Disney's Success Strategies and How It Manages Risk

Updated on March 13, 2018
simondixie profile image

Nancy recently retired from teaching in the Alabama Community College System. She currently writes freelance articles about business, etc.

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Note: Although these statistics are taken from Disney's 2012 reports, these numbers help to prove how effective Disney's business strategies are.

Awhile back, I wrote an article called “Walt Disney Company's Mission Statement and Vision: Formula for Success.” This article focused on the success of the Disney Company, particularly how the Disney mission statement and vision statement set the tone for Disney’s success as far back as the 1920s. Nevertheless, there are even more factors that have contributed to the company’s success. From its inception to the present day, Disney has stayed true to certain strategies that have kept them above their competition.

The company's story is not only one of success, but it is also a story of a company overcoming its limitations. Throughout the company’s lifespan, Disney's growth and success have brought new challenges and new hurdles. Anyone who owns a business of any size can learn from the company's strategies for creating success and its methods for overcoming limitations. The company’s 10k for 2012 lists these limitations and provides the company a plan for dealing with each.

10 Strategies That Guide Disney's Success

  1. Implement a strong mission statement.
  2. Create-high-quality content.
  3. Make content engaging by using new technology.
  4. Diversify your brand to hit markets around the world.
  5. Pay close attention to foreign privacy laws.
  6. Pay close attention to regional economic markets.
  7. Always have money saved to manage disasters (natural disasters included)
  8. Always adapt to changing tastes in the culture and amongst your current customers.
  9. Spend the money to make sure your electronic data is safe and secure.
  10. Always pay attention to changing laws (especially when they refer to intellectual property).

Each of these strategies will be touched on in greater detail in the following paragraphs.

The Company's Past Strategies for Success

From its inception, the Disney Company has implemented certain critical strategies that contributed to its success. Its Mission Statement and Vision Statement set the tone for much of their success. The expansion of innovative technology and a global market have affected the business strategies of the Disney Company; therefore, the company’s strategies have changed with the times. When Walt Disney first founded the business, a major strategy was “to bring Disney’s great storytelling to life with immersive experiences never before imagined” (Iger, R., 2012 Annual Report and Shareholder Letter, p. 1).

Their Present Strategies for Success

In 2012, CEO and President Robert Iger identified three particular strategies that have been effective for Disney over the years. He declared that these three strategies have been especially instrumental in the company’s success over the past seven years. Iger stated that Disney’s three major strategies have been to “create high-quality content for families, making that content more engaging and accessible through the innovative use of technology, and growing our brands and businesses in markets around the world” (Iger, 2012, p. 1).

Their Future Strategies for Conquering Foreign Markets

The Disney Company plans to continue with the strategies outlined by CEO Robert Iger, who stresses the need to be adaptable and ever-changing to the consumer's wants and needs (Walt Disney Company Annual Report and Shareholder Letter, 2012). In addition to adapting to meet the needs and wants of consumers, the company has plans to adapt to meet growing consumer interests in foreign countries. Today, their amusement parks are known worldwide and can be found on three different continents. They also have stores in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

In addition, they have licensed shops and products all over the world. They are using the strategy of foreign outsourcing to meet the company’s growing demands and, at the same time, to keep costs down. With the company’s foreign markets, they are adapting well to other countries because they are adopting many of the local customs while maintaining their American flavor. In addition, the company will continue to follow the rules and regulations of the foreign countries where they build businesses. This expense is one that Disney has included as a necessary one. The company plans to continue to build their strategies for reaching global markets by following the standards of those countries and paying the taxes of those countries (The Walt Disney Company 2012).

How Disney Manages Risk

The Disney Company's management acknowledges that a company as large as Disney could have several potential risk factors. The company’s leadership identifies several of these concerns in their Annual Report and Shareholder Letter in September, 2012.

