After years of experience doing crisis management, something I’ve learned is that at its heart is common sense! And Gov. DeSantis, yours may be on vacation at Disney World. Or figuratively, maybe just out to lunch.
I’ve learned what helps companies and organizations survive media storms and disruptions they themselves sometimes create, setting off blistering fires they need experts like me to put out. And what’s the medicine I prescribe? Common sense.
One of my clients years ago was Kellogg’s Company once in the crosshairs of the FTC wanting to break up what it called a cereal oligopoly, but I argued effectively they should leave poor Tony and Tiger alone. And they did. Tony was safe.
Now I know, you want to spank Disney World for not being a good mouse, but I’d recommend you stay out of crisis mode and approach the problem friendlier.
Here, I’d like to give you a few pointers, since you’re considering running for President of a much larger, much more diverse, and complicated Disneyland, the United States. No, governor, you don’t threaten, even jokingly, to build a prison next to someplace you don’t like or you’re mad at.
First let’s consider what Disney World does for the state of which you’re the twice elected protector. Where happily I live in an oceanfront condo near where I moved my PR and crisis management firm from another crisis-prone bastion of episodic mismanagement, New York City where I once helped Mayor Koch stop racial discrimination in housing or face my clenched-fist friend, Mr. T.
Now in Florida, let’s follow the money.
In 2022 Disney says it paid $1.146 billion in state and local taxes. If this is true, Disney is the largest single taxpayer in Central Florida. So, I would tread lightly, and not denounce Disney as a renegade scofflaw, especially as it’s the home of so many adorable creatures millions of kids love, and treasure.
Disney CEO Bob Iger calls your moves to reign in the company “anti-business” and “anti-Florida” and there may be more than a kernel or truth there, and I’m telling this to you straight as a fellow Republican.
Iger has a point when he says governor, you got very angry about a position Disney took and you seem to be retaliating against it by naming a new board to oversee the property and the business. Is he right that you’re seeking to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right, free speech? Could there be a kernel of truth there also? Keep in mind, in crisis management kernels add up in voters’ minds.
One of the hallmarks of crisis management is never threaten. Better to disagree with a smile, and be friendly while stating your case, especially in a public forum. Your comments about building a prison near Disney’s theme parks I’m sure laid an egg in the minds of many kids who might see Micky behind bars one day, put there by the tricky and mean Governor of Oz.
Look at the ammunition you’re handing your opponents on a platter. “Ron DeSantis just threatened to build a state prison next to Disney World,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried. “All because they don’t hate gay people.”
Then you also suggest Disney’s properties could be appraised at a higher value, forcing the company to pay even more in taxes, and a utility that serves the company’s properties could be sold? With statements like this, you might be thrilling your hard-core base, but you’re chilling everyone else.
Your argument is that by undervaluing their property, they’re not paying their fair share, but again, it’s how you say it, so it doesn’t sound like punishment?
Governor, you have made this battle with Disney a central part of your political identity, so the company’s efforts to thwart this political oversight threatens to tarnish your image. I would advise you to not vow not to rest until Disney is brought to heel.
The Disney versus DeSantis fight now is headed to round three as the legislature has announced it will revoke Disney’s development agreements that undercut the authority of the new local board you appointed and now you’ll impose new regulations.
When you say, “we want to make sure that Disney lives under the same laws as everybody else,” that sounds fair. I think it’s also fair that you authorized state agencies to have regulatory oversight of Disney operations, such as the monorail system and amusement rides, let’s say for safety’s sake.
But when you suggest the oversight board you control could sell the Disney-run utility and negotiate with the state to use the company’s land for other purposes, you may be going too far without a smile.
“Maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks,’’ you say, adding “maybe you need another state prison . . .. “ Oops!
Now a lesson in the form of a garish parody of the present’
You’ve of course seen the Wizard of Oz.
Do you remember how the script scoffs at the idea that power and prosperity come to those who merit them.
Dorothy kills one Wicked Witch by crash-landing a house on her, and she kills another by splashing her with water. In both cases, the killings are accidents, the results of pure chance rather than Dorothy’s bravery or virtue.
(Any water-soluble witch who leaves buckets of the stuff sitting around her castle is inviting trouble.)
But in both cases, Dorothy is instantly hailed as a conquering heroine, just as the Wizard was when he touched down in Oz.
The message is that people will march behind any authority figure who makes a splash, however undeserving they may be.
It’s a subversive message in 2023, and it was even more pointed in 1939, when fascist dictators were stomping across Europe.
Governor, please don’t stomp too hard on Disney. And please, whatever you do, keep Micky Mouse safe or get him the very best lawyer so he can continue entertaining those millions of kids who love him and all his friends at a resort Florida is so lucky to have under its wings, Disney World.
Tom Madden is a crisis manager who has helped large and small companies through difficult times, including AT&T when it was the largest company in America and other clients, such as The City of New York, where he launched his PR firm, TransMedia Group, when he left NBC. He’s a prolific writer of articles, blogs and books, including his latest WORDSHINE MAN, about how to make writing exciting.