Universal Orlando Resort includes two theme parks: Universal Islands of Adventure® and Universal Studios Florida®. Dozens of incredibly lucky PR students got a behind-the-scenes look at both during the Florida PR Association conference. Solo PR PRO Premium member Terri Thornton accompanied her son on this tour, and gives us a sneak peek into the public relations strategies of this fast-growing resort.
Alyson Lundell, Universal’s Director of Public Relations, led this unique tour that gave aspiring communications students incredible VIP access, zipping past long lines to hit highlights including The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®; Transformers: The Ride-3D; The Incredible Hulk Coaster® and more. Each park has its own piece of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the students saw the best of both—from the Harry Potter and the Forbidden JourneyTM ride (where they became part of a Quidditch match) to the newest area in Universal Studios Florida—Diagon AlleyTM. There they rode Harry Potter and The Escape From GringottsTM, a fast, exciting underground adventure which included a close call with a dragon.
But pure fun wasn’t the only thing on the agenda—Lundell kicked off the day with a presentation in a discrete Islands of Adventure conference room. The agenda included a networking exercise where the students had to meet other participants, sharing information about what makes them unique and why they want to get into PR. Lundell illustrated why networking is so important by introducing Denielle Ricci, an employee who first introduced herself by asking to be her intern.
The students were also given a close look into the strategies and tactics of the top-notch PR team. For example:
- Lundell shared “teasers” the team sends newsrooms to create buzz for events such as Halloween Horror Nights®, now in its 25th year. One of the most memorable was a disembodied head with leathery skin that folds back to reveal a calling card hidden inside the folds of the soft decaying “brain.” Gruesome, yes, but effective enough to stop a newsroom in its tracks. An email or blog post can’t do that!
- She also touched on the importance of social media in bringing tweens and teens to the parks, and the challenge of choosing, and budgeting for, popular YouTube creators to produce content on-site.For example, YouTubers with millions of subscribers may ask as much as $75,000 to produce content on-site. Others charge less, but reach fewer people. But the number of viewers the content creators reach isn’t everything; the PR team has no control over the finished product, so they must do research to be sure the folks they bring in are a good match with what the park hopes to convey.
- A huge number of television shows tape and broadcast live from Universal, and movies—including Sharknado 3—shoot there too. The PR team is tasked with a lot of coordination associated with these projects.
By the end of the day, the students had a taste of both the consumer and business side of the theme park and tourism trade, thanks to the Universal PR pros who were willing to share their excitement about their jobs and their profession.
Since the FPRA event was primarily for students who are just starting out in the profession, Solo PR circled back around with Alyson Lundell to ask a few more questions:
Solo PR: Which social media platforms give Universal Orlando Resort the most engagement?
AL: We really have great engagement across all of our channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Just a few months ago, the social media team launched Universal’s Social Media Engagement Center. It is staffed by a team that monitors all of our channels, and provides real time answers to questions, fun facts and more for our fans/guests. We also work very closely with our Guest Services team to ensure we answer guest questions both before and during their visit to enhance their experience.
Solo PR: How has the resort incorporated social media into its overarching marketing and communications strategic plan?
AL: The Social Media team has grown significantly this year because it is such an important component of our marketing and communications strategy. For us, our social mission is twofold: Leverage the appropriate channels for paid efforts, but more importantly, tell our deeper story through fun and engaging content that our fans love to interact with on a regular basis.
Solo PR: How do you measure its success?
AL: While we of course use extensive monitoring and listening platforms, the bottom line is we want our fans to have fun with us in our parks as well as on our channels. Watching them like a post or comment on a fun piece of video is how we are measuring our success at the end of the day.
Solo PR: Any insights as to how you’ve handled the resort’s big growth, from a strategic PR/communications perspective?
AL: We are fully embracing our recent growth. Over the past five years, we have opened 18 new experiences across our entire destination. That level of growth is unprecedented in our industry and in the Orlando market. This year, we decided to set out and tell that story to our important media and blogger contacts—and it is resonating with them. We have seen extensive coverage of our growth coupled with the news that we’re not slowing down. Next year, we will celebrate the opening of our newest attraction—Skull Island: Reign of Kong—and we recently announced that in 2017 we will open a new attraction based on the Fast & Furious franchise.
Terri Thornton is with Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR, social media and content development firm based in Atlanta, Ga. With skills honed over 20 years in the news media business, Terri Thornton offers top-tier consulting, strategy and implementation to a number of mid-sized businesses. Specialties include representing law, accounting, financial services and multifamily real estate firms. She also has considerable experience representing higher education and graduate institutions, clean energy and solar power companies, as well as nonprofit organizations.