When I was at Walt Disney World to run the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in October, I had the opportunity to join in on a chat with John Phelan, the Show Director for Disney Sports. After talking about the entertainment on course (every half mile), the number of people on the team (50+ technicians, ~75 performers, floats, stunt-people), how long they have to set up (can’t close the roads until 8:30pm for the 10:00pm start), we asked him to tell us about his favourite memory from past races. He proceeded to tell us this story about our host, Bob Hitchcock, Public Relations Manager and Content Producer for runDisney. He told us that Bob had heard about a couple who had been training together for the previous year’s race, but that the husband – a Major – had been deployed to Iraq before the event occurred. The Major had decided to organize a half marathon at the base on the same day so he could still run with his wife as planned.
Bob arranged a live satellite uplink to the base so that the couple could chat on the video wall at the start; he also had them linked by GPS so they could pace together. As the story goes, the Major finished about 30 seconds ahead of his wife, and got to speak with her again via video and satellite at the finish.
We all got a little dewy over it, and when we were back with Bob, we asked him about it. He told us that’s the thing he loves about working at Disney – that they love hearing ideas, even if they’re for things that don’t benefit the company directly. When he heard about the couple, he went to his boss and said, “Listen, I have this idea. It’s not going to contribute to the bottom line in any way, but it’s a nice thing to do.” And just like that, Bob’s boss said, “Great! Make it happen.”
I just wanted to share that story because it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. While I realize that chatting with representatives of the media about these sorts of things informally is as much a part of the PR machine as avoiding bragging about them in the first place, it is also a glimpse at the other side – the human side – of what makes a corporation tick. All of the runDisney people I met, chatted with, formally interviewed, and heard speak at events – from the interns to the director – are really nice people. And of course they are – you couldn’t call it the “happiest place on earth” without nice people – but more importantly, hey, they’re runners!