my favourite. And I think it’s because it’s quite hard to get that true immersive, which obviously that word is batted around so much, but to get that true escapism feel is really difficult to come by. But the park seems to do it seamlessly and I think I’ve always been such a huge fan and in admiration as well, of what they managed to achieve. So that is one of them. But I also love going to kind off the beaten track places that you think, you know what, let’s give it a go, let’s go and try and do it. And then it becomes one of the best places to visit.
So one of them, as much as it’s a visual attraction, it’s kind of a natural attraction as well. So the fairy pools in the Isle of Skye, now, it’s becoming more and more popular because of Instagram, but it’s literally just a little ravine that comes through off the mountain with water coming through it. And it was the best day out I’ve ever had. Literally spent the entire day jumping in and out of natural pools and waterfalls. And honestly, it was just the best visitor attraction I’ve been to. But it was such a natural setting. It was completely natural. Wasn’t man made at all, apart from the car park, that was it. And it was just the best. So if you’re ever in the Isle of Skye, you have to go and do it.
Kelly Molson: That sounds absolutely a bit of me, Mark. What an amazing place.
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah. And the photos that I’ve got are just the best as well. I love them. I love looking back at them.
Kelly Molson: Instagrammable moments it is all about. Oh, good. All right.All right. I like that. Okay. Your unpopular opinion I’m going to feel.
Mark Lofthouse: About for saying this, and my connections on LinkedIn, please don’t judge me for saying it. My unpopular opinion is that I’m much more excited about the products and experiences that Universal are creating over Disney. I know that it is quite controversial. So, again, this is kind of splitting hers because I love both of the companies, but I think from a proposition point of view, that the level of detail, the type of attraction, type of experiences that Universal are working on as a creative team.
Not just in the park, but now they’re opening this Halloween Horror Nights experience in Las Vegas, where it’s nowhere near their park and the new park that they’re opening in the States as well. I think it’s just so exciting for that company. They just seem to be growing and growing and opening new avenues of business.
And I think I love Disney, and that is an understatement. But I’m so much more excited about what Universal are putting out there at the moment. But it is an incredibly unpopular opinion when you voice that because there is such this tribe mentality between Universal and Disney. But there we go. I’ve said it. It’s out there.
Kelly Molson: All right, listeners, we need to know what your opinion is on Mark’s. Are you agreeing with them or is this an unpopular opinion? Tweet us and let us know. Brave man, Mark, for the industry that you work in, brave.
Mark Lofthouse: I probably just shot myself in the foot there.
Kelly Molson: Maybe a tiny bit, but tell us what you do.
Mark Lofthouse: I kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to visitor attractions and themed attractions, really. So, by heart, I’m a creative. I’ve been based in this for about 16 years now, working as a freelance creative for theme parks, heritage sites, leisure facilities. And that will be anything from coming up with marketing material, graphic design, digital design, right through to project management, event management, and overseeing creative concepts for them specifically in events, primarily.
So, yeah, I’ve been doing that for 16 years now. So it covers such a wide variety of things to do. So one day I might be working with the Business Creative, who’s an amazing creative agency who I work with a lot, and coming up with kind of concepts for Haven and Tui and these kind of leisure facilities.
But then the day after, I might be working on a terrifying horror attraction in the USA, coming up with a branding, coming up with the proposition and what that is. So it’s so varied, the work that I do, but I’m kind of an operational mindset in a creative body is the best way to explain it.
Kelly Molson: It’s a really weird combination. When we first got into contact, I kind of very much saw you as like a designer, like a graphic designer kind of thing. And I was like, “Oh, well, I can really relate to some of the stuff that you do because that was my background as well”. And then when we started talking, I was like, gosh, your role is really complex and quite unique in what you do.
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah, absolutely. I think I’ve kind of just collected skills over the time that I’ve been working. So it’s things from I’ve been a digital designer for a company and that’s all I did. I created Decks, I did graphic design for companies and then the job I got after that was the operations manager of a theme park. So it’s just that leap and that jump is really hard to explain to people. But I’ve got quite analytical mind and I’ve got quite a, like three put is my thing at theme park. So always having to look at efficiencies, especially in operations. So it was really weird for me to take the leap from creator to go, “do you know what, I’m going to go and do that”. And I just did it.
I took a leap of faith, did it, thought I could do it, and it turned out really well for me. And it was such a I learned so many skills by doing it that it’s kind of second nature now. So I’ve got a kind of desired skill set, which is operational mindset, but somebody who understands creative, who also understands the operations of it.
Because it’s the same with many companies where you have these incredible creative people who work there but it’s really hard for them to understand how their creative idea can actually form a live experience because it’s so different to go yet that works creatively on a piece of paper or on a computer. But then to actually go, well, that won’t work because the corridors are too narrow to have that amount of guests passing through it and things.
Whereas I kind of do all of it from beginning to end, which is a lot of work. But no, it’s really good. It’s just things that I’ve started to pick up and do and it’s just kind of second age of doing now. It’s just what I know. I don’t know how to do any different apart from do that really it’s brilliant.
