Amid a saturated leisure market, interactivity and charitable efforts build brand on and off the ice
It had all come down to this: Troopers controlled by a robot clone of the evil Syndrome were on the verge of toppling Disneyland forever. And this time, not even Disney/Pixar's superfamily The Incredibles could stop them.
Fortunately, this was a performance of Disney On Ice's "Disneyland Adventure," and upon entrance, every audience member younger than 12 was given an Incredi-Band: a "laser" wristband designed to help each and every one of them save the day. Just when things on the ice were at their bleakest, thousands of breathless, wristband-equipped youngsters raised their arms in defiance, zapping Syndrome's sinful soldiers with powerful, Disneyland-rescuing rays.
"It's interactive, as close as you can get to being in the show," says Jo-Ann Enwezor, PR manager for Disney On Ice. The Walt Disney Co.'s exclusive worldwide ice-show licensee, developed and operated since 1981 by Vienna, VA-based Feld Entertainment, Disney On Ice has incorporated audience participation into its shows since its inception, Enwezor says. "We've always asked the audience to get up [and] clap their hands," she says. "Now it's actually built into the show's production. That really adds value to the show and [the audiences'] experience."
The interaction - along with the professional figure skaters, Disney-inspired stories, contemporary music, dazzling costumes and set, and family-friendly ticket prices ($12 to $75) - seems to be working for the brand, which has five domestic and two overseas shows on tour. Attendance to its "Princess Classics" production alone tops 2.5 million annually, and the brand ranked number one among Ticketmaster's "most requested family attractions" in 2006, ahead of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
But in a time when families are saturated with activity options, the Disney name itself is not always enough to drive ticket sales. So Feld works with publicity partners across the nation to market the productions, positioning them as "something for everybody" and "a great introduction to live entertainment for young audiences," says Sharron McDevitt, VP of marketing and communications at Hill & Knowlton, Disney On Ice's AOR. To get the word out, she says, "we ask the media to see for themselves." That first-hand contact has resulted most recently in brand appearances in USA Today and on the Live with Regis and Kelly holiday special.
But PR is a corporate priority that goes beyond media outreach, Enwezor adds. Each show's 18-month planning process includes plenty of brainstorming about innovative ways to give back to the fans - an initiative, she says, that "really speaks to the brand."
Coordinated by Feld's team of five regional staff publicists and scores of local PR representatives, Disney On Ice partners with charities, including Make-A-Wish, Boys & Girls Clubs, and Starlight Starbright, to "bring a little bit of the show" to those who need it most, Enwezor says.
In Sioux Falls, SD, for example, show skaters teamed with area charities to serve Thanksgiving dinners at a local shelter. In Youngstown, OH, a December "Mickey & Minnie's Magical Journey" performance raised funds for the county's United Way charities. And in Southern California, tie-ins range from the annual Pershing Square on Ice day, when 500 kids from low-income communities learn to skate with Disney On Ice pros, to a tea party at Orange County's Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, at which children tipped teacups with Disney princesses and taped messages to send to parents stationed overseas.
On the national level, for the past three years Disney On Ice has partnered with Disney Worldwide and Radio Disney for in-hospital parties, with DJs, arts and crafts, games, singing, and character photo ops.
"The impact? You can see it from the moment we arrive," says Andy Perez, Feld's West Coast PR director, who has arranged recent visits at LA's Children's Hospital and Children's Hospital of Orange County.
Though events cover the spectrum in terms of creativity, "there are certain thematic elements that do need to be constant," notes Enwezor. Field PR teams are provided with color and fabric guidelines - such as pinks, greens, fuchsias, and opulents for the most recent production, "Princess Wishes" - specific to each show, she says. "When Disney On Ice gets there, things are already all over the market. We [just] reinforce the message."
The ultimate goal, Enwezor says, is to get as many people as possible to see the Disney On Ice performances. But if they can't, for whatever reason, the brand - via its mix of national and local outreach efforts - is committed to doing the next best thing, she says. "We'll get them as close as possible."
At a glance
Feld Entertainment's Disney On Ice
Chairman and CEO:
Willy Bietak Productions (Broadway On Ice, Festival On Ice); AEG's Champions on Ice
Key trade titles:
Blades On Ice, US Figure Skating's Skating, International Figure Skating
Jo-Ann Enwezor, PR manager
Lisa Taylor, PR director
Allison Rabinovitz, senior PR coordinator
Alan Abitbol, PR coordinator
Marsha Strazynski, VP of marketing
Marketing services agencies:
PR agency: Hill & Knowlton
(Washington, DC, and New York)
Ad agencies: Trailer Park, Los Angeles; Design Army, Washington, DC; HMC, Chula Vista, CA (Hispanic)