Countdown to Christmas: Day 18 – Disney Secrets

Today’s guest article as part of my Advent series is one of my favourite from this year. I published it in January to take a look at Disney’s secrets and what comms pros could learn.

It was written by Wendy Jordan and I’ve saved it for this close to Christmas as you’re no doubt starting to make plans for the New Year. Enjoy!

Disney’s secrets revealed for comms pros

Corporate communication is not a Mickey Mouse game full of Goofy campaigns, but it does have Cinderella moments. Done well, it can create magical fairytale experiences that inspire, entertain and inform your employees.

Enough Disney puns for one sentence?…

Through this article you will discover some of the secrets behind Disney’s success and what comms pros can learn from it including: communicating with heart, the importance of focused attention and seamless experiences.

Wendy JordanTo share the secrets, I’d like to introduce Wendy Jordan, @Wednesday_IC, (pictured), Group Communications Office for Wheatley Group, Scotland’s leading housing, care and community regeneration group. Over to you Wendy…

Disney’s secrets revealed for comms pros

I spent New Year’s eve (Hogmanay) and New Year’s day in Disneyland Paris with my six year old son, Bobby.

Apart from being magical, breathtaking and fun (which you would expect), it was also a fantastic lesson in communication, branding and attention to detail. Here’s why. 

First impressions

Disneyland ParisIt Disney take much to impress a six year old, however I am considerably more world-weary and pride myself on remaining unmoved, even by the most manipulative of marketing.

But the walk down ‘High Street USA’ towards Sleeping Beauty’s castle was magical. Here’s the thing – I knew what I was going to see. I’ve seen it at the start of every Disney film. But there it was. And it was spectacular.

I think I was expecting a plastic fairground castle in ice cream colours. Instead I got a fairytale castle, made with extreme care, using talented craftsmen, lit up with thousands of sparkling, glittering lights, lasers and projections. I was bowled over.

Lessons: Just because your audience knows what they’re getting, doesn’t mean you get lazy with the presentation! A little bit of work can delight your audience and a delighted audience will share their experience.

First impressions count.

Communicating with heart

I believe in communicating with heart. I believe in helping my audience to feel the message as well as read it. I want my audience/colleagues to feel valued and cared for. I got that and more at Disneyland.

I was expecting to meet bored actors in animal suits and tired customer-facing staff – I was so wrong.

Disneyland ParisIt started with the exceptional kindness of the very busy reception staff at our two-star Disney hotel (single mum budget). They were so inclusive, informative and helpful. But! It was Mickey himself that blew me away.

I’d booked a character breakfast at Club Mickey for my son on New Year’s Day. We met Mickey, Gepetto, Chip n Dale and Eeyore. I watched them work the room for hours.

Everyone got complete, focused attention. Every child got a huge, genuine, warm hug. So did I. (Poor Eeyore). It felt so nice. When I thanked Mickey for his time and he patted me on the shoulder and then hugged me, I walked away feeling warm and goofy.

Lessons: Don’t be scared to show you care. Genuine emotion in communication can help your audience feel more at ease, more included and more inclined to give more in response.

And finally

Attention to detail and the quality product

Ok, yes, I admit, I spent a lot of time at Disneyland waiting in queues, but it didn’t matter. Every ride was crafted with absolute attention to detail – they were works of art. And the place where you spent most time – the queues – were fun.

Toy soldiers at Disneyland ParisNote the life-sized plastic soldiers and cartoons in the queuing area at the parachute jump ride (pictured).

The mining machinery at Big Thunder Mountain. The talking Buzz Lightyear in Discoveryland. The waiting time passed so fast. And elsewhere, the toilets at Club Mickey with their Mickey Mouse light shades, my hotel room with its wild west themed lights, carpet, lamp, curtains… The colour coded concrete pathways. The square trees. The absolutely perfect sound system throughout the park.

It all came together to create a seamless experience.

Lessons: People do notice the little details, so put your back into your work, make everything count.

If my organisation provides me with a quality product – whether that’s a staff newsletter, a nice workspace, a great intranet or a quality uniform – I feel more valued.

You spend around 8 – 10 hours at work per day, your surroundings really matter. I’m very lucky to work for Wheatley Group, where our office reflects our values, where the décor is on brand and we keep mess to a minimum – I like coming to work.

The Disney Corporation really know how to make their customers feel amazing, they made New Year unforgettable for my son and me. And I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to them for beating their intranet in the 2012 Ragan Employee Communications Award. (I believe that’s called a humble brag!)

Post author: Wendy Jordan.

Thank you Wendy, I really enjoyed your article and sounds like you had a fantastic time.

Wendy and I have known each other via social networks for a number of years, but I had the pleasure of meeting her in person last year when she spoke at a session I chaired for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations annual internal communications conference.

Further reading about Disney’s communications

Where to find them
If you want to read more about Disney, see their blog and their social media index to discover where their brands are online.

Working in the Comms team at Disney
Like to work for Disney? They are currently recruiting for a number of Communication and PR jobs in the US and UK. Find them here.

Vintage employee handbook
RopesHave you seen their internal employee handbook from 1943? It’s called The Ropes at Disney and is a fascinating read. The whole document is available via Google docs. It was reportedly “An effort to reconcile the need for organisational order with Disney’s effort to craft an image of an informal, irreverent, fun employer who seeks to “maintain a friendly relationship between Company and employee.”

How Disney communicates internally
According to this article by Jeff Kober, Disney’s internal communication focuses on ‘Eyes and Ears’ – he writes:

“If you are a current or former Walt Disney World cast member, then you know what is meant by the term “Eyes and Ears.” It’s a reference to probably one of the most successful internal corporate communications vehicles ever created.

So often in my visits with different companies, the No. 1 issue that comes up among employees is the lack of communications internally. Walt Disney World understands this. With more than 60,000 cast members, the largest single-site employer has the herculean challenge of keeping their employees informed and up-to-date with what is going on. The answer to doing so is to provide as many forms of communication. That includes the following:

  1. Intranet 
  2. Backstage communication bulletin boards
  3. Backstage communications centers
  4. Cast previews of attractions
  5. Email
  6. “That’s a Fact” Pocket Guides
  7. Brochures
  8. Wallet cards
  9. Backstage Radio & TV

Plus these additional channels:

  1. Newsreel (Corporate newsletter in Burbank)
  2. Disneyland Resort Line
  3. Disneyland Paris Backstage
  4. Disney Cruise Line’s Oars & Ears
  5. Hong Kong Disneyland Resort’s The Magic Post

DisneyI had a quick look on eBay and there are lots of Eyes & Ears memorabilia on there (including the pin badge pictured). Would your internal comms generate so much interest years later?

If a member of the Disney team would like to share their story into the importance they place on corporate communication, I’d be happy to feature it. Do please get in touch.

I’d love to know your feedback on Wendy’s article. As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.


First published on All Things IC blog January 2014. Republished December 2014.

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