Disney has a PR Problem and it is Starting to Outshine the Magic


Every morning, I wake up and take a moment to review the news from overnight and the weather for the day ahead before I get started. Recently, I’ve noticed that each morning, there seems to be an article appearing, from one news source or another, speculating on the demise of Disney; supported by accusations of a diminished sense of vacation satisfaction in the parks.

Each article is an elaborate dressing down, featuring quotes from disappointed guests vowing never to return, tackling topics such as inflation, ticket pricing, general limitations. Now, I will warn you that this piece will not be a pro-Disney love-in. But, I do want to take an objective look at exactly how much of this backlash Disney really deserves.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

We are seeing quite a few different complaints arise; unintentional by-products of Disney’s decisions; particularly over the last two years. These most commonly center around the changing perception of value for money. A position that has worsened recently with the release of the paid service Disney Genie+, replacing the well-established and free service, FastPass+.

There is a general disdain for the earlier perks now requiring additional payment, such as jump-the-queue style services and resort parking available at an added cost. When theme park competitors, like Universal, have been charging for these services at a much higher price from the beginning, why is the narrative so negatively geared towards Disney?

Photo by Taha on Unsplash

When you read the specifics of these articles, to be honest, most of it comes across as just fluff. Disgruntled grumblings about the average family being priced out of the parks — as if Disney was ever known as the most affordable option for your average family on a budget. Even in the 90s, when I was a child and prices were nothing like they are now, Disney vacations were never considered something that the average family could or would ever experience. Though prices are inarguably rising, I’m not sure why we are pretending that Disney was a budget destination to begin with.

Visiting the Disney parks on vacation has absolutely become much harder; however, it must be kept in perspective. In a mid-pandemic world, what hasn’t? Dropping into the supermarket or attending the movie theatre has changed just as much with limitations, price hikes, limited availability, and new protocols. Show me something that has become cheaper or easier in this new world we are discovering. Have you tried getting on an international flight recently? You all but need to offer up your blood and sell your soul to make it through unscathed. Much of what we dislike about this new version of our lives isn’t Disney; it’s reality. If Disney is your only go-to vacation spot, you may not realize how widespread these changes are.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

When it comes to their news-worthy movements, Disney seems to be drowning in a Groundhog Day-style PR nightmare. A pessimistic light exposes the minor disappointments while their unacknowledged accomplishments and initiatives lurk in the shadows. The whitewash is now affecting their reputation and concealing the socially-aware roots that helped grow the company to its current standing.

Why isn’t Disney bringing more attention to its environmental and community efforts? For anyone who read my article yesterday, you would know how surprised I was to learn of their 2030 goal for 100% zero-carbon electricity and zero waste to landfill for all wholly owned and operated parks and resorts. Why isn’t an endeavor such as this gaining more public attention? I understand that Disney isn’t able to point the Paid Parking finger at Universal and say, “They did it first!” And, it might be a bit too petty to publish a series of price comparisons against other theme parks (who also have an express attraction option), for people to realize this isn’t quite so outrageous. Still.. at the same time, I can’t help but feel as though their public relations identity in the media needs a bit of work. Instead of idly letting the haters hate, Disney should be pulling focus back towards their bigger picture, showcasing their achievements beyond the next attraction.

Disney is invested in children’s hospitals; the future of our younger generations with STEM programs, assisting underprivileged communities, and environmental conservation. They have a hand in reading programs, disaster response, toy drives and are even a Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports® through ESPN. Need more?

  • 145K Wishes fulfilled with Make-A-Wish® globally since 1980
  • 12M+Employee volunteer hours since 1983
  • $294M Total Charitable Giving in FY21

Did you know that since 1995, more than 120 million dollars from the Disney Conservation Fund has been dedicated to the support of nonprofit organizations working within charities and communities to save wildlife and protect our earth? I didn’t. You probably didn’t. Instead, we read complaint after complaint about a ticket price increase as if it were any different from the huge increase we see in the cost of groceries or fuel.

Photo by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash

Even though you’re not asking, I’m going to give you my opinion anyway. The way I see it, these media outlets are fully aware that a story about injustice makes for a better headline than one about global restoration or sustainability. It comes from laziness. Why chase a better, positively driven story when you can quote a few unsatisfied guests — that will likely keep coming back anyway — and label Disney with greed?

Disney themselves need to raise their game, increasing awareness about what they achieve inside and outside their parks. They need to actively change the rhetoric, and cement their place in the public eye as a community-focused business of the future, stemming from the entertainment that we love, all the way into global outreach for sustainability and change. In times gone by, most would assume that Disney could rest on their laurels, secure in their position being the face of theme park supremacy. That time is no more.

Photo by Morgan Lane on Unsplash

Exactly what the thinking is behind Disney’s approach to this escapes me; none of the theories offered up by others seem to make sense. For those that think the lack-luster defense of Disney’s prominence is a conscious decision to thin out crowds at higher prices, I ask, why would they have increased post-lockdown capacity at all? Those that feel Disney is trying to squeeze out families on smaller budgets, I would challenge with, why would they continue to offer value-style resort stays at all? Could it be that a misguided comfort is to blame for thinking that the optimism and loyalty of their market will prevail without intervention?

Let me know what you think below. How did Disney end up in this PR quicksand and what should they be doing to manage their representation in the media spotlight?

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