INSIDE THE DISNEY MARKETING MACHINE

Complete Book Introduction
Author – Lorraine Santoli

For years I’ve heard from people who have wondered what it was like to be employed by The Walt Disney Company, especially from a marketing perspective since the organization had always been lauded for its genius in that discipline. Having worked inside the Disney marketing machine for over two decades, from 1978 to 2000, I decided to share my experiences through this book. It is part memoir, part “take-a-lesson,” and will provide a peek into what goes on behind the marketing doors of the Mouse House, specifically during my tenure.

Marketing is defined by The American Marketing Association as the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. It is an umbrella term under which Advertising, Publicity and Promotions reside. My perspective in writing this book is derived from my personal experiences working in marketing positions both at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California (home of Disney filmmaking and the global headquarters for The Walt Disney Company) and at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

My Disney adventure started back in February 1978 when I relocated from New York City to Los Angeles on a whim after a decade-long career at NBC where I was headquartered at 30 Rock, an address quite well known today from the TV series of the same name. There, I worked my way up from secretary to Sam Tuchman, PhD, a TV research analysis executive (and my first mentor), to media analyst to cameraperson becoming a crew member on such TV shows as “The Today Show,” “Saturday Night Live,” and an early Barbara Walters syndicated talk show called, “Not For Women Only.”

But I was ready for a new adventure. I wanted to write for television and Los Angeles was my target. Fortunately, I had an NBC co-worker, my good friend Suzy Hey, who was also ready for a change, so we packed up my car and headed west. Neither of us knew a soul in California. What we did know was that we both needed to get a job as quickly as possible once we arrived.

We settled in what was then the sleepy town of Burbank, renting a beautiful two bedroom furnished apartment with a full spectrum of amenities including a pool, tennis courts, and game rooms. Having been born and bred in Brooklyn, New York, it was like I died and went to heaven. But to maintain my new L.A. lifestyle, job-hunting was a number one priority.

Two weeks into my arrival I was well into applying for jobs all over town, mostly at TV stations. Then one day I came upon the Walt Disney Studios, also located in Burbank. Who knew? The only clue that this was Disney was a small sign affixed to chain link fence at the Studio entry that read: Walt Disney Productions (the name was changed to The Walt Disney Company in 1986). Might as well put in an application there too, I thought. I was hired that day.

Like most everyone, I grew up with Disney. I faithfully watched the “Mickey Mouse Club” as a child and I too wanted to be a Mouseketeer. I was also glued to the TV screen watching the weekly “Disneyland” show, especially enjoying Walt Disney’s glimpses into a new entertainment complex he was building in Anaheim, California, called Disneyland. And, of course, I enjoyed Disney animated and live-action films. While I was a Disney kid, I never specifically had my sights set on working for the company. But here I was, having been hired as an assistant in the market research area of the Publicity Department. I knew little about marketing, but what an education was ahead.

My tenure at Disney would span 22 years. In my journey, I first served as an assistant in TPP-DfDthe Publicity Department at the Walt Disney Studios, moved up to become a publicist in TV and Film Publicity, relocated to Disneyland Resort as Supervisor of Publicity and returned to the Studio as Manager of Corporate Marketing and finally Director of Corporate Synergy in my final decade with the company. I lived deep inside the Disney marketing machine from day one to my final exit.

Part One of this book, “Marketing Outside the Company,” explores my early forays into that specialty for several years before Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over the reins of the company. The book then moves forward with a dive deep into a new world of hyper-marketing when they came on board.

Part Two, “Marketing Inside the Company,” will shine a light on the amazing revitalization of The Walt Disney Company under their leadership. The story will focus on how they brought a new energy to Disney marketing by incorporating a company-wide synergy strategy to make the most of every corporate asset. Synergy, of course, underscored an organizational “working together” mindset that would cross-divisional lines and eradicate silo-based thinking. It was a concept that was initiated by Walt Disney many decades ago.

From 1990 to 2000 I lived in the heart of the Disney synergy machine while in the position of Director of Corporate Synergy. How the synergy team so successfully fostered that concept throughout the company, an often-asked question, will be brought to the forefront. Read carefully, it works!

Michael Eisner once explained, “We insisted that each division help the other fellow. For the Disney company, ‘Help the other fellow’ meant the movie division would create a film…that could become a theme park ride or attraction…that could become a consumer product…that could become a television show…that could become a film sequel…that could become a cable show…that could become an international attraction…that could be become a musical on Broadway . . . it goes on and on. But to accomplish that,” he continued, “everybody had to cooperate with each other, with no place for jealousy, and no competition between divisions. That’s an unlikely reality in corporate America. But at Disney, we worked things differently.” Indeed we did.

And, at that time, we did so without the power of the technology that exists today. We were not yet living in a digital world; we were just getting used to utilizing computers and mobile phones. Today, the masses seemingly believe that we need to know everything about everybody and we need to know it right now. Social media websites are the binoculars through which we peer into people’s daily lives. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and more, provide the landscape for sharing even the most intimate details of one’s life. But while the social arena thrives on connection, the business environment, where collaboration and information sharing is vital to profitability, is often not optimized. It’s like leaving money on the floor.

On social media platforms, people now let it all hang out. Perhaps it’s an ego inflator, the ultimate selfie or an emphatic shout-out to others to “notice me!” In any case, we can easily find out where our friends are at any given moment, learn what they like to eat and where they like to eat it, what their favorite TV shows are, the kind of music they listen to, how many times their baby cried last night, what they thought about a new movie and anything and everything that anyone cares to discuss.

The digital devices we use to get connected – mobile phones, computers, tablets, and now even wrist watches – make it all possible at lightning speed whether through the use of email, texting or visually through photos and video. It’s instantaneous communication all the time. Is there an advantage to being connected 24/7? From a social perspective having hundreds of friends worldwide can be informative and entertaining, although one must always be mindful of the Internet’s darker side and tread carefully. However, if you need a new car, you can just poll your friends and get feedback; if you need a recommendation for a good plumber, you just need to put the word out; or if you’re seeking a new pet, just ask.

Michael Eisner and Frank Wells knew that communication and connection were the keys to elevating The Walt Disney Company to a new level. They led a synergy charge that brought explosive growth, phenomenal success and skyrocketing profits to Disney. Incorporating synergy into every corner of the corporation played a significant role in reaching those heights. In doing so, The Walt Disney Company became a well-oiled marketing machine where no stone remained unturned when it came to fostering internal cross promotion on priority projects.

In the process of compiling Inside the Disney Marketing Machine, I had the opportunity to interview many former and current Disney executives with whom I worked during my time at the company. Although I have shined a light on those colleagues, certainly many, many, more were instrumental in Disney’s success. We were all a team.

Today The Walt Disney Company is the number one entertainment company in the world, employing vastly different strategies, tactics and marketing approaches to energize the organization. The synergy processes and programs put into place during my tenure at the company and described in this book, have long since been changed, and rightfully so, with current top management having successfully guided the company into the 21st century.

In that regard, this book is written from a historical perspective covering marketing milestones during the tenure of the “dream team” of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. It was a special moment in time when all the stars seemed to be perfectly aligned and everything turned to gold.

Marketing then was, in Disney jargon, an “E” ticket. (The phrase “E ticket” refers to the admission ticket system used at Disney theme parks before 1982 where the “E” ticket admitted the bearer to the newest and most advanced rides.)

Eisner and Wells charted a new course that reawakened and renewed the sleeping giant that was The Walt Disney Company in the mid-eighties and 90s. That’s what this book is about. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Lorraine Santoli

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