News Innovation from Disney

Pete VanBaalen

By Pete Van Baalen
Fort Wayne Newspapers

The life of Walt Disney is a fascinating one, and a story that has been told many times in a wide variety of ways.

Disney was a smart businessman, who was laser focused on innovation. Though he passed away in 1966, his passion continues on at the company he founded along with his brother Roy.

Disney was an innovator in creating customer experiences, and was very quick to put new twists on old ideas. Media companies could learn a lot from those two Disney concepts.

Newspapers are slow to change when it comes to special sections and promotions.

Disney faced that problem early in his career too. He found great success with The Silly Symphony cartoon, “Three Little Pigs,” and he was urged to do more of the same. Though not a fan of sequels, he relented, and Disney produced two follow up cartoon shorts, neither of which found the commercial success of the original. Disney’s original response was, “You cannot top pigs with pigs,” which turned out to be right.

With the end of the year approaching, many of us have turned their focus to the 2017 calendar. The challenge is to find originality in the sales promotions and special sections that will be a part of the plan for next year. It is easy to use the same list from this year. Too often, much like the Disney example, the commercial success turns out less than the original.

We face a lot of revenue pressure in the newspaper industry, some of which is beyond our control. Running stale promotions and special sections and managing the decline is within our control. Simply accepting less each year by doing the same thing over-and-over is lazy.

Our job as marketing managers is to find new opportunities. Opportunities that make money for our company and for our advertisers. This isn’t an easy task to be sure, and not one to be tackled alone. Every sales rep on your staff should be challenged on how they will work differently to innovate and expand opportunities for success for their accounts and your business.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

That is a quote from Disney that I wish was the mantra for the media industry.

Pete Van Baalen, general manager for Fort Wayne Newspapers, is a member of the HSPA board of directors and president of Indiana Newspaper Advertising Executives Association.