Kelly Molson: And I love talking to people about how they take their skills and how those skills kind of form their wiggly career path. What we’re going to talk about today is about developing a creative career in theme park industry. And we’re going touch a little bit on the mindset that you probably need for that as well. So my creative career started at I was at school. I had to pick what I wanted to do for my GCSEs. There was a media studies module that I was like, “Oh, this is really interesting for me”. So there was an element of design. I was always kind of like into art very much on the kind of design, like the graphics and kind of illustration side. So there was a graphic design module, there was a photography module. There was like a media studies module.
So I guess it was like really early filmmaking and things like that and all of those things. I was like, “Yeah, this is great”. On from my GCSEs, I then focused on graphic design. So went to the local college, did my BTEC National Diploma. And then after you did that, I could either go and do the HND which was you apply to go to university or back then, this is quite a long time ago. It wasn’t as difficult to get junior designer roles without those qualifications. So you could kind of, “What do you want to do? Do you want to go and do another couple of years at Uni or do you want to go and get a job?
And I chose to go and get a job and kind of then my career went blah, blah, and we can talk about that another time. How did you with your mixed kind of bag of skills, how did you kind of start your creative career?
Mark Lofthouse: It’s really scary how similar we both are. So I in school was the same, got to buy options. I’d always since being a child, I’ve been obsessed with theme parks, always. And it always takes back to I always remember going to it was when Morecambe Frontierland was open, so we’re talking early 90s. And I’ve got such strong core memories from that time going to theme parks.
We used to go there quite a lot. Every summer we used to head over that way to the lakes and I’ve always been obsessed with it, so I always knew when I was in school I wanted to get involved somehow. Don’t know how, I couldn’t even predict how that was going to happen, but I was going to be involved. I was determined.
I knew I was going to be involved within the themed attraction industry specifically. Don’t know how, but I got to choose my options same as you pick graphic design, because I knew I was all right with the computer, I knew what I was doing, kind of found the way around. I did my entire coursework. Everything was on a theme park, branding theme park, obviously branding a theme park, currently park, marks park, collateral and that type of thing.
I did really bad in my GCSE, I will admit. I didn’t do the best. I didn’t knuckle down when I needed to. I didn’t spend the time regrettably. I wish I would have, I wish I’d have kind of focused more now, but I’m not hugely academic. I like to learn through experience and I do think it’s just a mix, isn’t it? Whether you’re one or the other?
Kelly Molson: Well, yeah, it is. And actually it’s okay if you don’t do that well in your GCSEs. And I think what we’re going to talk about proves that it’s absolutely okay to not do that well in your GCSEs.
Mark Lofthouse: Absolutely. I’ve got two cousins at the moment and they’re kind of going through that struggle, go with the like, “Oh, we did really well, but we can’t find this and that and the other”. I’m like, everything works out. Everything happens for a reason. Everything works out. I’m a firm believer in it. Set school didn’t do the best. And then I was like, right, I’m going to go to the local college.
I did media production, funnily enough, and it was during them two years that I realised I hated it and didn’t want to do it anymore. I finished, I got my coursework, but I was in that weird time there where I went, “What now what do I do? Where do I go? I didn’t want to go to university”. I said, I’m not academic, didn’t want to go.
But what I had been doing, kind of simultaneous with the college work, was I got in touch with a company who produced Halloween attractions, because I love theme parks, I love Halloween events, halloween is my favourite time of year. So I got in touch with a company who was kind of prevalent in the UK, and they still are, called Atmosphere Scare Entertainment, and they just produce Halloween events primarily for clients all over Europe. And I got in touch with them and I became a performer for them for one Halloween, which was literally me sitting in some sheets, jumping out of people. That’s my extent of performance. Everyone’s got to start somewhere.
But I got hooked and I got hooked into seeing visitors reactions to something that you’d worked on, something that you did and how you interacted with that, and I got really hooked in it. So I then got my qualifications, left college and then just started working with the company more and more. So it became I was a performer for the first year and then I had a bit of design work the year after. Bit more, bit more, and eventually ended up scaling up to I was working freelance for them, but I was the Deputy Creative Director of the company by the age of 21.
Kelly Molson: Gosh, wow. Yeah, that’s a great turnaround from someone a minute ago was like, I did really badly in my GCSE. I’m Deputy Creative Director by 21.
Mark Lofthouse: The only thing that got me there was well, it was two things. And it was that undetermination. I knew I was going to do it. I enjoyed doing the work I was doing, I don’t know, the same as everyone. When you enjoy doing something, you put more of yourself into it. There’s a really beautiful Greek phrase called Meraki, which is to put yourself so much into something that it becomes part of you. And it’s kind of just a philosophy I’ve always run with and I love the idea of it. So I kind of just scaled up with the company and that was kind of it. And that’s how it happened. I left the company in 2017, I think it was where I became the event manager of a safari park, just because I had kind of event background and knew what I was doing.
And then I had the opportunity after two years to go to Dreamland Margate to look at operations and have a look at guest experience. And I moved all the way down to Margate, lived in there for a season until the end of 2019 and then came home and the inevitable happened in February. So what happened to themed attraction? Isn’t sure. What happened to entertainment? It just ceased to exist, obviously, when the pandemic hit. So I became the business operations manager of a manufacturing business, which I never thought I’d do, which was manufacturing hand sanitising liquid, which as you can imagine during that period was a very difficult job to be in. So, yeah, I did that and then that kind of leads me up to where I am now.
