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D23's Adam Sanderson sees social media, digital technology as the smart way to grow Disney's official fan club

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D23's Adam Sanderson sees social media, digital technology as the smart way to grow Disney's official fan club

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When it came to proving his "Disney geek" street cred last January, Adam Sanderson -- Head of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club -- had just the secret weapon in mind. To decorate his new office, Sanderson (who had previously worked as the Senior Vice President of Franchise Management for the Disney / ABC Television Group) brought in one of his most prized childhood possession: a 45 of the theme song from "it's a small world."

"This is actually a souvenir from my family's visit to the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair," Adam recalled during an interview for the Huffington Post. "My family lived about a half hour away from Flushing Meadow. So we went to the Fair sometime during its two-year run. I'm not exactly sure which year it was, 1964 or 1965. But I know that my Dad took a picture of me standing with the Disney characters outside of the Pepsi-Cola pavilion. So maybe my parents bought me that 45 after we got off of 'it's a small world' and then exited through the gift shop."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now just having a Disney-related souvenir from the 1964 - 1965 New World's Fair should be enough to qualify someone for membership in D23. But Sanderson -- because he was already on a path to eventually become the Head of the Official Disney Fan Club -- had to go a little bit further with his fandom.

"So years later, I'm working for the Company and I run into Richard Sherman. And Richard -- along with his brother Robert -- is the guy who actually wrote the theme song for 'it's a small world.' And since I keep this 45 on display in my office ... Well, I quickly go and get it and then tell Richard the story about how I used to play this 45 on my grandmother's Victrola and how it would mean the world to me if he would now sign it," Adam continued. "And Mr. Sherman laughs and then autographs that record for me, adding a personal note: 'It's about time.' "

And the times, they are obviously a-changing. Nowadays, we're a long way aways from when Sanderson used to play that 45 on his grandmother's Victrola. Which is why Adam -- while respecting The Walt Disney Company's history and the obvious affection that its hardcore fans have for the films, TV shows and theme park attractions of the past -- is trying to make sure that D23 makes use of every available technology and delivery platform to stay connected with the fan community.

Walt Disney poses with an ABC television camera in a publicity shot of the 
Fall 1954 debut of the weekly "Disneyland" TV series. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Look, we're honestly just following in Walt's foot steps here. I mean, think about it. He was an early adopter of technology. Those early Mickey Mouse shorts were among the first films to feature synchronized sound. Likewise that Fantasound system which Disney technicians developed for the original theatrical release of 'Fantasia.' That predated the elaborate sound systems that we find in movie theaters today. And back in the 1950s, when all of the other studios in Hollywood were hesitating to get into television, Walt leaped in with both feet," Adam explained. "So to now make use of new technologies like live-streaming so that some of D23's panels and presentations can then be available to fan club members in far-off corners of the globe, that -- I feel -- is a way to honor Walt's innovative spirit. More importantly, that there's a real opportunity here to grow and change the Official Disney Fan Club in a way that's consistent with the way that people now interact with media. "

Which isn't to say that Sanderson plans on actively moving D23 away from all older forms of media. Take -- for example -- Disney twenty-three magazine, that glossy collectible quarterly which is exclusively available to all Gold level members of the Official Disney Fan Club.

"Although the world is obviously transitioning away from print, Disney twenty-three magazine is beloved. This publication resonates with our fans in a way that Hearst and Conde Nast I know would just kill for. So we are definitely going to continue publishing Disney twenty-three magazine," Adam stated. "But that said, are we going to just stay static with this award-winning publication? Nope. We want to evolve Disney twenty-three magazine. Explore the idea of doing some new features. We're looking at all sorts of opportunities right now."

Copyright 2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And speaking of bigger ... One thing that certainly won't be getting smaller anytime soon is the D23 Expo. Even though more than 50,000 people from 48 states and 21 countries attended the third edition of the largest Disney fan event in the world back in 2013, Sanderson anticipates that the 2015 edition (which will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center from August 14-16) will draw an even bigger crowd. More importantly, be an even bigger crowd pleaser.

