Plan a Magical Event: Lessons from Disney

By Posted in - Public Relations & Restaurant PR + Hospitality PR on August 16th, 2019

Growing up in Orlando, I was raised in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. Everywhere we went, there were signs of Disney’s influence. The company had a huge, white-gloved hand in all major city events, including the naming of our semi-beloved basketball team. Looking back, it seemed impossible to think there was a time that Disney wasn’t a cultural phenomenon or undisputed king of American theme parks.

But there was. Disney has made mistakes, including one of the most arguably terrible PR catastrophes. The 2019 summer marked the 64th anniversary of the opening of the original Disneyland in California – the day that became known internally as “Black Sunday.” You already know how this story ends, because … Disney. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the missteps Disney made that day and learn how you can avoid these faux pas to ensure success in your events.

Unfinished Ambiance

Believe it or not, this magical kingdom wasn’t fully prepared for its worldly debut. Even as the first guests poured into the park, crews of workers were still painting walls and finishing the gardens. The park was an active construction site as guests walked through the front gates.

Avoid being unprepared for party guests by building in ample time for your team to finalize preparations. Create a detailed run of show that includes pre-event prep time, a checklist with responsible parties and deliverables, a contingency plan for each item and a crisis plan for unexpected challenges. This list will help you circumvent those last-minute stressful situations.


Opening day was supposed to only be for a select few friends and family – approximately 15,000 total. Disney welcomed almost double that number thanks to counterfeit tickets and lack of security detail along the perimeters.

Thankfully today, sites like Eventbright, Eventzilla and Evite exist to assist with invites and RSVPs to make it easy to organize and track attendees. For more private affairs, make sure to have a list of guests’ names at the door at the time of entry, and plan to have security stationed at any other possible entry points to avoid crashers.

Shortage of Supplies

The influx of guests brought with it another issue – a shortage of food and drinks. Even the public water fountains weren’t fully up-and-running, leaving guests wandering around both parched and hungry.

Keep an updated list of RSVPs and round up the number to anticipate a few extras. No one likes to come up empty when they go to get a drink – or bite. So skillfully stock your stations with food and beverages by calculating amounts needed using these tips. Not only will this keep your guests around, but it will also keep them happy!

As you know, in the end, Disney lived to tell the tale – and continues to do so. In fact, we can all share our Disney story, because despite the unfinished ambiance, overcrowding and shortage of supplies, Disney endured. If you haven’t arrived at your “happiest place on earth” yet, that’s ok. You might just be at your opening day. Take note of the challenges that arise and properly address them for a permanent fix. Then, continue on your mission to create magic for your clients – and others!

Want to read about a successful opening? Check out the celebration the Clairemont team planned and executed for our client, Vita Vite, when it opened its North Hills location.

Will Hornbeck is a rising senior at Wake Forest University. He thinks the best ride at Disney is the Carousel of Progress.



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