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Pulling Back The Curtain: Radical Transparency Pioneers – Profile #1 Walt Disney

So you’re trying to increase capital and resources for your fledgling company, cultivate lucrative partnerships, the whole exciting hot mess that is entrepreneurship, but are hesitant to expose the personal side of your business. How much info is too much info? Perhaps peeps would be willing to offer more support – if they had a better idea of what was going on beyond the bottom line.

“What else am I supposed to do?” you may be wondering. Do you have a blog? check. You even uploaded that zany company picnic video to YouTube. You thought it demonstrated how creative and fun spirited your team was, but really it just looks like a lot of boring crap intermixed with people eating. What you’re thinking is right – transparency for transparency’s sake (without strategy) is lame. What methods of disclosure can help you/your business? What are your options and how do you measure what works?

Dude, I don’t know – it’s your company, not mine. Research the methods used by others (now and before the 2.0 boom). Cool example? Mahalo is the first people powered search results site to also host it’s own daily web show, Mahalo Daily. It’s also unique in that besides offering informative “how to” segments, you are often brought behind the scenes of the company, into the lives of the people who make the site tick. It’s a source of info-tainment and a daily press release at the same time, without seeming like one. So the good news is, there is a legitimate way to use transparency successfully as a means to promote and further your business… You just haven’t found it yet.

But don’t lose heart! Take inspiration from a page in the life of Walt Disney.

– via andylatham82

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first Disney feature and the film that initiated the the Golden Age of Animation for Disney, had a lot riding on it’s success. the Disney Company was doing something no one had done before – the first full-length animated feature with sound, and the first to be filmed in Technicolor. Disney knew that there was big money and a legacy to be had by cornering the market on animated features. How did he know this? He listened to his fans.

Scores of people wrote to the studio all the time, expressing how much they wished that the Disney shorts weren’t so…well, short. There was definitely a need to fill, a market to be had. Disney was a risk taker so in 1934, he announced the production of his first feature to the New York Times.

It’s documented that many people in Hollywood thought it was all a big joke – an inevitable failure. Who would want to sit through a feature length film starring cartoons? How would people connect with pen and ink characters dancing around? Who would pay for that? Walt ignored the haters and kept moving forward.

Besides holding rough screenings of the film for investors, Walt Disney decided that in order to sell a never-before-marketed product to the masses he needed every advantage he could get. So, he decided to pull the curtain back even further on the inner workings of his production methods by creating a creative and informative “behind-the-scenes” film for their distributer, RKO Radio Pictures. (This is available on the 2-disc Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio DVD) No studio had ever done this before for a distributer. He had a mission – help those involved with selling the product to better understand the product – by providing a step by step visual tour through the process of creating a feature length animated film.

The result was huge success for both parties: Disney gave RKO its biggest hit of the era, and in 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was Hollywood’s biggest box-office hit of the decade, thanks in part to RKO’s in depth understanding of the creative process

Disney was also one of the first in Hollywood to experience the backlash of transparency. In 1941 Disney released The Reluctant Dragon, a behind-the-scenes look at the studio (similar to the RKO industrial) combined with animated segments, in the midst of the Disney animators’ strike. This film was not profitable, in part because strikers picketed the film’s premiere with signs that attacked Disney for unfair business practices, low pay, lack of recognition, and favoritism.

Kind of hard to swallow the scenes of smiling Disney employees when real ones are outside the theater marching and yelling… Oops!

Audiences were also disappointed that this follow up to the successful Snow White seemed like a “short cut” and a “cheat”, absent of a traditional plot and with a more stylized, improvised feel.

Did this painful experience with transparency deter Disney? No way! He explored and mastered more unchartered waters with The Wonderful World of Disney, a TV series that premiered on ABC on October 27, 1954. It was truly significant in the history of transparency in that not only did Walt Disney originally host it (providing shrewdly candid insights into behind-the-scenes production processes) but the series was the first one from a major movie studio in a time when many in the industry thought TV would be the death of them.

Walt Disney embraced technology and innovation. At crucial points in the evolution of the Disney empire, the decision to air on the side of transparency reaped huge rewards – monetarily and creatively.

So to sum it up, it’s not about slicing open your guts and showing everyone your entrails. That’s just weird (and dangerous). If there’s a reason to keep a product launch hush hush for a while, then do so. But if there’s an opportunity to educate your consumer base, to revive their interest in your brand, to forge a stronger connection in the community surrounding your content, well by all means – figure out what that is and do it.

And seriously, stop uploading those company picnic videos. Inside jokes are exactly that and don’t work virally without some sort of context. Sorry!

Some sources used for this entry:

Ladytink’s Neverland, Ken Polsson, Wikipedia , Time, Just Disney, and the Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio DVD

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