Can a story clinch a $7.4 Billion deal?

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Yup.

Because that’s exactly what helped Disney acquire the hit-producing animation machine known as Pixar.

Now, these two companies – Disney and Pixar – are both master storytellers. In film, print, and in merchandise.

Disney we know about. Mickey Mouse. Snow White. The Little Mermaid.

And maybe you know that Pixar was born from a small computer division of LucasFilm back in the late 70s.

Then Steve Jobs bought it, and together with animator John Lasseter and techno-guru Ed Catmull, they built the studio that gave us Toy Story, Cars, and the Incredibles (my personal favorite, because, hey, it’s about super heroes).

Art + Technology + Business = Awesome

Art + Technology + Business = Awesome

Pixar blazed the trail for all the slick computer graphics that bombard us today … starting from scratch in the days when the promise of a full length, computer animated movie was something you could only whisper in your dreams.

Pixar had to fight hard to make those dreams a reality.

You could say they valued their independence.

In fact, Pixar was obsessed with preserving an open flow of ideas, encouraging dissent even with top brass.

Employees were empowered to think outside the box – even when it came to their job titles: Pixar employees had free range to “exercise their creative freedom with their titles and names on their business cards”.

In contrast, Disney was a mature corporation, structured along strong hierarchical divisions with clear cut titles and positions.

At Disney, if you stuck your neck out with a bold idea, you could get fired.

Which, by the way, is exactly what happened to a young John Lasseter 32 years before, when the future big shot was just a plucky animator with some crazy ideas about tossing computers into the artistic stew.

Not only that, but Disney had kindled Pixar’s ire eighteen months earlier, when the big company decided to play hardball in a previous agreement between the two businesses.

Essentially, Disney threatened to exercise an earlier contract option and produce Toy Story 3 — but without Pixar’s involvement.

The Toy Story franchise was the jewel in Pixar’s crown.

Seizing it from Pixar would be like informing Sir Paul McCartney that Justin Bieber had the right to record “Hey Jude” … Part 2.

(Or maybe Beebs would give it a “cooler” name, like “Hey Dude”).

Talk about stealing somebody’s baby.

So when the 800-pound Mouse licked its lips in anticipation of swallowing the smaller, fiercely independent company …

It’s an understatement to say that the Pixarians needed some coaxing.

Jobs was for the merger, but Lasseter and Catmull weren’t convinced that they’d be able to retain the free flow of ideas that had powered Pixar’s success.

Ed Catmull tells the story in his must read book — Creativity, Inc — of how Disney CEO Bob Iger wooed him to agree with the merger.

And Iger did it … with a story.

THE STORY

The first thing Iger did that night, says Catmull, “was tell me a story.”

Bob Iger said he had recently had an epiphany at the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland. He was watching the famous parade of characters, from Mickey Mouse to Snow White, when he noticed that the only new classic characters were from Pixar movies: Buzz Lightyear and Woody.

“It occurred to me that the only classic characters that had been created in the past ten years were Pixar characters,” the CEO of Disney said.

You can bet that got Catmull’s attention.

Iger went on to explain that despite Disney’s massive business interests – merchandising, amusement parks, merchandising, cruise lines, merchandising, resorts … did I mention merchandising? – that despite all these, animation would always be Disney’s lifeblood.

And expertise in animation, especially the new form – computer animation – was exactly what Pixar did better than anyone.

This story proved to Catmull one very important thing: Disney had no interest in squashing the freedom and creativity that had built Pixar’s greatness.

In other words, Disney wasn’t about to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Now, I suppose Bob Iger could have simply said so from the beginning.

“We value the central role of animation in Disney’s portfolio,” he could have said, “and we value Pixar’s contribution to that.”

(Right … and I’m sure Catmull believes every reassurance he’s ever heard from a corporate suit.)

Instead, Iger started the evening with a simple, true story that drove his point home.

A story that’s also a shared experience: watching the parade of characters in Disneyland. The characters that are the true heart of the Magic Kingdom.

That shared experience made it easy for Ed Catmull to imagine himself right there — especially since Catmull had been a lover of Disney ever since watching “Uncle Walt” on Sunday nights when he was a kid.

It was easy for Catmull to think with his heart and feel a glow of pride “seeing” the parade of Pixar’s contributions to the animation pantheon.

That story set the perfect stage for the ensuing (successful) negotiation, and it demonstrated – not just explained – Iger’s sincerity in his pitch.

That’s part of the power of stories. They present us with a sliver of reality. Of authenticity. And therefore trust.

EPILOGUE

Oh, and the little deal Bob Iger put together?

