Disney's Magic Works Because of Discipline, Belief, Leadership

John Skipper, President of ESPN and Co-chairman of the Disney Media Networks, on Company's Unique Approach to Marketing

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John Skipper
John Skipper

The Walt Disney Co. was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame this spring as the fifth corporate member, and I talked with John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of the Disney Media Networks, about Disney's unique approach to marketing. John began his career at Disney in 1990.
Nobody is better at taking a great idea across all aspects of the company than Disney, and John called that ability one of the company's great contributions to marketing.

"There is nobody better at taking a spectacular piece of film, turning it into an enchanting piece of magic for kids and families, and then making it a park ride, putting plush into stores, creating walk-around characters for the Disney cruises, making books and clothes, and moving it around internationally," John contended.

He explained that when Disney thinks about "Frozen" or "Captain America," it's creating great content but also making sure that everybody is on board to exploit that content across all its different platforms and media and create a central premise and theme as well.

And, he added, "We don't call the roll and see who's on board and who's not. You're on board. There's just no acceptance of silos. It would be unthinkable not to be on board, and that does make the company different from other companies. Everybody's oar goes in the water in the same direction and pulls the same direction."

To pull off that coordinated effort, John said, takes "a lot of discipline, a lot of belief, and a lot of leadership."

One of the most important things Disney has done is to stay current, John told me in our video interview. "That's the first thing they've done to evolve, is not to get caught in old attitudes.

"Look at 'Frozen' and how modern 'Frozen' is relative to female empowerment and to changing mores of the lives of girls and young women in our society. So Disney has managed to evolve just by staying current."

Disney has also been adept at figuring out new ways to use marketing across all media, including social. John said Disney has more followers on Facebook than "just about anybody." And internationally, Disney opens films with narrow windows with similar but localized messages.

Disney's major advantage, John acknowledged, is that it controls all the platforms within the company so it doesn't have to do "piecemeal" deals with other marketers.

Other companies, he said, have to do licenses, they have to find partners. "There's nothing better than being your own partner so you can control the creativity and the marketing of the whole process so that you maintain a level of quality, so the message feels consistent and reliable across different platforms."

I asked John what ESPN has learned from the way Disney does things. He said that when ESPN airs the new college football championship, for instance, it's mandatory that "all our platforms, our assets are working together, that we're doing the preplanning just as Disney does.

"So we behave very much like Disney though we're in a much different business." ESPN, of course, has its own lineup of franchises to exploit, namely "Monday Night Football," "Sunday Night Baseball," the new college football playoff, and Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. "So you'll find that our practices in marketing are very similar to Disney's."

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