Friday, June 18, 2010

'Cool' Merch and the Start of an Award-Winning Article

People love to ask writers, "Where do your ideas come from?" Well, in this case, I actually have a good answer (for a change).

Monday night I received a Gold Excel Award from Association Media and Publishing for a story I wrote last year on merchandise trends in the attractions industry. To read the story, click here.

Obviously I'm proud to win a first-place writing award, but I'm especially proud it was for this story, because I can remember exactly where I was when I thought it up: standing in line at a store!

I took an extra day in Orlando after IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008 to enjoy all our industry has to offer, and eventually ended up that Saturday evening in November at the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney doing some Christmas shopping. In the men's department I found this awesome "Pirates of the Caribbean" "two-fer"—where it looks like a T-shirt on top of a longsleeve shirt, but it's really just one shirt—that didn't look like your stereotypical amusement park shirt. The pirate skull logo was off center and up on the left shoulder, and it had some designs down only one of the sleeves. It was definitely geared toward a 20-something (at the time!) like me, I thought.

As I stood in line to buy it, I watched as other guys came into the department. The shirt was up on a second-level rack way over in the corner—not out in the middle of the floor on a big display or something—and yet just about every male around my age who walked through seemed to notice it and at least stop and look seriously at it, if not grab one for themselves.

Obviously, I wasn't the only guy looking for a piece of nontraditional theme park clothing. And, thus, an award-winning story was born. Obviously Disney was looking to be a little more trendy, hip, … "cool" with this shirt, and it worked on me. Was this intentional? Do they do this often? How big a part of their merchandising effort is material like this? All those questions started percolating.

I filed that scene away in my brain and returned to it several months later when I was planning to go to Disney's Hollywood Studios for the "American Idol Experience" premiere. I always try and make the most out of my trips to Orlando, so I asked my PR contact about my idea—is Disney trying to be "cooler" with its merchandise? The answer was a resounding "Yes!" because, as it turns out, Downtown Disney was about to launch its Tren-D store, which coincided perfectly with the germ of my potential article. And off I went …

Everyone who works in a creative field—whether it's writing stories or building attractions—knows winning awards is a tenuous thing; you can't let them define what you do, because you're bound to be disappointed. Either you believe the work is good or you don't, and you have to be satisfied with that. I've certainly entered WAY more contests than I've actually won.

But it sure does feel good to win, right? So I want to say a big thank you to the folks in Walt Disney World PR and Merchandise, first and foremost, for helping to kick this story off, and also to all the other sources in that article who were generous enough to talk about their ideas, philosophies, and product lines with me.

Whether it's a new shirt or a new roller coaster, there is amazing stuff going on in this industry every day, and I definitely am privileged to write about it—awards or not.

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