How the Company Adapts to Changing Global or Regional Economic Markets

One of Disney's main concerns is how changing global and regional economic markets could affect the profits of some of their businesses. The company reported that during recent economic downturns, spending at the parks had decreased. At the same time, spending on advertising had also decreased. Overall, the company noted a decrease in spending on Disney products. The company also noted that decreased attendance at the parks could result from continued economic downturns. A change in energy costs could result in a decrease in spending on Disney products, as well as an increase in costs for the company. Finally, foreign exchange units fluctuate. These changes could result in a devalued U.S. dollar and increases in labor costs in foreign markets as well as markets at home.

How They Adapt to Changes in the Audience's Tastes

The fact that Disney's markets are primarily entertainment based, and the entertainment industry depends largely on the tastes of the public, represents another risk factor to the company. Those preferences can change suddenly and without warning, causing a change in trends that could take the company by surprise. Since Disney markets many of its products outside the United States, the company’s success depends on the company being able to predict the tastes of consumers in other countries and adapt to these changing tastes and preferences. The company often invests heavily in hotels, entertainment, and other markets before knowing to what extent these investments will appeal to the consumers.

How Disney Manages Its Dependence Upon Rapidly Changing Technology

In addition, the company’s success is highly dependent upon technology, which changes rapidly. The success of the company depends largely on how well the company expands, exploits, acquires, develops, and adopts these new technologies to distinguish the company's products from their competitors. New technological developments may involve Disney products not yet fully developed or, in some cases, products that do not yield a high return for the money it costs the company to invest. Therefore, the profits from these products may fluctuate widely.

Why Disney Focuses on the Changing Laws That Govern Intellectual Property

Changes to the laws governing the use of intellectual property, which compose a large amount of the Disney products, are another risk factor that the company must consider. Disney’s ability to have full legal authority to use intellectual property may be costly. Certain laws regarding the use of intellectual property in foreign countries can change, or officials in some countries may not fully enforce these laws. The company invests a considerable amount of company money in protecting Disney’s rights to the use of intellectual property. This protection may be more costly in foreign countries where the laws are weak or not defined clearly.

Why the Company Is Concerned About the Expense of Electronically Stored Data Protection

Another concern of the Disney Company is that data stored electronically is subject to invasion. The company spends a considerable amount of money to protect this data. This protection is essential because the result of the business' or employees' information being compromised would be extremely costly. Protecting this data is worth the cost of these expensive investments.

How They Manage the Expense of Unforeseen Events

Other unforeseen events, natural disasters, and seasonal changes, can result in excessive costs. These expenses are from a variety of sources. The company cannot predict most of these events, especially those related to nature, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other weather-related events. Besides the unexpected events of nature, seasonal changes affect the popularity of many of Disney’s events and attractions, especially the theme parks.

How Disney Manages the Costs of New Investments

In addition, many new investments are costly and do not yield a high rate of return, which we may not be able to expect ahead of time. Unpredicted turmoil in financial markets can cause a rise in the cost of borrowing, which would lead to a higher cost of operating our businesses, especially when we have to borrow money. Increased competition in all business areas requires that we continue to provide the highest quality and attempt to offer a better quality product than our competitors. The competition may change rapidly, requiring that we compete with human resources, programming, and other resources to maintain the highest standard at the lowest cost.

How They Manage the Costs of Human Resources

Other substantial costs related to our employees, such as our contracts with media production companies, and changes in regulation, affect our businesses. For example, in terms of human resources, post-retirement medical costs continue to rise, and these costs can reduce our finances as we now have 166,000 employees worldwide. With regard to media production, we enter into long-term contracts; however, when these contracts have to be renewed, we may not always be able to renew with favorable terms. If that happens, then we have to pay a price in costs when we renew the contracts. Finally, a number of regulations may change and appreciably affect the Disney Company. For example, FCC regulations govern television and radio broadcasting, environmental regulations affect a number of our businesses, and state and federal privacy regulations affect all aspects of our company.

Why They Pay Attention to the Laws and Regulations in Foreign Countries

Changing laws and regulations in foreign countries and in the United States can affect the Disney Company. Foreign countries may impose any number of restrictions---trade restrictions, ownership restrictions, or currency exchange controls, any of which could affect the company. The company’s businesses, in foreign countries, are subject to the laws of those countries, and those may change at any time as the company may have to spend additional money to comply with that country’s regulations. In the United States, labor disputes involving any of the Disney employees could disrupt the operations of the company (Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report and Shareholder Letter, 2012, pp. 17-22).