I started working with the business creative a year back, looking after sort of the operations creative operations, and then now I’m a creative partner with them. So I develop the concepts, I work on branding, I work on decks, proposals, that type of thing for them, and help them kind of get into new business avenues, which themed entertainment, Immersive Entertainment, Immersive Theatre is primarily one that we’re looking at. So that’s kind of a little bit of a whirlwind tour of me.
Kelly Molson: Gosh, I love that. Yeah, that’s been really wiggly, isn’t it, if we’re talking about a wiggly career. What I liked is that one of my questions was going to be, did you always think that you would work in the sector, but obviously from a really early age you were quite focused on that was going to be your thing. And I think it’s really interesting because a lot of it’s not. It’s definitely not what I did. I didn’t ever think I thought I wanted to be a designer and I’d love to be a graphic designer, but I never actually pinpointed a specific sector or a specific role, even within graphic design. And it’s interesting how something that you’ve focused on can really define where your career goes.
But even if you don’t, actually, you can kind of come to it a little bit later with the skill set that you gain along the way. Because if I look back now, if I hadn’t worked in all the different roles that I had, I probably wouldn’t have made it to running my own agency because I wouldn’t have had the kind of variety of skill set that I needed to kind of do that, and I wouldn’t have seen all the different ways that certain agencies run and how they operate to be able to get to that point.
Mark Lofthouse: Definitely. I think you can’t learn enough. You can always absorb, you can always take advice, you can always work on yourself. And I think you don’t know who you’re going to bump into along the way. Like, there’s some clients that when I was 17 and 18, doing graphic designs from my laptop on my knee when I was watching TV, like, we’ve all been there.
Some clients I met there are now just incredibly huge companies who are doing entertainment around the world. And I think you don’t know who you’re going to bump into. You’ve just got to make sure that you’re presenting your positive, happy, good, self and reliable to work with. Because, trust me, the person you meet when you’re 17, you don’t know where they’re going to be in ten years.
They could be owning the biggest company on earth and you don’t know. And I just think it’s so important to make sure that any connections that you make, you try to keep them good. You try to keep a good connection with people, because you definitely meet people who you would never expect to see them again. But actually, they probably hire your services again in the future, or you might hire those. So it’s so key, I think, just absorb and learn everything you possibly can from people. And so important.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. So it’s not just about what you’re learning, it’s about the connections that you’re making along the way as well. That’s really important from asking for feedback and asking for support from people. What I wanted to ask is, what kind of support did you get along the way? So you spoke really highly of your kind of ex manager that really supported you into that role at a considerably young age to be in that role. What kind of things did they do to support you on that journey?
Mark Lofthouse: I think a lot of it was belief that actually they just believed in what I was doing. They believed that I could do that for the company and help them as well. And I think a lot of the time they mentor me. So actually, when I was designing things, when I was 19, 20, before I started getting more involved in it, I designed things a certain way, like, for example, a Halloween attraction, I’d be designing it and I’d think it was the most terrifying, scary thing ever. And it just wasn’t realistic and feasible to deliver at all. And actually, I learned so much from them putting a helping hand on my shoulder and guiding me through that process and going, “Actually, if you change this way, it’ll work, because this and this.”
And I think having that mentorship from people and it wasn’t just him. I’ve had it kind of through my life, and I know I’ve been fortunate to have that with people. But I think if you put yourself out there and say, “I need guidance, I need help,” the good people will come through and help you with it. And absolutely, I think we all work in this quite niche and small industry, and I know that there is competition for seeing companies, not a lot, but why not help people in need?
And I think we’ve got this new generation of amazing artists coming through the ranks at the moment who have got a really good tech mind as well. And I think we need to nurture what they have. They’ve got this mindset that a lot of us don’t have. We need to nurture that talent.
Mark Lofthouse: We need to grow with it and help them out because they’ll help us learn as well. I think it’s just this whole learning circle that you might be helping someone, you might be, I was getting help at a certain age, but actually, then when I started to go back to say, but why are you doing it that way? And I kind of questioned, then he learned from me that way as well. And I think it’s really key that actually it is a learning circle where if you question things as well, it really helps. And I think to kind of answer your question, I have been very fortunate.
I know that I’ve had this kind of support throughout my career with people in so many different wide variety of industry, but it’s about reaching out and connecting with them because how do they know that you need help? How do they know that you’re there? You can’t have this fear at all about connecting with people. And I’ve noticed, especially with on LinkedIn, people who are just coming out of university, people who are just going into university, they’ll reach out on LinkedIn and say, “Can I have help with this?”
Or “I didn’t really want to ask, but can we just have a call?” And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely, go for it.” Because I was in that position once and I think we all were. We’ve all had somebody who helps us in bad situations and I think we need to put that back out there because there’s this kind of disconnect at the moment and it needs to go. We all need to help each other as much as possible to navigate the murky waters that we’re currently in.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. You’ve just reminded me of something that we spoke about when Danielle and Ross from Drayton Manor were on a few episodes back in. Danielle, she was super focused and she always knew that she wanted to work in the attraction sector, but she told a story about how she just basically just connected with everyone and anyone and everyone that she thought she could on LinkedIn in that sector and just asked them, just ask them for support. ” “Can I come and do this for you? Can I come and do this? Or have you got any jobs? I’m really good at this. Help me.”
