Crisis PR: Disney Reeling After Alligator Kills Young Boy at Theme Park

Disney World in FloridaIt’s every parent’s nightmare and a horrific news story that has dropped like a bomb in the “happiest place on earth.” Last week a toddler was killed at the Grand Floridian, one of Disney World Orlando’s premier resort hotels.

The child’s family was relaxing by a lake near the hotel when the toddler was grabbed by an alligator and dragged under the water. The boy’s father tried to reach him but was unable to pull the child away from the giant reptile. Suddenly, a Nebraska family’s dream vacation was destroyed, and their family was left scarred forever.

Disney CEO Bob Iger was half a world away when he got the news. Iger was in China to launch the company’s new Shanghai resort. Already on shaky ground in a vibrant but somewhat hostile marketplace, Iger was hit with some of the worst news the CEO of a major theme park could hear.

Negative Associations with Disney’s Brand

As bad as it is to lose a child, the circumstances of the death had all the elements of horror, mystery, and outrage that send the news cycle into overdrive. The terrible images were everywhere. Parents felt their stomachs drop and held their children tight. And, every time they felt that way, the name “Disney” was attached to that feeling. In the public relations business, that sort of negative association is the beginning of a PR crisis.

As the body of poor Lane Graves was recovered on Wednesday morning, Orlando was still reeling from the terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub the week before. Every Google search and social media trend mentioning Orlando seemed connected to terror and fears of tragedy and loss of security. For a theme park, when guests fail to assume security and safety, that worry dampens the fun they pay for, and in the case of Disney, it could mean a lot of people paying a lot less.

Is There Danger at Disney Parks in Other Locations?

Now there’s been sufficient time for the second shoe to drop. Reporters have begun asking how secure Disney’s other resorts and hotels are. The interrogation goes something like this: “If this could happen at the premier facility in the Kingdom, what are the risks at Disney’s other properties?”

It’s an opportune question to be sure, and not exactly a fair question. But it’s the question many people are worried about, justified or not, so it’s a question the press will ask…and they will keep pressing until they get some kind of printable answer. If they don’t get one, that in itself will be news.

The CEO of 5WPR, Ronn Torossian is a leading Public Relations executive.

ronn torossian 5wpr ceo

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