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Today’s economic climate is challenging for any corporation. One industry seems particularly lost — film. Unfathomable budgets have led to major losses and far fewer successful franchises. Home entertainment distribution virtually imploded with on-demand, Redbox, and iTunes. 3D is being forced on the public (and theater operators), but many are still skeptical of the price. And during this unstable time, Disney CEO Bob Iger fired the chairman of Disney Studios, arguably the most beloved major studio, leaving many inside and outside the industry to speculate on what’s next for the company. Applicable to any modern corporation, my only thought is one word: opportunity.
Based on these actions, I hope Iger has recognized the socioeconomic trends all businesses should be considering and is preparing for major restructuring, which has started with announcing a former Warner Bros. executive Alan Horn as the new chairman. Horn has had tremendous success with recent franchises like Harry Potter. However, the world is far less organized, and its people far more connected, than even two years ago when that franchise wrapped.
Any organized field needs to find its place in the rapidly evolving world order, and every company within that field must maintain its standing in that order.
Here’s how I believe forward-thinking executives can lead the way:
Commit to quality over quantity, both in company size and product development. With hugely profitable websites being run by 1-2 people, thousands of employees don’t make you powerful. They make you expensive, necessitating an ambitious output schedule. Keep only those truly dedicated experts and ask them be accountable and resourceful; put out only those quality products which the group can confidently, passionately promote.
Become less organized. Organizational charts and major divisions were designed for the railway system. Each individual should bring an expertise to a team, and teams should be flexible enough to allow everyone involved in a project to discuss it from conception throughout development. Nothing new, including a film, should be executed in assembly-line fashion.
Make everyone an Imagineer. It should be part of everyone’s job description in some way, rather than a title. Each individual has a responsibility to look at the world around them and consider ways to make it more effective, enjoyable, and interesting. Sure, they may need to collaborate with someone else to execute on it, but that’s the next point.
- With the audience. Listen first. For example, do text-sentiment analysis in social media. Once you better understand the audience, introduce yourself and start contributing. Once you’ve built rapport, start asking questions. Give value, receive value. The masses may not invent the blockbuster idea, but they can certainly help the experts refine it into something with which they’ll engage (and, ultimately, make profitable).
- Externally. Pay attention to those on the edge: the inventors, entrepreneurs, and influencers in niche areas. As recent years have proven, their output is having a major impact on the socioeconomic landscape. They probably won’t have the titles or expense accounts you are used to, but they may help you stay competitive.
- Internally. Set common goals and ask a wider variety of experts to consider them. Just because an individual’s title has nothing to do with the issue at hand doesn’t mean they don’t have ideas about a solution. Ask the team at 37signals.
Build relational-strategic marketing campaigns. Don’t tell me how I should feel about something. Don’t tell me what old critics think about your content. Build relationships with my friends and family. Ask us questions. Ask us for contributions. Consider and respond to our feedback. Provide us with useful and entertaining ways to incorporate your brand into our everyday lives.
Don’t nurse an ego. I know it’s hard in Tinseltown, but your rivals don’t buy and socially promote your output. The rest of the world can. Making yourself look important doesn’t make you valuable to your primary audience. Quality output, showing evidence of passion for, interest in, and collaboration with your intended audience does. Break down barriers, rather than building them.
Keep it simple. “Pirates of the Caribbean” was a ride long before a staff writer turned it into a one-sheet concept that Johnny Depp liked. Build something simple and test the concept in collaboration with the audience. When they beg for more, create it. Don’t spend millions creating complex initiatives no one asked for and stockholders will be ready to grill you about.
I worked for the Mouse in 2008 and am a passionate advocate of the brand, but there is no denying that this has not been Disney’s greatest year. They are not alone, however, and I hope Iger and Horn will collaborate together and with other experts to develop a modernized structural plan that shall lead The Walt Disney Studios into a successful future, which other organizations (big and small) can follow.