And I think that took me back a bit because I was like, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. But how many, I think she was 17 at the time. How many 17 year olds would do that now? How many of them would put themselves out there to actually do that? And I think it’s a good message to promote because somebody will help you. Of ten people that you contact, a couple of them will come back to you, right? That’s a really good response rate and you will get that next step further along towards what you’re trying to achieve.
Mark Lofthouse: What’s the worst that could happen? They ignore your message.
Kelly Molson: Exactly.
Mark Lofthouse: It’s not the end of the world. You want to see my LinkedIn. If I want to connect with someone, or if I want to find out something or see if there’s any collaboration efforts, I message every single person I want to connect with. Because why not? What is the worst that can happen? Someone’s going to go, “Not today”. Doesn’t affect me.
Kelly Molson: It’s what the platform’s for connecting and chatting? Yeah, I’ve just done exactly the same. So a couple of weeks ago, I sent out about 30 DMs to people, all people that I’m connected with, but we’ve just never spoken. And I’m like, “Why have we never spoken? We should like, let’s grab a virtual coffee.” I’ve got calls booked in with, like, 15 of those people. I mean, shout out to the other 15 people who have ignored me, but, you know, that’s fine. Like, what’s the worst that can happen? They don’t come back to you. People are busy, like, they’re not always going to respond, but you might just hear at the right time with the right person. I’ve got a brilliant oh, my God, I’ve got a brilliant case study of that.
So when we first started this podcast so we started this podcast in the middle of 2019. We did the first episode and that first season ran until, I think it was a thing, until the February March of 2020. And then were like, “Oh, my God, the world has ended. What is going on? Is anyone going to listen to a podcast without visitor attractions?” They’re all shut and I was like, “no, actually, do you know what? People need something now. They need something uplifting, actually. If I can get people on that are willing to talk about the exact experience that they’re going for, now, this is perfect, right? That’s going to help loads of people.”
And the people that I reached out to, genuinely, I was sending emails going, oh, God, I feel sick sending that email. They’re going to look at it and go, who the h*** are they? Like, why would I go on your podcast? Everybody said yes. Honestly, everybody said yes. I messaged Lee Cockerell, the Ex VP of Disney on LinkedIn, and said, “Listen, just massive fan. We’ve got this podcast. Would you be up for chatting on it? It would mean the world to us.” And he was like, “Yeah, absolutely.” I could not believe it. Couldn’t believe it. So you just take a chance.
Mark Lofthouse: Do you know what? I think the fear of the unknown is worse than the fear of clicking send on a message and you need to get over it. Everyone does. And I think I’ve been in that position. I was. Like, “Oh, my, I can’t connect with that. Imagine you’re at Disney.” That is, just say no. And I think putting yourself out there is so important.
I think there’s obviously little tips and tricks that you can do on LinkedIn, but I do think you just need to put yourself out there and I think people will more than likely help and I think everyone’s going to somewhere. And I think my advice for people starting in the industry wanting to get into it is connect with people, chat with people, ask for 10 or 15 minutes of their time.
It’s not a lot to jump on a call and if people say no, that’s absolutely fine, move on to somebody else. I’ll just do what we do and copy and paste the message and send it to loads of people. I’m joking. I don’t really do that.
Kelly Molson: I personalise all of my messages, Mark, thank you.
Mark Lofthouse: I do.
Kelly Molson: You’ve defined that you have 4 pillars that you think you need to succeed in the industry. And I really want to talk about this. So we’ve got mindset, hard work, creativity and feedback. And we’ve talked a little bit about feedback, but I do want to come circle back to that. Can you kind of just talk us through those four pillars and explain kind of what you mean about those and why they’re important for succeeding in a creative role in the theme park industry?
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ll start with mindset. Let’s face it, we’re kind of in a doom and gloom place at the moment, where you read the news, you’re in this dark place with the news, all you see online is social media, people representing themselves a certain way. You compare yourself to them. I think, especially in a creative world, you’ve got to take yourself out of your ordinary life, mindset wise.
So if you’re coming up with ideas, you’re coming up with creative concepts. Forget everything that you know, forget everything that is going on in the world and just put yourself out there with it. I think it’s so difficult as well. We all go through bad spells with our mental health, don’t we? You think, nothing’s getting done, I’m facing that brick wall. You will overcome it.
And I think it’s so easy, especially in the creative world, that when you get to a mental block, you can get really defeated by it. You think, I’m just not very good at this. I just don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t get over this. I’ve had it a couple of times with some storylines that I’ve been trying to write, some narratives that I’ve been trying to write, and it just won’t come out. I know what I want to get to, I know where I want to get to, I can’t get there. And then I had this kind of brainwave I used to get in really dark mindsets where I was thinking, “I’m not good at this anymore, I’m just going to give it up, I’m going to go, I’m working a supermarket, something, I just don’t want to do it anymore”.
Mark Lofthouse: And actually, I got into the mindset of, “Put it down, walk away, come back in ten minutes”. And it really helped me. And I know it sounds ridiculous, I know everyone’s going to be thinking, well, obviously, but when you’re especially when I was freelance, if I walked every ten minutes, I saw that as pound signs above my head, that was time gone, that was money wasted.
