Learning to Collaborate the Disney Way
Digital Communications Public Relations

Learning to Collaborate the Disney Way

By Sue Hamilton

A love for learning about and experiencing Disney parks and destinations unites a few of us on the D+P team. For me, as with many Disney fans, it began when planning for our first Walt Disney World family vacation as a child, and has continued throughout my life. I especially like the behind-the-scenes perspective, and count two experiences – a Disney People Management course (where we walked the Utilidors – the utility corridors under Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World) and a backstage tour of the Walt Disney World holiday decorations (where we visited the Holiday Services warehouse) – among the many highlights.

This interest in seeing how Disney makes the magic has resulted in an extensive Disney home library. I enjoy reading and recommending books focused on Walt Disney and the history of the parks, resorts, and attractions, as well as the behind-the-scenes of public relations, creativity, customer service, and travel. I learn a lot from them, with so much of it relatable to our own work with media, content management, and event planning. “Spinning Disney’s World: Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent” by Charles Ridgway, a look at Disney from the perspective of a public relations professional who worked for Disney for 40 years, is one I recommend. “Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career” by Kevin Rafferty, which describes the collaborative work of Disney Imagineers, who create the parks, resorts, destinations, and live entertainment experiences we love, is another worthwhile addition to your 2021 book reading list.

I especially recommend the books by Disney Legend Marty Sklar, who had a 54-year Disney career, including 30 years as the creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering. Following his retirement in 2009, he served as an Imagineering Ambassador for Disney, including traveling the globe for book tours and Disney park openings, and is the only Disney cast member to have participated in the opening of all 12 parks. His three books are: “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms,” “One Little Spark! Mickey’s Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering,” and “Travels with Figment: On the Road in Search of Disney Dreams.”

In “Travels with Figment” Marty tells many behind-the-scenes stories and invites Disney Imagineers and contacts in the theme entertainment industry to also share stories and insights. Of special interest to me, given our work and responsibilities at D+P, was what Marty includes in Chapter 6, when he asks his contacts to reflect on what it’s like to work with “outside talent,” or “experts in their field who are not members of their in-house company teams.” (pg. 106)

Among those who offered perspectives was Rick Rothschild, who worked with Walt Disney Imagineering for more than three decades before starting his own company. He described overseeing the development of Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World, a nighttime entertainment district (now Disney Springs). “It was clear to me as the creative executive that as we were developing a new and unique Disney product,” he wrote, “our process would benefit from the infusion of outside perspective blended with the Disney institutional memory.” Writing about the advantage of “inside/outside” collaboration, he continued, “Having access to perspective gained from alternative problem-solving and working environments is quite useful in pursing new ideas and creative objectives.” (pg. 113)

This certainly resonated with me. We work to become experts in each of our clients’ fields, but often it is the perspective we bring from another field or project that aids in the idea generation and leads to strategies and solutions.

Rothschild added, “Virtually every Disney project team of which I was a part was infused with a variety of outside talent across many disciplines. This blend enriched the final product by bringing different experiences and incredibly useful alternative perspectives, both creatively and technically.” (pg. 114)

I’ve always admired and appreciated Disney’s willingness to share best practices, either through business development programs such as the People Management course, or through books such as those I’ve mentioned. It certainly is what Marty Sklar has done in his writing. “Travels with Figment” was Marty’s last book. He had nearly finished writing it at the time of his death in 2017. As part of his legacy, his family had it published in 2019.  Like Marty, it’s a Disney treasure and I’m grateful they shared it with us. I hope you’ll take time to read it and some of the others in the Disney library.

Devine + Partners is a public relations agency based in Philadelphia. We offer a full range of communications services – from message and content development and media relations to issues management and employee and community engagement.

Sue Hamilton

Sue Hamilton