Excerpted from Chapter 21 of Inside the Disney Marketing Machine – in the Era of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, written by Lorraine Santoli, former Director of Corporate Synergy for The Walt Disney Company. The chapter is titled “Educating the Company About the Company.”
Despite its synergistic history, The Walt Disney Company, like most large corporations, certainly suffered a degree of divisional tunnel vision. Executives were fervently aware of the projects happening and in-development within their own business units, but how much did they really know about the goings-on and priorities in the other divisions?
At the time I started working in Synergy, I could not find one document that listed every business segment of The Walt Disney Company in one place. That sounds ridiculous, but back then it didn’t exist, at least not for the general rank-and-file of the company. I’m sure somewhere there was a corporate structure listing all working divisions, what divisions oversaw others, and so forth, but if it was there, it surely wasn’t obvious.
I hunted down information about every company business segment wherever I could find it, and was astonished that there were business units I had no idea existed. And if I didn’t know, neither did many others in my synergy database. How can anyone successfully win the game if they don’t even know every player on the field? I had to fix that, and quickly, if this synergy thing was going to work. I decided to devise another communications vehicle, this time with an educational slant.
I had a small staff of four people at the time and we all put our heads together to figure out the best way to familiarize those in our synergy database with every business segment in the company. We not only wanted to illustrate the structure of the overall organization to them, but also provide an understanding of each division’s mission. Of course, everyone was keenly aware of the key business drivers in the Disney organization—Film and TV, Theme Parks, and Consumer Products, for example. But there were many smaller divisions that were important cogs in the Disney wheel that needed to be recognized as well. All internal marketers needed to understand the big picture first before diving in to see how we could weave cross-promotional opportunities throughout all company businesses, not just the obvious ones.
We might have just put together a list or chart outlining all the divisions, which ones reported to others, etc., but that felt very boring; something no one would read and something to be filed away for another day. No, we were all creative marketing folks, surely there was a better way…a Disney way. After a few brainstorming sessions with my team, what we decided to do was create a pocket-sized printed booklet (slickly designed, I might add!) that featured a paragraph or two about every company business segment, dividing each within its proper structure within the organization. We started by placing the synergy logo on the cover page. That was important to emphasize our branded identity so everyone would know who created what ultimately became a valuable informational resource.
Then we titled the booklet, The Walt Disney Company OVERVIEW. An important decision was made as to who would write the paragraph or two that described the mission of each division. I could have used the information I had pulled together myself, but I sensed the material should rightly come from the source, not from my pen. Therefore, I asked a key person in each division that was part of my database to please provide a mission statement describing their business unit so that each section came straight from the horse’s mouth, not through my filter. Since it was a relatively simple task, the information began to flow into my office.
That brings up another important factor when practicing synergy and attempting to lead others down the same path. While my department was the communications hub for all the spokes in the Disney synergy wheel, we never presumed to know more about any business unit than those who worked within those units. After all, no Disney business segment reported to Corporate Synergy. We could tell no business what to do or how to do it when it came to applying a synergy component to their marketing plans. We had to move the process along using motivation, education, communication, and relationship building, to grease the synergy wheels.
My department’s role was to maintain a “big picture” focus, communicating and reporting on the key priorities. It did not mean getting involved in anyone’s business; they are making the decisions, we were only providingthe stimulus. We nudged, but never pushed. As a department, we also needed to remain neutral in our dealings with all company segments, so as not be viewed as favoring just larger Disney businesses, despite that it was those business segments which, for the most part, drove the company marketing train. We positioned ourselves to be a neutral zone, kind of like Switzerland. In that regard, we worked very hard to provide every business unit, big and small, with the same respect and attention. While the big guns often led the parade, the smaller business units had much to add to internal cross-promotions, even if it was just adding a packaging “burst” supporting the bigger project. Like a puzzle, every piece contributes to the whole…that’s the idea.
Once compiled, The Walt Disney OVERVIEW booklet contained everything needed to provide a good “big picture” view of the organization and all its diversified parts. The following is a sample of how the information was arranged based on the hierarchical structure of The Walt Disney Company in the early 1990s. All caps words indicate the overarching business division under which its reporting business units are listed. To best illustrate how this booklet was arranged, I’ve included the brief mission statements of the first few units that fell under The Walt Disney Studios’ banner at that time.
THE WALT DISNEY STUDIOS—Theatrical Motion Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Motion pictures released under the “Walt Disney Pictures” label represent all Disney animated films as well as those live-action features that are G-rated and traditionally marketed to families and young children. Recent Walt Disney Pictures releases include White Fang, The Rocketeer, and Beauty and the Beast.
Touchstone Pictures was created in 1984 to enable Disney to release features that are PG, PG-13 or R rated, with a more broad-based audience appeal. Recent releases from Touchstone Pictures include Pretty Woman, What About Bob?, and Father of the Bride.
Hollywood Pictures was established in 1987 to broaden the base of film releases from Disney. Recent releases include The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Medicine Man.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution handles the distribution of motion-picture releases for Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, and Hollywood Pictures.
Buena Vista Pictures Marketing
Buena Vista Pictures Marketing handles the marketing of motion-picture releases for Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, and Hollywood Pictures.
Producing animation for all Disney animated films and featurettes, the Animation Division of The Walt Disney Company has long been considered the entertainment industry leader in quality animation. To date, Disney has produced 30 full-length animated feature films, from the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Beauty and the Beast (1991). The newest full-length animated feature, set for a Christmas 1992 release, will be Aladdin.