But I was probably losing more money sitting there getting aggravated at my computer, staring at a blank screen than what I would be if I come back in ten minutes, refreshed, had a drink, had something to eat, and I was in a better place. So I think from a mindset perspective, if you’re not feeling it that day, creative work, that’s fine, just do something else.
If you’re not feeling creative, why not start working on an Excel sheet? Because a lot of the time, I find specifically for me, if I’m not feeling creative, I need to do something operations wise, or I need to do something finance or something that separates, exactly that. And even if you’re literally doing something that is completely relevant, it’s not actually anything that you should be doing.
It really helps you separate yourself and then you get back straight into it. So I think from a mindset perspective, it’s to analyse where you are. If you’re not feeling it, go away for ten or 15 minutes, go back to it, otherwise you’re going to waste a lot more time by sitting there doing that. Does that make sense?
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. Great advice. Mine’s always just get outside. It feels like you get like that brain fog where you feel like nothing that you’re doing is heading you in the right direction that day. So mind is always like, yes, get away from the desk, stick your head outside, take the dog out for a walk. If you happen to have a dog and a cat.
Mark Lofthouse: That’s literally what I do. I’ve got a dog, I take him out for 5-10 minutes just around the block, or I get the lizard out and play with I’ll show you the lizard a bit, but I’ve got a lizard and I get him out and play with him in the front room. I just use something to separate myself. I know that sounds like euphemism. It is, genuinely. I’m just going to put that.
Kelly Molson: Pet podcast – we had Matthew on with Bug the Owl last week. Now we’ve got Mark and his bearded dragon. I’ve obviously put something out in the universe about guests with strange pets.
Mark Lofthouse: We need more animals in our lives. Don’t we need more animals?
Kelly Molson: I totally agree, Mark. Yeah, good one. I love that. Okay, so hard work. Next one.
Mark Lofthouse: It’s not easy if you want to get involved in the creative world, it is not easy. And I’m not going to sell this under any illusion that it’s an easy task to do. You’re going to sit in an office, draw a couple of bits, and then you go home and get paid a lot of money. That’s not how it works. I’m quite transparent as a person. I’m more than happy to tell people that because I think I was naive when I started, especially graphic design wise. I thought, it’s great. I can sit at home. I can just do a couple of designs per week, and I’m done. That’s not how it works. It really isn’t. And I learned that quite quickly.
And I think a lot of some people coming into this industry that I’ve met kind of are under either that illusion or under the mindset of, this would be great. I’m just going to be creative, and I’m going to have fun with work. Yes, it is fun, but there’s a lot of hard work you need to put in. I think when I was starting out especially, it’s really hard. You can prove that, you can write things. You can prove that you are good at customer service.
How do you prove that you’re creative? It’s a really hard one to do. And I think when I started this, I started originally when I was 15, 16, when I started putting myself out there a little bit. But when I was 16, I used to think, “oh, this is fine. People are just going to believe that I’ve created”. And it was a genuine mentality that went through my head. I was like, this is going to believe it. Yeah, this is going to know that isn’t the case at all.
And I think I had to put myself out there so much that I ended up doing fake case studies, not representing that they were real, but just to show what I could do. So I put together some propositions for attractions. I did a lot of concept artwork. I ended up spending so much time that I became a full time job for a little bit that I was just putting myself out there on a piece of paper, because how else are you going to get a buy in?
Mark Lofthouse: And I think that’s a lot of people kind of forget that with companies that they’re purchasing your services. It is a business transaction, in essence, as well. So they’ve got to believe that you can do what you can do. If you went to Pesco and it was an empty wrapper and you took it out and you just had to believe that there was a sandwich in that, for example. Doesn’t work that way, does it? You’ve got to prove that you can do what you can do. And my recommendation to anybody getting in it is spend time to work on your portfolio, spend time to work on creative concepts. Nobody might buy them.
I still, to this day, work on things what are just kind of a labour of love process, that I work on them because I like the idea, I want to get it out my brain, I want to get it on paper because you never know where it’s going to be. I had a couple of years back, I sold some skirma’s concepts to a client that I had when I was like 18 and it took that long for them to get signed off, but they’ve eventually they’ve happened and they’ve been produced. But my emphasis is expect to put a lot of work in to get where you want to because it’s not an easy process.
And I think a lot of universities, a lot of kind of educational programmes will kind of instil the mentality a little bit of when you leave here, it’ll be easy to get a job and you can do this, that and the other. Sometimes the harsh realities, that isn’t the case sometimes. You’ve still got to put the effort in, you got to work so hard to get yourself out there and prove that you can do what you can do. Otherwise it’s so hard, it’s competitive to make it. You’ve really got to put yourself out there and put the effort into it as well.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. There’s a big thing about being noticed as well. Earlier when I said about back when I was deciding what I wanted to do and do I go to university or just try and get a junior job? I went down the junior job route because just felt that suited me better at the time. But competition was still really high for junior jobs because you didn’t need the qualifications back then. They weren’t as rigid about needing a university qualification.
