The right fit for Christmas: insights into the modern professional Santa
Think of your biggest recruitment challenge this year. Then try to imagine what it would be like to source hundreds of staff in different locations across Australia, all with a cheerful, happy disposition and a willingness to get into costume to perform the same role. Meet the professional Santa industry.
Many parents these days want to get a perfect glossy picture of their special ones on Santa’s knee to proudly share with family or post to Facebook or Instagram, and every shopping centre wants in on the action. Plus, we all love Santa with his jolly outlook, fun red outfit and Christmas cheer—so it’s no surprise that Santas are in high demand.
According to Michelle Drinnan, the director of Entertainment Australia which runs the popular Book A Santa business, there’s also much more to Santa than simply donning the red suit. Qualities that are essential in a Santa include reliability, a jolly happy nature, being good with kids and generally really enjoying Christmas and the magic of Santa.
Sourcing top notch Santas at this time of year isn’t always easy—Book A Santa has around 500 Santas across the country and is always in need of more.
“Santa is a very popular man, and it can be difficult [to source a good Santa] depending on the date and location,” Michelle says. “Sydney and Perth are difficult places to find high quality reliable available Santas, and particular dates such as the weekend before Christmas are especially busy.”
Sourcing Santas for regional areas comes with its own unique demands. “Some regional areas can be difficult if they are fly-in fly-out regions, as men may not be physically in town every weekend. Regional country towns tend to have reliable gentlemen though, so once we find a Santa in those areas, they tend to stay for years.”
“Regional country towns tend to have reliable gentlemen… so once we find a Santa in those areas, they tend to stay for years.”
The business has supplied Santas for locations as far afield as Port Hedland, Karratha, Emerald in Queensland, Cairns, Kalgoorlie, and even a recent shopping centre stint in Singapore.
Melbourne-based Colin Donald is no stranger to the Santa role, and is in his third year of putting on the red suit.
For Colin, the decision to start being Santa was about finding casual work that would suit his skills at his point in life. “I thought, ‘this could work for me’,” Colin says. “And I’ve found I love it to bits.”
When asked what skills and attributes someone needs to be a successful Santa, Colin’s response is “enthusiasm for the role. Listening and being able to react to what you hear while staying in character.”
“It’s more than asking what they want for Christmas,” Colin says. “Find out about their favourite sports, what their school is like. What are the names of their pets? What are they looking forward to in the holidays?”
“It’s more than asking what they want for Christmas. Find out about their favourite sports, what their school is like.”
Book A Santa offers Santa training that covers things like the history of Santa and health and safety, and Colin says that it pays to update your knowledge each year to ensure you have the edge.
“Because of the long breaks between Christmases I find it helpful to refresh on some general Santa knowledge,” Colin says. “I look at toy catalogues occasionally to see what’s on the market, but some general rules cover most situations”—scooters, lego, things that tie in with popular animated or superhero movies, and electronic devices are always a safe bet.
Colin has had many different vocations in his lifetime, but he has been an actor for over 20 years. He finds that Santa is a great character to be “because there are always little things you can add to a long and rich tradition”.
As an actor, Colin is an exception to the rule. “Most Santas are retirees or pensioners,” Michelle says. “They have normal work during the year, or are retired and just work Santa at the end of the year. Generally we hire an older generation who don’t perform year round. Most of our Santas don’t classify themselves as a performer, but someone who truly enjoys the spirit of Christmas and the joy playing Santa gives.”
And the best part about being Santa?
“The absolute best is to be handed a tiny baby for their first ever photo with Santa,” Colin says. “I’ve had the pleasure of welcoming little bundles—maybe just a few days old—into the world.”
Are you experiencing your own recruitment challenge, or do you need to find staff who are the right fit for your business? jobactive can help—get in touch with your local jobactive provider to discuss your needs.