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Disney's Duncan Wardle and the Future of Public Relations

Posted by Media Relations on Monday, April 7th, 2008 - 1 Comment »

Morning Session 015

“The Future of PR: How New Technologies Will Transform the Way We Communicate

Duncan Wardle, VP of Global Pr for Disney Parks begins with a classic “Googlezon” 7 minute video (EPIC 2014) laying the groundwork for the death of “the fourth estate”. In the news (Google-run) future, media has ceased to be about reporting or news, and has become simply a collection of information. It’s an interesting (albeit histrionic) warning, and one that is all the more relevant in light of Charlie Rose’s admonition about ethics and authenticity. The video concludes with a world in which all news has been reduced to mere trivia.

Morning Session 014

As we engage social media, media relations folks are taking a larger role in crafting the message. The very credibility that makes earned media so valuable is potentially, as Ms. Shapiro would say, “up for grabs”. At a meetup of social media experts last night, one noted the trend of companies outsourcing social media efforts to India. Talk about defeating the purpose.

Mr. Wardle sees a present that is almost equally bleak. Media snacking (intaking media in small portions) has become normative. “The internet has taught us to be impatient readers,” notes Wardle. We consume news in bullet points. As such, the ability for brands to reach us has been dramatically diminished.
So does this mean the end for traditional media? Absolutely not. Companies are adapting, and they are desperate for creative content.

Duncan notes that companies have brand advocates who are more than happy to supply that content. His case study is Disney’s Dream Job competition, which allowed people to submit video auditions for their desired theme park job. The best submissions were subject to an online vote that generating millions of votes.

The easy explanation for the success is to look to the expert use of tactics, and it is similarly easy to dismiss great ideas like this on the grounds that Disney has huge budgets. Duncan notes that the contest cost virtually nothing to execute, and the campaign does leverage park employees to recruit submissions.

I thought this was interesting. Using online media, Disney simply let their employees and loyal fans produce the content. Of course, this is the linchpin of social networking and earned media at large. When people talk, people listen. If you can get them talking about your brand, people will listen to your brand. I’ll say this until my face is blue, but even the most creative, cutting edge campaigns utilize the fundamental best practices. If it’s interesting and relevant, it’s interesting and relevant. If it isn’t, it sucks on any platform.

In what might be considered a Freudian slip, Duncan conflated “platforms” with “brands”. But the distinction is incredibly important. How many companies are content simply to “have a blog” or “be on Facebook”. Your brand is not a blog. Your brand, to the extent it has any value, resides in the consciousness of your target. In fairness, Duncan goes on to make precisely this point, and offers a compelling case study (the Disney Moms Panel) to prove it. So it appears we’re in agreement. Good to know.

Duncan’s session conclude with a question about roles. In other words, do social media campaigns reside in online marketing or PR? Surprisingly, Duncan takes a (soft) stand that Disney chooses to house this in the PR department. This makes the most sense (at least to this PR guy). The basic practice seem to flow out of the PR wheelhouse, though I’m sure I could find plenty of folks to disagree.

One Response to “Disney's Duncan Wardle and the Future of Public Relations”

  1. Susan Gosselin Says:

    There are two reasons to cheer this presentation: first, that Disney showcased such an effective and relevant social media case study; and second, that they realize the value of having public relations spearhead this effort. (OK, so I have a bias in this area.)

    But I have to say, I completely disagree with his “news is dead” hypothesis. If anything, people are consuming more news from more sources than ever before. Most people I know are getting their news from some sort of traditional source first, even if it’s an online version of a traditional news source. Then they search for analysis, blogs and networks where they can debate the meaning of the news around the campfire. Even those who get their news from a blogger first often find themselves clicking back to the original coverage first.

    You know, I find this pattern emerging over and over every time a new communication platform comes to the fore.

    It goes something like this:

    Wow! Look at this technology! You know what this means… the old way of doing things is deader than dead! What will this mean to all those poor old traditional companies? Sell your stock now! Look for the buyouts!

    Look at this new technology! Any company not trying it has just got their head in the sand!

    But then a curious thing happens. Some companies try it and excel. Others try it and wonder why the “if I build it they will come” philosophy didn’t work. The medium suffers from an overexposure effect. It gets tired, a little out of fashion, and people start to realize its limitations.

    Aren’t we all a little smarter than this? No matter what the technology, people want news. They want accurate, relevant news targeted to their situation. In today’s environment, they want that in whatever format makes it easiest for them to consume, given their lifestyle. When they have the time, they want to belong to networks with people who are intelligent enough to offer real insight, and where they can learn more about that news, particularly news in their trade, together.

    Companies are expected to be transparent. The ones that are the most interesting or who have the most entertainment value, like Disney, can coax their customers into any number of dialogs and participatory campaigns. But beware…if every company that sells a product tries Disney’s strategy, America’s eyeballs can only read so much.

    So let’s get real here. It’s the information age. People need more news than ever before. They are expected to do more with less, in less time. The quality of coverage needs to keep going up. But we, in the p.r. and the news business, need to find ways to make that news more portable, scalable and interactive if we want to make the cut.

    The news isn’t dead. It’s just being reincarnated.

    –Susan Gosselin,
    Louisville, KY

    People want

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