But then obviously the competition was a lot higher because there were more people going for those jobs and so you’ve had to put a lot of hard work in to even stand out in that part of the process, let alone like, what your portfolio looked like. Exactly like you, I spent so much time on my portfolio on projects that weren’t real because I had to prove that I could do that role. But the first part of it was actually getting the interview in the first place, so you had to put in a lot of hard work about how you were going to be noticed.
What did your CV look like? In the end, I’ll have to dig it out. I’ll put it on Twitter, but my CV was like I wanted to be a packaging designer, so my CV was like the little mini boxes of Kellogg’s, the special pack, what were they called? The pack that you get. So mine was one of those, but like the Special K, because obviously K for Kelly.
So I did this special K box that had all of my information on it, but in the style of this little box of cereal. And then I put some cereal in it, put my covering note in it and popped like a gift in it as well, which sounds great, but then I got a few messages from people going, “Yeah, that just got battered in the post. And basically we opened the box, broken bits of cornflake everywhere.” Okay. At least I made a statement right when you opened it.
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah, at least you got in touch. I think that’s such a key point, though, isn’t it? That actually, it’s so competitive nowadays and I think I really feel for people trying to get in it. Don’t get me wrong, I still find it difficult to kind of get some of them jobs off the line, or especially with the business creative as well.
There’s so many agencies that people are looking at using it’s competitive to get these jobs, isn’t it? We’re all after the same pot of money from a client. In essence, it is difficult. And like I said, under no illusions do I want to make it sound as though you can just get one of these jobs by people believing in you. I think it’s really key to put the effort in and I think it’ll help you as well develop as a person.
When you talk about interviews, this is a true thing. I used to do fake interviews, so I used to get people that either relatives or distant relatives. It wasn’t people that could throw me off or anything. I used to do fake interviews and things because how else are you going to get that experience? You can’t, and those little tiny things, just get in touch with someone and say, “Could you set up a fake interview with me and you and ask me questions?” Because it’s so different.
Being in a scenario where you’re faking it with friends and family, you’re having a bit of a laugh, but actually sitting there, having that meeting with somebody and having that interview is so difficult. It’s not a fun task, is it, for anyone? So I think even doing fake interviews with things like just relatives or people that you may just know of and things, it’s so important to get that experience because how else are you going to get it otherwise?
Kelly Molson: Yeah, that’s really good advice. Yes, good. What you said about all these things, it’s all about building your personal brand, is it? It’s all going into, like, how much effort you put in is what you’re going to get out of stuff. All right, cool. Third pillar, creativity. Obviously, if you are trying to develop a creative career in the theme park industry, you need to have a level of creativity about you. But what do you mean specifically about this pillar?
Mark Lofthouse: So, as you said, it’s quite a key one, isn’t it, to be a creative you need to have creativity. But I think what comes with it is exploration, research and doing so we can all have ideas. Every single person on Earth is creative to some extent. People can hone into that better than other people can, but everyone’s got creativity inside them. It’s so key to actually go and explore and do things and research and get other people’s opinion on your creativity. Because I think we’ve all been there, where we’ve gone, “Oh, this is brilliant, it’s a great idea”. And then someone else has looked at it and gone, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I don’t get it at all.
We’ve all been there and I think even I remember reading an article online and it was from an imagineer, and they were saying that actually sometimes that they’ve done it where they’ve gone, this is a brilliant idea. And all the team members have looked at it and gone, what on earth is that? I don’t understand it at all from guest perspective.
So in terms of creativity, it’s about honing the creative skills that you have listening to and it kind of leads us onto the next one. But I think listening to feedback, getting that influence from people, but also going visiting attractions, going visiting places, absorbing everything from your surroundings and taking home key aspects of what was exciting about that. So think of the horse racing, for example. What can you take home? How did that make you feel watching that?
Mark Lofthouse: What was it about the experience that excited you about it? Or equally, walking in a forest somewhere you feel a certain way and it’s really key to understand those feelings that you have and what causes them, because that helps your creativity along the line. So, like I said, we walk in the dog. I sometimes feel really calm and I don’t know why.
And then I’ll kind of try and work out why I feel so serene. I feel really calm because if you ever want to embrace that in any of your creative ideas going forward, how do you get that feeling across? So then I think it’s because I’ve just looked at this and it was brilliant. I’ve listened to this and it was the sound of birds and above and the leaves rustling together and you’ve got to absorb everything to be a creative.
I think you’ve got to just take inspiration from every single place that you can possibly get it from. And I think that’s what is about a pillar to being creative. It’s not to be ignorant and just believe in your creativity. You can always learn something, you can always get inspiration from other places. And it’s really key to remember that, to just remember to spend time to focus on why you feel a certain way. If you enjoyed something, why, what caused it, how long did it last for? Why are you wanting to feel that again? How can you do that for other people? And it’s just about creative owning on that creative. Does that make sense? It’s a little bit of a waffle book.
Kelly Molson: No, it’s brilliant advice. I totally get it. When you said about if you’re putting yourself into a certain state, that level of calmness, understand what it is that’s making that happen, because then you can apply that to the other experiences that you’re designing. That summed it up perfectly for me.
