Saturday, September 15, 2007
News Fit for an HP Printer
News Flash. Mike Mendenhall leaves the Walt Disney Company after 17 years of service.
It’s no accident that the very best of WDI’s work came at a time when Imagineers only had to answer to other Imagineers. The idea that any outside interest could come in and dash the dreams of any attraction design team on a mere whim was completely alien to this amazing assembly of creative thinkers.
But for the last few years no matter how original or innovative the idea was it could be scrapped in the blink of an eye because some business executive or marketing group didn’t feel it jived with the latest direct to video release or had limited potential to sell keychains.
As creative road blocks go, Mike Mendenhall and his group of marketers and publicists was one of the most formidable. As the leader of Disney Parks and Resorts global brand image, marketing strategy, planning, publicity, advertising, media, new media online, interactive TV, strategic alliance marketing, special events and promotions and customer management, Mendenhall had more creative say than any Imagineer at WDI and more power than the President of Disneyland or Walt Disney World.
Mendenhall is responsible for changing the attraction approval process by installing a marketing review before projects are given a green light. This review had become so important that his department could shut down any Imagineering project before it got funded. This great marketing inquisition, more than anything else, has led to all those out-of-character characters invading Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland as well as such awkward attractions as Stitch’s Great Escape, Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor and DCA’s Monsters Inc.: Mike and Sully to the Rescue, the latter title penned directly by Mendenhall himself.
His threat to all things classic Disney was felt in even the smallest divisions. When the two person creative team responsible for the nostalgic Disneyland 50th Anniversary collectibles presented their concepts to Mike he dismissed them as esoteric and “not our guest”. Eventually the two artists convinced Disneyshopping/catalog to proceed with production of the collectibles independent of the Disneyland Merchandising and Marketing teams. Despite the Mendenhall meddling the collectibles made the company millions.
How did a guy with a bachelor of science degree from Emerson become such an indomitable roadblock to so many creative endeavors at the Mouse House?
Jay Rasulo, chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, loved him, even adding “Senior Creative Executive, The Disneyland Resort” to his title. Towards the end of his tenure Jay was grooming him for the head of Walt Disney Imagineering.
But then John Lasseter happened.
Unfortunately for Mike, Jay’s plans just didn’t fit this new Marketing paradigm.
HP, the company that brings us all things Printers and Ink, will start taking care of Mike on October 1st, a date that ironically happens to mark Epcot Center’s 25th Anniversary, a celebration that Mendenhall and his marketers refused to support. Luckily other divisions, despite their limited budgets and resources, have rallied together to take care of the proceedings, with many personnel working long hours and racing the clock to make this last minute celebration as memorable as possible.
For this once glorious and groundbreaking park it’s the best they could do under the circumstances.
With one less hoop to jump through at Imagineering the mood is once again ecstatic. In this unseasonable ‘Year of a Million Dreams’ this definitely counts as one big dream down.
All of us at Re-Imagineering wish Mike Mendenhall well as he starts his new career selling ink cartridges. Still, as one insider put it, “Thank God for Apple and Epson”.