by Jack Lindquist
In a special edition of Park Bloggin’, official ‘Disney Legend’ Jack Lindquist (pictured), who began his 38-year career with the company as Disneyland’s first ever advertising manager, explains how he helped put the California park and its then relatively unknown location on the map.
Before I went to work for Disney, I interned at an ad agency in Los Angeles. I was very happy, loved my work, and probably would have stayed in that industry had I not had the chance to become the first advertising manager for Disneyland. That sounds like a grand title, but in fact I was the only person in the advertising department at the time; I was a great boss!
I had read about Walt’s plan to build a park in Anaheim, but first of all I had to figure out where the hell Anaheim was. Living in Southern California, it wasn’t that hard to find. I just fell in love in the park when I saw it. Even seeing it 80% complete, I knew it wasn’t an amusement park. This was something no one had done before. There was a real train station, there was an opera house, then you look down Main Street and there’s a real castle! I didn’t know if would work, but thought something this unique should. Only time could tell.
One of the things we had going for us in those days, and this was 1955 remember, was that we didn’t know we couldn’t something; so we just went ahead and did it. Also Walt have us the freedom to try things, we didn’t have to take it to accounting. We trialled a lot of things, like New Year’s Eve, opening the park [with a second admission] after dark, Grad Night and so on. As the company grew we transferred a lot of those things from the park in California to Walt Disney World in Florida.
Disney never depended on solely advertising to get the word out. We used a lot of publicity and promotion, and we were fantastically lucky to have ABC do an hour’s live transmission every Sunday night from the park. I would say that for the first four years it was all strictly local advertising; we put a lot of effort into selling where Anaheim was and then when the Santa Ana freeway opened up, outdoor became very important, we put a lot of direction signs out and shaped our advertising around that.
We didn’t become major advertisers until we opened Walt Disney World, and at that time I had responsibility for both sites. I knew that when we opened Florida it would be a totally different ball game. In California we had enough population in the state to exist, but in Florida we didn’t have that luxury. We had to draw people down from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St Louis; everywhere east of the Mississippi.
I formed the Walt Disney Travel Company because I wanted to be able to feed the parks. Even in California we had a relatively small piece of the pie. Initially we put down the Disneyland Hotel, but then all the other hotels starting appearing around the park and were doing well. With a travel company I saw that we could arrange where people stayed, we booked their air travel and booked their rental car; now we had all the pieces of the pie.
You can sell something as hard as you like, but people will only come if the product is as good as it’s supposed to be. And it was. If it hadn’t, I would have had to see what happened after two or three years. It probably wasn’t until 25 years later that I really sat down and said to myself, “You aren’t going anywhere, this is it buddy, this is your career” – and it was a great one. I became director or marketing at Disneyland, vice-president of marketing for Walt Disney World, then park president in Anaheim and vice-president and director of marketing for Tokyo and Paris. I retired 20 years ago. I wrote a book in 2010 (In Service to the Mouse with Melinda J Combs) and now I’m doing a new book with Tim O’Brien, but I have no urgency. If it’s finished and it gets published, good. If not, so what?
Jack Lindquist was speaking to Owen Ralph in conjunction with the Legends and their Legacies panel discussion at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2013