Mark Lofthouse: I think it truly is the only way you could do it. I think, as creatives admittedly, I’m the same. Sometimes I think, “oh, this is brilliant, I’m on a roll.” Now step away and come back and read what you’ve just wrote, because I’ve done it a couple of times. I look at it and go, “I haven’t even got a clue what I’m talking about here. What on earth? What is happening?” And then I’ve thought it’s because it’s got no feeling down. I’ve just been writing down an idea because it sounds good, but what would I feel like if I was stood there? What would I see? What would I do? What would I hear? What would I smell? And it’s really key to think about all that because then you can go, right, fundamentally, this is why that creative idea did not work, because it didn’t have any basis to work.
You’ve got to come up with all of these little idiosms and little ideas to think of why things have got to work in the future. But it’s so key as a creative, I think sometimes we can all rely on just our creative brains going, yeah, I know that works from the past and all this works from the past. Think of something fresh every time you do it. Think of a different approach and put that feeling in there as well.
Kelly Molson: And then our final pillar is feedback. So you touched on this a little bit earlier about asking for feedback. I think being open to the feedback that you receive is quite important as well. Right. I think there’s definitely well, I mean, maybe I don’t know. I don’t want to be generalist about this, but I think that there has been kind of two mindsets about graphic designers. You often come across some graphic designers and can be a bit precious about what they’ve done.
Like, we’ve all met them, Mark, many of them are my friends, and you spend an awful lot of time on some of these things. Sometimes you can be a bit precious about what you’ve done and you get some negative feedback on it and it can be soul crushing at the time. But I think you’ve got to be open to the feedback that you’re receiving because you can always make something better.
Mark Lofthouse: Absolutely. And like I said before, you can always learn from people as well. And it’s so kind of key to remember that. I think there’s two things, especially as a designer, you either go down the art route, where actually a lot of the work that you’re putting out there is just your personal work and you want to just share your creativity and your art.
In that case, you’ve got to remember that everyone has an opinion and they will earn it. That’s number one thing. And I think the second one, if you’re working for a client and a client comes back with feedback that you do not agree with, you’ve got to remember they’re paying you. At the end of the day, they’re the client. You might not agree with their comments, but you’ve got to take them on board.
And I think we’ve all been in that position doing commercial design, whether that is a themed attraction, themed experience, or whether that is a graphic design or art, whatever that may be, where we’ve got feedback and just looked at it and gone, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Which is fine. They’re not meant to.
They’re showing their opinion and saying, this doesn’t work for me because of this reason. And they might not have your background in graphic design, they might not have your background in themed attractions, that doesn’t mean their opinion is less valid than yours. And I think it’s so key. I went through a phase where any critical feedback I got, “I was like getting the hoof over it.” But you know what? It didn’t do me any well because I lost clients over it.
Mark Lofthouse: I have clients that I loved working with that wouldn’t use me again because of that phase that I went through. But I needed to go through that phase to get into the phase that I’m in now, which is take any feedback on board. That’s fine, take it on. Because everyone has an opinion. And actually, what some people bring back, even if they’re not qualified, so to speak, in what you do, I bet they’ve got some good ideas that actually you go, yeah, that’s really good to work with. I think one way I always work with clients to kind of assist from the feedback point of view. And I know the business creative do it really well. Is it a collaborative approach with working.
So at the beginning of the process, you will speak with a client and get their ideas on board at the beginning of it. And I think it’s really good because then you get the buy in from the client as well. They’ll say, “We like this colour, we like this design, we want this feeling from it.” But by doing that, you get the basis of the client working with you at the beginning and not you working for them. And it’s really key. I think creativity and collaboration go hand in hand.
You need to have that collaborative effort, otherwise it becomes a dictatorship of creative beliefs. And that’s not what anything should be. You should be working with a client on a collaborative level to say, “Yes, I’m working for you, but we’re working together to get this outcome and that’s where you need to be.”
Whether that’s graphic design, whatever is themed attraction, immersive experience. But by getting on board at the beginning of that process, you alleviate any of the pressure issues with the feedback along the way because you’re working with them to develop these concepts. And by doing that, you’re eradicating anything really contrasting towards the end of the project or any sign off periods that you have.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, great. Mark, great advice. I think we’ve all been in the position where we have taken some feedback from a client before and taken it away, probably pulled her hair out, felt like we wanted to argue, but then had a little word of ourselves and gone, “Okay, well, how can we work with that?” And it’s about evaluating every situation that you’re in where you’re receiving the feedback.
And like you say, there are going to be elements of the nuggets from that feedback that actually will be really positive and we should talk about. But I think there is what you said earlier is absolutely right. You do have to take a step back and go, the client is paying for this. Ultimately we are in a commercial contract here and so how far do you take it?
But I do think that there is always scope to push back if you genuinely think that the feedback that we received is going to have a negative impact on the outcome and the objectives that the client wants to achieve. So I think it is worth stating that, but you are absolutely right. There has been times in the past where you kind of forget that actually someone is paying for this and we really need to do the right thing here.
Mark Lofthouse: Like you said as well, I think that when I talk about the collaborative approach, obviously that isn’t just the beginning of a project that’s through it. And by collaboration that does mean pushing back on certain elements as well. And that is part of a collaborative team. You aren’t just say yes to everything, or no, full stop.
You work with a client to say, “Okay, I’ll get your idea, but how about if we did it this way instead?” So you still get your creative position in right? You still get the extent of what you want from a creative delivery, but the clients getting the product that they want and it’s so key to kind of work that way. I used to be kind of critical with feedback.
