How Disney Handled Their Crisis During a Celebration

June 2016 was supposed to be a successful month for the Walt Disney Company. With the opening of the Shanghai Disney Resort and a new attraction featuring the popular animated film Frozen, Walt Disney Company employees planned to celebrate. Unfortunately, June turned into more of a disaster than a celebration.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Since the Orlando, Florida, theme park and resort was founded in 1971, Walt Disney World has maintained a seemingly-consistent reputation for providing thrilling adventures in a secure environment. However, the death of 2-year-old Lane Graves in a Disney resort lagoon proves that nothing is impenetrable, not even the Disney empire.

The Walt Disney Company has faced an overwhelming amount of negative exposure from both media sources and consumers. So, what has Disney’s public relations team done to manage this crisis?

Without a pre-emptive crisis communications plan in place, the Walt Disney Company now faces potential lawsuits for alleged prior knowledge of Florida’s vast wildlife population and negligence for not taking pre-emptive measures that could have prevented the tragedy. Now in the midst of the crisis, the Walt Disney Company communications teams is scrambling to prevent further loss of Disney visitor patronage and perceived trust.

In response, Disney’s communications team prompted officials to immediately close the beaches and install barriers to all lagoons and ponds on Walt Disney World resort property. Disney recently re-opened beach access with newly installed signs and barricades warning tourists of potential dangers. Additionally, officials offered personal condolences for the Grave family’s loss, and a statement of sympathy from President George Kalogridis was posted on the official Disney Parks blog.  

Disney’s communication teams are taking initiative to prove their care for Disney visitors in the future, but there is no mention of the situation on the company’s social media accounts. Instead of using social media to connect with social users and re-establish open communication, the company refrained from publishing content on the crisis and instead posted about the new Disney attractions opening this month.

What do you think Disney could have done differently?

Lana Nasser is a recent graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications and a member of the Community Service and Advocacy Committee at the UF PRSSA Chapter. She spends her free time adding to her record collection, reading Rousseau, London and Thoreau, and learning about the world of public interest communications. See her portfolio for more of her published works, find her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter @NasserLana.

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