"I began working on the 2015 Expo on the first day that I came to work at D23. And it's just been a thrill to work on an event of this size. As a kid, I was the one who did the Muscular Dystrophy carnivals in my neighborhood. And when I worked at Disney Channel Worldwide, I played a key role in planning some pretty big events. But what we've got planned for the next D23 Expo, it just boggles the mind," Adam enthused. "I mean, when you think about everything that's going on inside of the Company right now, all of the cool things that they're doing at Marvel and Lucasfilm and Pixar, not to mention the Studio and Consumer Products and Disney Interactive ... We have so much to showcase this time around. Which is why we're looking at all sorts of different ways to grant Disney fans access, make it possible for them to interact with all of this incredible entertainment that's headed their way. Which is why -- as I mentioned earlier -- we're looking for additional ways to connect with our D23 Members. Make use of digital and social media so that they can then have access to all of the great content that's available through the Official Disney Fan Club. Not just the retro and nostalgic stuff. But also stories and videos that then talk up all of the great future projects that The Walt Disney Company currently has in the works."

Adam Sanderson. Head of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved 

Speaking of which ... Given that 2015 looks to be a banner year for the Mouse House, what with the 60th anniversary of Disneyland Park, not to mention highly anticipated theatrical releases like "Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron," Pixar's "Inside Out" and Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," what Disney-produced project is Sanderson most looking forward to seeing? Appropriately enough, it's "Tomorrowland," that brand-new Brad Bird / Damon Damon Lindelof movie which opens in theaters on May 22nd. Which (SPOILERS AHEAD) has an intriguing tie to the very beginnings of Adam's own Disney fandom.

"We actually ran a preview for 'Tomorrowland' as part of our Destination D: Attraction Rewind event last month at Walt Disney World. And what was great about this clip is that it showed a scene which was set at the 1964 - 1965 New York World's Fair where a character got on the  'it's a small world' ride," Sanderson stated.

What happened next? To be among the first to get a definitive answer to that question, you should probably think about joining D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Monday, December 22, 2014 


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  • I have to admit that I was skeptical when I heard that a marketing guy would be taking over as head of D23. But truth be told, he seems to have done a good job so far. Last July, he had Jeffrey Epstein from his team participate in and bring a few freebies for a Disneyana Fan Club event - the first time that D23 had been a part of a DFC event in some time.  Last month's Destination D was run pretty well, correcting a few glaring errors from the last couple of Destination D's that I'd participated in, and they also made steps to provide exclusive web content to both event attendees and to members who couldn't come to Orlando for the event. I know some members are disappointed that the Silver membership is being eliminated, but given that D23 created Standard memberships that have many of the same perks, it seems to me it's been recognized as redundant, and the Gold Family memberships may work out in favor of members if they're done right. Thy're even trying to do more events outside of Los Angeles, which has has been a perennial source of frustration for members and potential members.  There's more that D23 could do to improve relations with the Disney fan community, but it seems to me like Adam's off to a good start. Best of luck to him!

  • Even though this isn't related to this article, I just wanted to share this since I'm not yet a member on a Disney fan forum (still searching for the best one!): As a hardcore Disney fan, I was mildly annoyed and offended by this "satirical" post: bestforfilm.com/.../10-reasons-disney-are-unspeakably-evil

    Some ignoramus Disney haters actually agree to these beliefs, when many of them are unfounded. For instance, all Disney films aren't happy and saccharine with princesses marrying a prince at the end (let's conveniently forget films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Couldron, Mulan, etc... we only know Frozen, the Lion King and Snow White/Cinderella anyway). I'm not good with words and bringing all my my information and knowledge together and presenting them.  So could a wordsmith Disney fan comment on this article and bring some light on to the casual fans or those who are seriously stupid enough to believe an entertainment company is evil?  I hate seeing Walt's name being tarnished, as well as all the talented people who have worked on the films in the past and present. If people knew their Disney history, they wouldn't view it as just a big bad brand or corporation run by faceless company heads. That's what Roy Disney feared.

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