Synergy is the business buzzword that everyone loves to hate. The concept according to Webster: “Tits ut does anyone really know what that means?
The idea of synergy as a tangible process in business has had little bite over the years although it’s bark has been heard in conference rooms across the globe. The Walt Disney Company, where I held the position of Director of Corporate Synergy for a decade was perhaps the only company in corporate America that took synergy seriously, particularly in the ’80s and ’90s. So seriously in fact that Michael Eisner, then CEO of the company, put a Corporate Synergy department in place to specifically focus on breaking down silos, fostering cross-divisional relationship building, and keeping over sixty independent business segments on the same page when it came to overall company priorities.
After conceptualizing several possible methodologies to achieve that goal, the final program was formed by incorporating three basic foundational strategies – communication, education, and motivation – into messaging, materials, meetings, hands-on experiences, and a corporate synergy intranet, among others. The cross-divisional coalition took final form when selected marketing executives, one chosen in every Disney business, were named as key synergy representatives for their divisions. Over time, Disney became a well-oiled synergy machine and was anything but “mickey mouse” when it came to using synergy to market its films, theme parks, TV shows, and so much more.
In fact, Michael Eisner’s clear understanding of how synergy could be used to boost corporate profits didn’t start with him but rather the company founder himself – Walt Disney. Almost three-quarters of a century ago he realized the benefit of using his individual business segments to cross-promote a root project. In 1937, he was the first Hollywood producer to create product in conjunction with the release of a motion picture – the world’s first fully animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Until that time, it had never been done. In 1958, The Wall Street Journal headlined the story, “Walt Disney’s Formula for Success: Dream, Diversify, and Never Miss an Angle” further identifying a mass of zig-zag cross-divisional lines from one business to another in the marketing of “Sleeping Beauty.” And so it continued, on an on, bigger and bigger as the company expanded. A genius indeed who understood the power of synergy.
I contend that organizations of all stripes (healthcare, finance, technology, education, non-profits, etc.) across corporate America, even those that are highly successful, could dramatically elevate their profits by implementing a carefully crafted synergy program that lends itself specifically to their business culture. It is marketing to a higher power, the icing on the cake, the secret ingredient that lifts any given project to new profit boosting levels. And importantly, the right-hand will always know what the left-hand is doing throughout the organization.
But just how does a synergy program get business “A” to talk to business segment “B,” “C,” and so on on a particular organizational priority? As mentioned above, primarily through tactics related to communication, education and motivation that are incorporated into a strategic program, structured to a specific corporate culture, that touches every corner of an organization. The fact is, having ALL hands on deck opens the door to more ideas, brand expansion, internal cross-promotion, an invigorated sense of teamwork, and higher earnings.
Another way to look at synergy is how it affects marketing outside the confines of an individual business. Today’s 21st century marketers use the concept every day to multiply their messages and have synergy down to a science even though they may not recognize that they are basing their strategies on that ideaology.
For example, on March 2, 2016, NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart, Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned from an out-of-this-world one-year space mission aimed to test the limits of human endurance in space. NASA created the hashtag #AYearInSpace, and the one-of-a-kind mission took off with millions of spectators following the year-long adventure. Astronaut Kelly constantly tweeted, posted content on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook (including Facebook Live Sessions), and SnapChat.
While tumbling around in zero gravity, Astronaut Kelly even hosted an a session on Reddit. Through an active and phenomenal presence on social media, NASA not only kept spectators posted, but garnered thousands of new followers, and spread awareness. By the end of the trip, the organization had also generated a deeper interest among the public about the science of space and the organization’s missions. Connecting the root project – the one-year-in-space mission – to all the branches of the social media tree (much like internally connecting all divisions of a company to a singular project)…that is synergy too.
While using social media as a synergy process to the outside world is common, few (if any) organizations institute a tangible, targeted, synergy program inside their organizations that could propel the potential of every single priority activity to elevated revenues. For me, having worked every synergy angle on a particular project through Disney’s myriad divisions, it’s like leaving money on the table.
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About the Author: Lorraine Santoli has established herself as corporate America’s singular expert on the topic of synergy having created the first internal silo-busting synergy program at The Walt Disney Company. A public speaker and lecturer on the topic, Santoli is the also author of the book, “Inside the Disney Marketing Machine,” (among four published books), a behind-the-scenes look at how the synergy program was developed and implemented to great success inside the entertainment juggernaut.