I used to, like I said at the beginning, think, “You don’t really know what you’re talking about. I know as a designer, I know what I’m doing. I’ve done this countless numbers of times. I know what I’m doing.” But sometimes people just need explanation as well as why have you come up with that. And sometimes you’ll read an email and emails are the devil’s work.
And I will always say that, because you read much more into an email than you should do. Everyone does it, but you’ll get feedback. And instead of looking at that and going, “Oh, what do they mean by that? Or is there any way that I can explain myself that you start to type back furiously”. Don’t do it. Always walk away from an email. And it’s only in probably the past year that I’ve started doing it more.
Mark Lofthouse:I’ll get an email, come through and I think, I don’t like the tone of that. I don’t like this, that the other. And then I got, right, walk away from it. I’ll come back and then go, “Actually, the tone is absolutely fine, I was overreacting.” Because you’re not prepared to get that email coming in.
So you’re always on the back foot, you’re always expecting the worst because you can never read what anyone’s going to say. So I think with that as well, if you get any sort of feedback along those lines, try and jump on a call, try and jump on a Zoom call, try and jump on a Team’s call, whatever that may be. Because seeing people’s facial reactions as well really helps in terms of understanding where they’re coming from with things.
And you can obviously explain it a lot better. But, yeah, in terms of feedback, make sure you’re getting the feedback, but also feeding back on that feedback to yourself to think, “Should I respond? Do I need to respond that way?” No, always have feedback on the feedback. That’s what I think.
Kelly Molson: I love it. And such good advice. Right, great. We’ve covered the four pillars. Mark, we’re coming towards the end of the podcast. I’ve got two more questions for you. One, other than email is the devil’s work, what would be the one piece of advice that you would like to share with anyone who really wants to start their creative career in theme park industry?
Mark Lofthouse: This one is a bit controversial, but never fall in love with an idea that you have. So I learned this a long time ago now, when I first started, especially Danny Scare Mazes and Halloween events, because it’s what I love. I absolutely adore into these type of events. I really fell in love with the ideas that I was creating and I just put my whole self into it and I thought, this is a brilliant idea. And some of the clients that I was working with didn’t think that. And it hit me hard, really hard. And I think you have to obviously believe in what you are putting forward.
I’m not saying that you’ve got to believe in the product that you’re positioning to a client, but do not fall in love with it where you can’t take this criticism on board because it hits you very hard. It’s. Like getting punched in your stomach, isn’t it, when you fall in love with an idea and then someone comes back going, “I really don’t like this.” And you’ve really got to assess yourself with it.
You’ve got to position yourself in terms of, yes, I believe in the product, but also it might not be right for other people because other people have different opinions, they see things from a different perspective. So I think, yeah, never fall in love with your own idea is probably a key one for me. And it’s something I’ve stuck with for years, since learning that lesson long time ago.
Kelly Molson: Learn it the hard way, Mark, but a good lesson to learn. Great, thank you. Right, we always end the podcast with a book that you’d love to share. So something that you love that you’re really happy to share with our audience. What have you got?
Mark Lofthouse: Yeah, so I’ve actually got it. I’ve got it behind me. I’ll move my head. But it’s the Immersive Storytelling book and I think it’s been covered by so many people, but it is brilliant. It’s written by an ex imagineer. I think, actually, she’s still a Disney imagineer named Margaret, and she walks you through her vision of how to tell a story correctly in terms of an immersive environment.
And it’s just so well done, because she doesn’t just say, it isn’t a case study, this is what I do, this is how I do it. Because you can’t do that storytellers, all tell stories in a different way. But what she does is tells you her philosophy of how to think about storytelling in an immersive environment. I literally got through neenoff the full book in an evening. It just engrossed me straight away.
It’s brilliantly written, really friendly approach to it, but I can’t recommend it enough. It’s called Immersive Storytelling. And it’s brilliant. I really recommend it to anyone.
Kelly Molson: Amazing. Great book. We have not had that one recommended on. We have some really good book recommendations recently. Listeners, as ever, if you want to be in for a chance of winning that book, if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words, I want Mark’s book, then we’ll put you in the draw and maybe you could be the lucky recipient of it. Mark, it’s been so good to chat today. Thank you. I feel like we’ve got a really similar background, so we should definitely chat again at some point about our horror stories of feedback and client feedback and falling in love with projects that clients should love and then they hate.
Mark Lofthouse: Thank you so much for having me on as well. I think it’s so good just to chat with people about what you do and about how you sort of think about things. I think we’re all guilty, aren’t we, of just going, “Oh, I work doing this and carrying on with it.” But it’s really nice, actually, sometimes just to open up about where you started and hear other people’s stories as well. So thank you so much for thinking of me and I really appreciate being on here as well.
Kelly Molson: No, you’re very welcome. It’s been a great chat and we’re going to put all of Mark’s contact details in the show notes, so if you want to have a chat with him about any aspect of this, which he’s really passionate to, talk about it. So if you’re starting out or you happen to be a client that’s looking for creative work, then you’ll be able to contact Mark with all of these details in the show notes. So thank you.
Mark Lofthouse: Thank you.
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