The Company's Path Forward

The vision statement of the Walt Disney Company has served it well. Most people take for granted that this giant is alive and well in the 21st-century; it continues to be a strong company. However, in recent years, the company financial statements have revealed some inconsistencies in regards to cash flows, margins, and gains on investments. These inconsistencies outnumber most media organizations of similar size. In 2012, analysts at Caris downgraded Disney from a status of "above average" to a status of "average."

Some reasons for this downgrade include the opinion that has limited upside potential and that “it is fairly valued at $54.63, with their target price set at $55. However, the stock has risen 40% since the start of the year and is trading near $51 after recently reaching a 52-week high of $53.40” (Qineqt, 2012). One reason for Disney's lower revenues was the deferred affiliate fees for its cable TV networks, fees that will not be a cost factor now or again in the near future. Most analysts agree that Disney’s diversification insulates the company from economic downturns (Qineqt, 2012).

The Disney Company’s fiscal reports for the first quarter of 2013 appear strong with a 5% increase in revenue. Multimedia networks were particularly strong with a revenue increase of 7% (Letter to Stockholders, 2012). The company generates revenue balanced among its five business segments with the media network segment leading at 45.1% of the Disney revenue in 2010. The next highest revenue came from parks and resorts at 28.3%.

Further down the list were the business segments parks and studio entertainment (17.6%), consumer products (7%), and interactive media, which reported the lowest revenue percentage at 2.0% of the overall revenues. Since Disney reports a broad and diversified revenue base, diversification protects the company to some degree from economic downturns that may hit one industry. In other words, Disney’s diversification of products and services protects the company—five business segments share the risks among themselves. (Marketing Mix, 2012).

The recent SWOT Analysis indicates that Disney must pay close attention to the potential threats that can inhibit the company’s continued growth and threaten its financial security. The Disney Company identifies these threats in its Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report and Shareholder Letter.

What's in Store for Disney's Future?

Most predictions show that the Disney Company will have success in the future. The Walt Disney Company’s Fiscal Year Annual Report and Shareholder Letter addressed the risk factors facing the media giant (2012, pp. 17-26). One of the company's strongest assets is its diversification. If the company continues to address potential threats to the company and remains focused on its mission and vision, which have served the company well for over 90 years, then the prospects for the future for the Walt Disney Company appear promising, and the future may be even more promising for the organization.

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    • simondixie profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy McLendon Scott 

      3 years ago from Georgia

      I would love to have heard that talk. Thank you for taking the time to provide such an insightful comment.

    • Sales Enablement profile image

      Hilary Bird 

      3 years ago from American Fork, Utah

      I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Pixar founder, Edwin Catmull, yesterday. He talked about the merging of Pixar and Disney in 2006 - when his team got there, Disney was in a lull. They'd experienced such success in the '90's with Aladdin, Lion King, Beauty and the Best and the Little Mermaid, that they were losing their creativity because their focus was on trying to make systems as efficient as possible, by basically creating repeatable processes. This was well and good, but as Ed said, "our success has made us conservative". They knew what worked and were trying to replicate it as fast as possible - but it was killing the creativity! His goal was to acknowledge the factors causing this and address them. He did so by deciding that solving these problems weren't part of the job, they were the job. Anyway I might be rambling, but my point is to just show the underlying problems during Disney's lull that weren't so recognizable to the rest of us. Pixar made an incredible impact with Disney once they took away some of the limitations that were stifling Disney's creativity. It was an amazing and inspirational talk!

    • simondixie profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy McLendon Scott 

      5 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you! In recent years, I haven't always liked some of their movies, but you can't argue with their business strategies. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments----and any time you have suggestions for improvement, I welcome those also.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      I remember Disney was a popular case study in my Master's program in college. It has such a high success rate in business. Their stragegy for the upcoming future is so realistic and seems to already be in place. Great post topic and one that can be used in college courses as a good study.

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