To further enhance the layout of the booklet, we included logos for every division and, adding yet another dimension, we included sidebars on each page highlighting fun facts about the business units on that page. Some of the tidbits we included were placed on the appropriate pages to align with the proper business units. A few interesting sidebar pieces shown in the booklet:
Through the years Walt Disney Pictures has been nominated for dozens of Academy Awards, winning a total of 66 competitive and special awards [up until that time].
Walt Disney’s first foray into series television, Disneyland, was aired under various titles for over thirty years, making it one of the longest-running television series in the history of the medium.
In just 50 days, Fantasia became the #1 selling video of all time in North America, with total sales of 14,169,148 videocassettes and a record-breaking LaserDisc sale of 225,000 units.
The Ingersoll Waterbury Company, makers of timepieces since 1856, had been pushed close to bankruptcy in the early 1930s when the firm was licensed to manufacture Mickey Mouse watches. Two-and-one-half-million Mickey Mouse watches were sold in two years.
The horses on Disneyland’s King Arthur Carrousel are 90–110 years old and are classic hand-carved and hand-painted mounts, with no two horses exactly alike.
Disneyland guests buy in one year 4 million hamburgers, 1.6 million hot dogs, 3.4 million orders of fries, 3.2 million boxes of popcorn, 3.2 million servings of ice cream, and 1.2 gallons of soft drinks.
At the peak of construction in 1970, Walt Disney World was the largest private construction project in the United States. Fifty-four million cubic feet of earth were moved to construct EPCOT Center.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort is the only hotel in the world to have a monorail run directly through its cavernous lobby concourse.
The OVERVIEW booklet was compact (7”x4”), easy to carry around, and totaled just 23 short pages. But before going to print we had one more fun factor to add that was the icing on the booklet cake. It covered the entire inside back cover and, after reading about the mission and fun facts described within, it further underscored the amazing scope of The Walt Disney Company. The inside back page was devised and written by Jeff Kurtti, a member of the Corporate Synergy staff at the time. Featured was a screened-back image of Mary Poppins holding a spoonful of sugar taken from the movie and covering the entire inside back page.
Every item listed below emanated from a Walt Disney Company division. The text, layered over the Poppins image, read as follows:
A DISNEY “OUT-SICK” DAY
If you have to be out sick…once every ten years or so…
Of course, a loyal Disney employee (or just-plain Disney fanatic) wouldn’t let something as trivial as a cold or 24-hour flu keep them from expanding their Disney horizons. Even as you lie around thehouse, there’s plenty of Disney to keep you occupied:
8:00 am: Call your office—it’s the right thing to do. Stay warm. Drink plenty of liquids. Curl up under your favorite comforter.
9:00 am: LIVE! with Regis and Kathie Lee. Light, fun, and entertaining. Just what the doctor ordered in terms of get-well distraction.
10:00 am: A good mystery book can really help you relax. Try Hyperion’s A Stained White Radiance, by James Lee Burke. Intrigue and politics!
12:00 pm: Eat something. Chicken soup is everything it’s claimed to be, recovery-wise. Skim through Discover magazine during lunch. Or how about Family Fun magazine? Disney Adventures? Okay, try Disney comics, they always make you feel better.
1:00 pm: Shouldn’t you take a nap about now? If not, there’s plenty of video to keep you occupied. Given your current health, how about The Doctor from Touchstone Home Video?
3:00 pm: The Disney Afternoon. Two hours of Disney cartoon entertainment. Plenty of yuks for grown-ups too.
5:00 pm: Go to The Disney Channel in search of youthful energy. It’s Kids Incorporated, followed by the Mickey Mouse Club. M—I—C, see ya real soon…
6:00 pm: Syndicated rebroadcast of Golden Girls. Those gals are a hoot, and laughter is the best medicine.
6:30 pm: You’ve been watching too much TV! The soundtrack to Beauty and the Beast is an entertainment in itself (and platinum, too!). Eat something light and healthy.
7:30 pm: Feeling a lot better, aren’t you? Chances are, there’s a movie theater a few minutes away. Why not see that new Buena Vista release (consider it research). If you haven’t quite recovered, then stay home and plan that vacation you’ve been putting off. The sun never sets on a Disney theme park, you know. Hmmm. Tokyo or Paris, central Florida, or maybe Anaheim. Remember all the employee discounts!
9:00 pm: A good contemporary film, a concert, an undiscovered gem, or a Hollywood classic. Turn The Disney Channel back on; it’s Disney Night Time.
11:00 pm: Isn’t it way past your bedtime? Don’t you have to work tomorrow? Sweet dreams (Unplug the phone.)
The Walt Disney Company OVERVIEW booklet, branded with the Corporate Synergy logo, was a huge success with all the executives in our database, including top company management. We even received a note from Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg remarking how much he loved it and how he was going to carry it around in his pocket. He said it was a keeper.
Today, the booklet would be available online through a corporate intranet and as a proprietary company app for mobile phones. Although the content was targeted to Marketing personnel, making it available to all employees is a good idea. The lesson I learned from creating this piece — sharing good information, with an added dash of creativity, opens communication pathways.
Lorraine Santoli creates Company Overview written packages for organizations of all sizes. If you are interested in having her produce a polished, well-written information piece for your company intranet, please contact Santoli via email at Lsantoli@me.com.
Read Santoli’s latest book, Inside the Disney Marketing Machine – in the Era of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. It’s an “E” ticket ride!