The deal that made Steve Jobs the single biggest shareholder of Disney (now his widow), and made rich men of all involved?

It’s also born immense creative fruit, because Lasseter and Catmull were put in charge of both Pixar’s and Disney’s animation studios.

And Disney just last year released a monster hit – you or your kids may have heard of the little movie called Frozen – that became the highest grossing animated movie ever, surpassing the one billion dollar mark.

And in the many Academy Awards won for that movie, the names of Lasseter, Jobs, and Catmull were on many lips.

So the deal seems to have worked out pretty well for Bob Iger.

The MORAL

When you’ve got to win someone over – especially a hostile crowd – start from a story of shared experiences.

Stay Tuned For Next Week …

Wherein you learn to let your tears write your stories for you

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 6 comments
  • Scott L. Haines
    Reply

    Stories sell. Stories sell! STORIES SELL! Every copywriter should have that tattooed on their brain. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to close a $7,000 deal, a $70,000 deal… or… as Scott showed… a $7.4 billion deal.

    I learned the importance of this when I first started working with Gary Halbert. The first thing he ever personally gave me to read was NOT a classic advertising or marketing book… or… even anything he had written.

    It was a fiction book from a series. The Travis McGee series. (I believe there are 21 books total and I’ve read ’em all.)

    And to this day, I consider that book one of the greatest gifts he ever gave me.

    Why?

    Because, reading and studying that book (and the entire series) made me a better storyteller. And that, in turn, made me a much, much better copywriter.

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      It’s honor to have you share, Scott. Thank you.

      My fictional adventures usually take me tramping off to Middle Earth, Arrakis, or Westeros … but cognizant of Mr. Halbert’s advice, I sailed down to the Keys just recently when I tried out my first Travis McGee novel — book number one, The Deep Blue Goodbye.

      Loved the specificity of his language and his running commentary on personalities and motives. Deep psychology dive. Really gives you a sense that you understand how the world works, which is a key attraction in great copy.

      (I recently learned of a pair of scientific studies that show people who read more fiction are better able to navigate society, since good fiction helps us empathize with the experience of others. MacDonald’s fiction does that.)

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      • Scott L. Haines
        Reply

        Hey Scott,

        You’re welcome. That’s cool that you sailed to the Keys. And even cooler that you bought (and read) a Travis McGee novel.

        By the way, keep reading them. They get better. I wasn’t bowled over by the first one…. but… by the 3rd or 4th, I was hooked.

        Halbert always told me you don’t have to read ’em in order (and you don’t), but I did. And I’m glad I did. You get to see the evolution of MacDonald’s writing. And you also get an “on the ground” take of how Florida changed from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. Pretty interesting.

        Also, by the last novel–The Lonely Silver Rain–he gets into the “Cocaine Cowboys” era of South Florida and McGee starts having some “No Country For Old Men” moments. Good stuff!

        By the way, I have used–in my personal and professional life–a lot of strategies Travis used in the books… with good success. These books–besides being entertaining reads–serve as pretty decent “how to” guides to navigating the real world and dealing (successfully) with human nature.

        Best,
        Scott

        P.S. I’m going to reread them in the near future… but… this time, I’m going to have a highlighter handy. That, or I’ll put ’em on my Kindle and highlight the key parts that way.

        • Scott McKinstry
          Reply

          Just started on Book 2, Nightmare in Pink. He knows how to introduce a character — like this bit in the second paragraph, describing Nina as:

          “… wearing a smock to prove that she did her stint at the old drawing board.”

          Faster and funnier than a lengthy description of a girl’s pretentiousness trying to establish her professional cred.

          Hmmm … maybe the Travis McGee series would make for a good selection in the Copy Chief book club?

          (btw, my words got away from me in my last post — I didn’t actually sail to the Keys (that would be cool) — I was trying to be literary. Talk about attempted cleverness trumping clarity:)

  • Ross O'Lochlainn
    Reply

    Great story, Scott. Love the example of using an authentic story and the contrast to what can easily be mistrusted as standard corporate bullshit: “We value the central role of animation in Disney’s portfolio,” he could have said, “and we value Pixar’s contribution to that.”

    The message is the same, but in only one instance will it be communicated with meaning.

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      Agreed, Ross. Stories can be made up too, of course, but the brain tends to process them differently, at least upon first hearing. Our guard is down, in part because we’re curious to discover what happens next.

      And even if Rich Ross had said “You know, Pixar’s characters are the only recent animation heroes to enter the classic Disney pantheon” that still wouldn’t have been as persuasive as telling his story of when that particular light bulb went off.

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