Whether at the center of New York politics or her current role at a globally beloved brand, Disney's EVP and CCO is a champion of collaboration and honesty.
As EVP and CCO of The Walt Disney Company, Zenia Mucha is the champion for what is probably the most beloved brand in the world. She finesses strategy and communications around initiatives as diverse as launching the latest Disney cruise ship to increasing access for the company's programming on networks in China.
Her role also entails oversight of communications for business units within Disney, including networks, studio, and consumer products, as well as for Disney-owned brands such as ESPN, Pixar, and Marvel. Philanthropy and environmental initiatives fall under her purview as well.
Mucha originally joined the company in 2001 as SVP of communications for the Disney-owned ABC Broadcast Group and Television Network.
And her role at Disney wasn't Mucha's first time dealing with larger-than-life characters. She spent many years of her career in the New York political scene.
Prior to joining ABC, Mucha served as director of communications and senior policy adviser to Gov. George Pataki (R-NY), who served three consecutive four-year terms from 1994 to 2006. When the news came that Mucha was leaving politics to enter corporate life, Pataki was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "There are people you simply can't replace - and you don't try."
Mucha's influence on Pataki and her role as his closest adviser remains apparent years later. He kicked off an interview with PRWeek by joking, "I am almost uncomfortable talking about Zenia without calling her and asking her what to say."
Mucha was effective, says Pataki, because she sees the big picture and the context of a message beyond the narrow needs of a client, while also being able to read her audience.
"You can't get that from a book," he adds. "She has a profound understanding of people and doesn't do anything without passion and commitment."
Prior to working with Pataki, Mucha was communications director for Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), managing his successful re-election campaigns in 1986 and 1992.
After moving from politics to take her role at ABC in February 2001, Mucha joined parent company Disney the following year to head up communications. Right out of the gate, she revamped the internal structure of the communications team to create more interaction and build a better team dynamic.
EVP and CCO, The Walt Disney Company
SVP of communications, ABC
Communications director and senior policy adviser to Gov. George Pataki (R-NY)
Communications director for Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY); press representative
An end to silos
"When I started at ABC, the communications structure at Disney was very siloed, with communication heads only reporting directly to the presidents of their business units," explains Mucha. "I felt rather disconnected from the rest of the company and thought we were probably missing some great opportunities by not collaborating. Eliminating silos was one of the first things I wanted to address when I took this job."
She created a dual-reporting system - communications staff report to Mucha as well as their respective business heads. That allowed her to develop a stronger group of professionals and enabled the office to at-tract better talent. Communications staffers have been able to move around various businesses within the company providing a depth of knowledge Mucha feels is essential to the role at Disney.
"It is extremely important to have a team that appreciates the value of our brands and is committed to doing what is best for the company, not just for their respective businesses," she asserts. "Regardless of the business unit or geographic region they work in, everyone fully understands The Walt Disney Company's strategic direction and can articulate how their division fits within the bigger picture of the whole company."
Mucha was hired by then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. She had a dual report to him and then-president Bob Iger, now chairman and CEO. Eisner retired from Disney in 2005 after two decades at the company.
"There is no filter between my communications team and our company head," says Mucha, who works closely with Iger to keep focus around Disney's priorities of international growth, creativity, and technology.
"It is her passion and tenacity that sets her apart," notes Iger. "She is a person of great integrity. I particularly appreciate her instincts and her candor. She also brings an energy and a commitment to her job every day - and by every day, I mean seven days a week."
On the international front, Mucha's team works with the global business development group to finesse communications around company initiatives, including a recent deal that paved the way for more access to Disney films in China. The company is one year into a five-year plan for the launch of the first Disney theme park in Shanghai. A recent partnership with UTH Russia will launch an ad-supported free-to-air Disney channel in that country this year with a reach of about 40 million households.
The company also recently purchased a controlling interest in UTV, one of India's leading media and entertainment companies.
"We owned 50% of UTV and acquiring the remaining 50% involved complex rules and a very long process that had to be managed very delicately and carefully, particularly with the press," recalls Mucha. "It's a given that most newsworthy stories, irrespective of their origin, are likely to get international pickup. Thanks to the Internet, an announcement in India can become a major story here and vice versa."
The communications team works very closely with the strategic planning group, lawyers, and associates on the ground negotiating deals to make sure local laws are adhered to and to be prepared for any contingency in the event of a leak that could jeopardize a deal. "I am lucky to have an incredibly talented and dedicated team," she adds.
Mucha insists on integrity, honesty, and accuracy from the communications team and the journalists with whom they work.
"You must know who is willing to do the work required to tell the real story - warts and all - and reward that by working just as hard to give them the access and information they need," she explains. "Over time, this reciprocity makes it easier to do your job well."
And that job means communicating to more than 150,000 staffers and millions of fans.
Recipe for happiness
Mucha says her role at Disney is "incredibly interesting and fulfilling, one I wouldn't trade for the world." However, when the 24/7 pressure turns up, she finds cooking a great outlet.
She gets rave reviews from friends for her black cod miso that could give Chef Nobu Matsuhisa a run for his money.
Her love of cooking goes back to her days in politics. She recalls the time she spent working on a cookbook with the mother of Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) being one of her most enjoyable moments, although she admits that translating "a little bit of this and a little bit of that" to a specific cooking measure was a little challenging.
Focus on fans
The most effective platform for communicating to fans is Disney twenty-three, a fan magazine launched by the communications group that has evolved into a website, membership club, and expo called D23.
"There are countless fan sites about Disney and its businesses," says Mucha. "It was important for us to stand out to showcase who we are and where we're going, and we've done that with an incredible, immersive experience that our most ardent fans can't get anywhere else."
The expos, held every two years, give fans sneak peeks at creative and new products and provide access to animators and talent. The most recent was held last August for three days. It was attended by 40,000 fans and generated 5 billion global media impressions. People waited two hours in line to attend a Q&A with John Lasseter, Walt Disney Animation and Pixar chief creative officer and director for the Cars and Toy Story franchises.
The events have evolved into marketing tools where the company can promote up-coming product to the press "in an environment where you don't have to compete for attention with multiple studios showcasing their upcoming movies, such as at Comic-Con, for example," explains Mucha. "It's an opportunity to make announcements and break news in an uncluttered marketplace."
Not surprisingly, social media plays a big role in staying connected to fans. The company is one of the top brands on Facebook with more than 460 million likes of Disney, ABC, ESPN, and Marvel pages.
"We are very aware that Disney has an emotional connection with our consumers that other companies don't," says Mucha. "We appreciate it and understand the huge responsibility that comes with it."