The weekend of March 25th and 26th, Disneyland Paris unveiled its 25th Anniversary Celebration to the Cast Members, Press, Fans and Partners. We had the immense privilege to participate in this event which allowed us to meet a lot of the minds behind the event.
On the sunny Saturday afternoon, our hosts informed us that we had a little unscheduled surprise waiting for us at Salon Mickey: Catherine Powell decided to take time out of her busy schedule to meet us. The discussion lasted 20 minutes, with questions from many fan sites from France and abroad, including ourselves.
What role do you see for the Disneyland Paris online blogging and vlogging community going forward ?
Social media generally is incredibly important, especially when you have a product like Disney, with fans and Guests who are so committed to it and understand it. Having a forum for everyone to share their views, what they heard and what they want, is incredibly important.
The community, from what I’ve seen, is one of our best ambassadors, and it’s important to me to have authentic voices. As a Theme Park, it’s all about the relationship with our Guests who are our fans. It’s also a good way for us, within the limits of what we are able to do, to listen. I have kept my Twitter handle because I love seeing what people think, good and bad.
And it’s also important for our fans, because you blog and vlog, give a lot of information, and they get to learn a lot of things about the Parks.
The 25th Anniversary feels like a rebirth of Disneyland Paris. It sparkles again. What is your personal impression of the 25th, and your wishes?
The park looks incredible, it is very sparkly. And this is after more than 2 years of the renovations we undertook. My predecessor started them: Tom Wolber was the biggest advocate with our US partners for the investments that we need to do. Not just because the park needed it, but also because we wanted it to be at its very best for the 25th.
It’s got us to this stage, and you can feel that it’s back to the glory that it hadn’t been in the last few years, because we hadn’t been able to invest. For us it feels auspicious that this is the start of where we should be.
It’s a difficult environment generally, so to have a place that can represent magic so beautifully is wonderful. You can feel it with the Cast Members. They are smiling and they’re proud. I’m incredibly proud that every time an attraction reopens we see quality, it really feels like we’re back.
What are your ambitions going forward?
To keep the momentum, to keep the Cast engagement and to continue to give them the attention that they need, in the sense that we help them do their job as best as they can.
Often the cost cutting has been at the detriment of our Cast Members because we were protecting the Guest Experience, but to me they are the Guest Experience. We have renovated the park, but they are now the next priority. They are everything. They are the Disney difference.
You’ve worked in the UK and Australia at The Walt Disney Company, but here in Paris you are new to all of us. What was your experience in discovering the parks and meeting your Cast Members ?
It’s been quite a discovery… nothing I could have imagined. I spent 10 years working at Disney in London in Media Distribution – selling all of Disney’s digital products – films, TV shows, channels, music, games, apps.. to our partners like Sky, Google, Canal+.. So I was immersed in a digital world.
Then I went to Australia and saw all the other lines of business, except the Parks. We worked on the stage shows, film distribution and marketing, consumer products, retail, websites.. The missing piece was the Parks. We did a lot over there to make the Disney brand relevant to Australians. Australians love Disney, but they see it very much as a U.S. brand, so I tried to make them feel that they owned it.
Here in the Parks is where the magic happens. You hear this all the time, but it really does! You see it, and it gives you an emotional reaction like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. You cannot underestimate the Parks’ role in terms of bringing the brand to life. I’ve worked in every other line, I’ve seen the amazing films that we distribute, the Disney Channel and met their stars, the products that we create for Disney Store ..and you see how it touches consumers ..but it’s nothing like this.
I was in the Disneyland Hotel earlier with Bob Chapek (Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts), and as we turned the corner, Sleeping Beauty came down the stairs with two little princesses. Our Princess was holding the two little girl’s hands. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. That’s what so amazing.
Does the fact that you are a woman at the head of Euro Disney change the company’s image?
I think the role is the role, whether for a woman or a man. The fact that I am a woman touches a lot of women who work at Euro Disney. 48% of our Cast Members are women, and to have a woman lead the company is important to them. I received a lot of messages about this, so I take this very seriously.
It’s important to be a good role model, to show that a woman can succeed, can take risks. In the end, for anyone to succeed, man or woman, what’s very important is to understand the brand.
Was the recent recognition by Francois Hollande and the French Government important to you?
Absolutely, because our relationship with the government has become better and better, and tighter. The links between us and the public partners are very strong.
There is a lot that people don’t see, through the convention, through local authorities, through investments in Val d’Europe with our partners. We have the same goals. To have the President visit and show his support in front of the press, but most importantly in front of the Cast Members, was incredible. A great success for our team.
We need to work hand in hand with the French tourism and Paris: we have the new Disneyland and Paris campaign for example. For me it’s a great end to the first 25 years and a great start of the years to come.
Heading a Disney Park is new to you – did you converse with your colleagues who lead the other Disney Parks?
We are constantly in contact. I speak with Phillippe Gas (General Manager, Shanghai Disney Resort and former Euro Disney President), with the President of Walt Disney World, George Kalogridis, who was just here, and more.
We speak about what is different, was we have in common, and also how they produced the Anniversaries, because it’s a very important moment for the Park. There are so many people in the U.S. who have worked here in Paris, so they have a lot of good advice for me.
We’d like to thank once again Catherine Powell for taking the time and initiative to meet us, and the Disneyland Paris Fan Relations team for organizing such a wonderful event. Catherine was incredibly open and friendly with all of us, and we look forward to discovering the future she is creating for Disneyland Paris.