Plan ahead, plan well you big dopes...
With the closing of the Mouse's second convention, I thought it was time to reflect...
On what went right and what went wrong. Mostly on the wrong part of that reflective question. Lets recap a little about the 2009 D23 Expo. First, it was over 4 days and in the end had over 20,000+ attend the show. Not bad for a first time event. Disney pulled it off pretty well, although there were some rough edges that you would think they would learn from and tweak the next time, right?
Not really, no.
This time to save money, (I mean, those numbers weren't a success for a first time event.) they decided to have the event over three days instead of four. And the attendance this year was more than last time, catching Disney off guard. close to 40,000 attended this year. A full 17,000 attended a sold out Saturday event alone. Do the math, almost twice as many people with one less day to do it in. Crowds far worse than last time. Less Cast Members were there to help out from the parks as well. Have to save those pennies you know. After all, no one will notice right? There were five security companies hired to handle this event as well and I talked to some of them as well as several people that worked for the Anaheim Convention Center and they all agreed that the Mouse botched it.
There were a lot of displays, but it did seem like there were less of them. I could be wrong about that, but the general perception was along those lines. The Walt Disney Parks & Resorts display was nice, but the open space between the displays made it feel like there were less models on view. Also, the announcement that there would be things on display from all parks wasn't accurate as well. Florida, with the Extreme Expansion at the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland was the big model this time. California with Buena Vista Street and Cars Land were represented. Shanghai was on display in a very intentionally vague model. Disney Cruise Line had a representation there as well with models of the Dream and a statue of Minnie from the Fantasy. Adventures by Disney, the Aulani and the Disney Vacation Club was represented as well. But Hong Kong from 09' wasn't represented, neither was Disneyland Paris and nothing from Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySEA (Mustn't embarrass the other parks by stunning Disney fans with pictures from this park, could they?).
But as I mentioned in my observations in the earlier post, the biggest mistake was the Arena area of the park. This was the place where the big stuff was to be held. This place holds 6,000+ people and during the first D23 Expo Disney rented out the entire place. Even then people still didn't get in. You would think with this demand, event planners would have prepared for this and did something to address the situation. They did. They made it worse. To make it more intimate (company phrasing to hide the unwillingness to fork over cash for the entire place) they decided to only rent out approximately 4,000 seats. Leaving almost a third of the place empty. Empty even though they could have filled up all the seats. Almost the whole upper balcony sat vacant while fans waited outside. Way to make it more intimate, guys. Real good PR move. While I got into the Parks & Resorts event, hundreds of people did not. This left many people that attended this expo who waited in line feeling frustrated and saddened at not being able to see the presentation. Now, what was shown was very entertaining, but it wasn't any big surprise. Tom Staggs continues to grow in his job and will hopefully be Iger's successor some day. Like I mentioned in my other article, Staggs would likely only give a small surprise, not a big one. Which is exactly what happened.
But the major screw up was the big event for Walt Disney Studios; the massive two and a half hour collection of previews of coming films, DVD's and teases of what's to come over the next two/three years. This event did offer some surprises and the fact that they didn't let you bring your camera was a clue to this. If they have a Parks & Resorts event at a future Expo where they don't allow cameras or cell phones then you will have a clue that something is going to be shown that you'll want to be there for. But even with all these wonderful surprises, there were thousands of people, yes thousands, that didn't get to see any of it. They had to wander around the panels and exhibits checking websites for updates. All while two thousand seats sat empty. But it was intimate right? I was one of the lucky ones with a connection, but most were not.
The really bad thing is those that got up, drove to this thing and waited for three or four hours ahead or more only to be told that the Arena was full. Now, if those other seats were available there still would have been people who didn't get in to see it, but there would have been far less. And to make matters worse, this event was not advertised as a D23 Member exclusive event. That's because it was open to the public... or so it was advertised. But the geniuses at planning didn't think this one through. See, if you are a D23 member then you get early admission to the Expo. Fair enough, but it also means that you can line up for the Arena queue up to an hour before anyone else can. Including those that have been there four hours before you. So by the time the attendees were let in, it was full.
No one that waited in this line got to see the show. If the other two thousand seats had been available, many would have got to see it. But Disney chose to only buy out two thirds of it and make the others that waited feel like they'd wasted a good deal of time. Unless you were someone in the media or a D23 member you were shut out. That's not how it was advertised and that is not how it was planned, but it is how events unfolded. And several of the media weren't too happy having their reporting materials confiscated. To make matters worse, Marvel live-blogging the announcements made many reporters upset that they were invited to cover an event only to be scooped by the host. And with the chaos that happened over these three days many in the media felt that Disney had been touting that they can hold an event as good as, or better than Comic-Con does. The reporters I talked to believe they clearly cannot.
I can tell you at least one vice president no longer has a job because of these screw ups and I can think of one or two more I wouldn't mind seeing let go. I think the planning should have been done to make sure everyone wanted to return for the next expo. I don't know if that will happen, because I talked to several people that were so frustrated they didn't know wether or not they were going to book it. I think many will wait for the schedule to see what is planned. And several of those will wait to see if the Arena is fully booked, because if they plan on leaving a third empty then many will just stay home. Because they'll know that the events they are being told they have a chance of seeing, they have no real chance of attending. The planners of the next event had better have at least the entire Arena available or there will be major complaints. At least? How can they have more? Well, there are several rooms that weren't rented out which the event planners could have put seats in and big screens at the front to broadcast the events. If they're worried about cameras and cell phones then they can ban them from this room like they did for the Studios keynote. But at least many more will get to see it. That would leave the guest happy to have been part of the magic they wanted to see. Imagine that, Disney?
There were several things that went well, but far too many screw ups were worse than the original Expo, which shouldn't have happened. I wonder how many who worked that last one were paying attention? I wonder if they really thought this through? It certainly didn't appear so this time. They had better examine the problems they had and address them before next time. I remember hearing the PR Suits saying that two years would help them plan for an even better expo. Really? Then next time play it safe.
Plan three, four or even five years in advance, please...