Disneyland’s Public Relations:
Susan A. Stewart
Advisor: Coral Ohl, Ph.D.
California State University, Fullerton
Case Study Overview
Disneyland – The Legend and the Dream
The Walt Disney Company Today
Columbia Ship Accident, 1998
Roger Rabbit Accident, 2000
Disney’s Public Relations Change
Disney’s Safety Campaign – Phase I
Disney’s Safety Campaign – Phase II
Big Thunder Mountain Accident, 2003
Disneyland & The Page Principles
Exhibits I-III
“I think what I want
Disneyland to be most
of all is a happy place where adults and children
can experience
together some of the
wonders of life,
of adventure, and feel
better because of it.”
Disneyland Statistics
Established July 1955
Located in Anaheim, California
Open 365 days a year
21,000 employees – known as cast
60 rides and attractions
450 million visitors since opening day
Prior History of Fatal Accidents at
1964 – Mark Maples, 15
A friend removed his seatbelt
and he fell out of the bobsled died.
1966 – Guy Cleveland, 19
Hit after sneaking into the park
– died.
1967 – Rick Yarna, 17
People Mover
Jumped from car to car – died.
1973 – Bogden De Laurot, 18
Tom Sawyers Island
Tried to swim to shore – drowned.
1980 – Gerardo Gonzales,18
People Mover
Tried to climb from one car to
the next – died.
1983 – Philip Staughan, 18
Rivers of America – Tom Sawyer
Thrown from a maintenance
boat while joy riding – drowned.
1984 – Dolly Young, 47
Thrown from her bobsled while
not wearing a seat belt – died.
Columbia Ship Accident, 1998
• Disneyland cleaned accident site before police or
investigators arrived
• Disneyland did not take accountability for accident –
blamed it on employee
• Disneyland did not put public at ease
• Disneyland hid the truth to protect image
Roger Rabbit Accident, 2000
Disneyland cooperated
with investigators, but
did not accept
responsibility for
Disneyland tried to put
blame on victim and
victim’s parents
There was no press
conference, no apology
nor any empathy
statement from
No statement to make
public feel safe
Disneyland publicly
argued with the state’s
Disney Implemented a Public
Awareness Campaign
• Information from Disneyland to inform
guests about safety within the park
• Discussed Disneyland safety and
training statistics to show concern about
• Endorsed a safety partnership between
Disneyland and their visitors – both are
responsible for safety
Disney Launches Safety Campaign
• Hired heavy hitter to run Strategic
Communication division at Disney
• Created a Chief Safety Officer position
• Touted Safety Officer duties to public
• Implemented a successful Safety
Campaign with press releases, fact
sheets, website info, trading pins for kids
• It was brilliant Public Relations
Disney Posted Quality
Wild About Safety
Education Campaign
May 2003
12-18 mo. campaign
Children’s activity books
Theme park guide maps
Brochures summarizing
12 safety messages
Audio safety reminders
in five different
12 trading pins
12 Safety Tip Cards
Menus for guests under
age 12
Big Thunder Mountain Accident, 2003
Disney’s New & Improved Public
• Disneyland immediately informed authorities
• Disneyland held press conferences to discuss accident
• Disneyland set up a toll-free number for the public to
obtain information about the victims
• Disneyland President called it a “tragic accident”
• Disneyland took full accountability – didn’t pass blame
• Michael Eisner held a press conference and publicly
empathized with the victims and their families – and
insured the public that Disneyland was supporting state
and local authorities to find out what went wrong
The Page Principles
Tell the truth
Prove it with action
Listen to the customer
Manage for tomorrow
Conduct public
relations as if the
whole company
depends on it
Remain calm, patient
and good-humored
The Happiest Place on Earth
“To all who come to this
happy place; welcome.
Disneyland is your land.
Here age relives fond
memories of the past…and
here youth may savor the
challenge and promise of
the future. Disneyland is
dedicated to the ideals, the
dreams and the hard facts
that have created
America…with the hope
that it will be a source of
joy and inspiration to all the
world.” – Walt Disney

Disneyland's Public Relations: