Incoming Chair of the Orlando Economic Partnership
It is a comment that has been repeated about this area so often, it seems almost like a mantra. “I came to this community for a job or career opportunity and something else happened beyond the borders of our company. I saw that the welcoming ethos of the hospitality industry shaped the demeanor, the very DNA of the region.” The result is these incredibly intelligent, creative and gifted individuals determine that public engagement is part of their civic duty. What is more the opportunity for meaningful engagement, because the area is so new, dynamic and inclusive, is unprecedented.
One example is Ken Potrock, the incoming chair of the newly merged Orlando Economic Partnership. Potrock also serves as the senior vice president and general manager of Adventures by Disney, Disney Vacation Club and is the sales and marketing leader for Disney’s newest residential community, Golden Oak.
EW: You were a global figure at Disney, but then you transitioned to be based here in Central Florida. How did that happen and how did it impact you?
KP: I shifted from focusing solely on marketing to actually running businesses, which enabled me to stay here in Central Florida more consistently, instead of traveling around the world most of the time. I ran what was then called Disney’s Wide World of Sports, which we rebranded as the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. After that I helped the “reimagining” process for turning Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. They were really fun and exciting businesses, but something else happened along the way. Being based here, I was able to get involved in the community. For me it was a personal, emotional connection. I wanted to contribute to how this region would evolve, and now I have the opportunity to do it.
“Being based here, I was able to get involved in the community. For me it was a personal, emotional connection. I wanted to contribute to how this region would evolve, and now I have the opportunity to do it.” – Ken Potrock
EW: How did you start that engagement?
KP: I began volunteering with United Way and the American Heart Association, but more than anything else, I had some great mentors here at Disney, particularly Al Weiss and Meg Crofton, who both encouraged me. They wanted to continue the involvement they spearheaded and facilitated my participation in the Orlando EDC, which then led to my involvement in the merger.
EW: I want to unpack that, but looking at your primary business, how have tourism and the visitor experience evolved and where do you see it going in the future?
KP: It all goes back to how the consumer is changing. However we identify them, visitors or guests, whether domestic or international, the question is: How will their behavior change in the future? My background is as a consumer behaviorist, so we try to craft a vision of where they’re going, not where they’ve been. The key is refreshing and bringing fresh news to each of our resorts, trips or attractions. The opening of Pandora at Animal Kingdom is a great example of this type of updating. It provides people who have already been to the park with a completely new, immersive, day and night experience… and a new reason to engage.
This is known as “moving the cheese,” finding fresh innovations/ideas that expand our offerings. Like group travel, through Adventures by Disney, most people don’t realize we offer these worldwide tours.
EW: How do you guide that “Where is the puck going?” type of thinking?
KP: It goes back to understanding the behavior of our guests. We have hundreds of opportunities to listen to guests utilizing various touch points, to hear what people like and don’t like, what they hope for. For Disney Vacation Club, we do the traditional marketing, but we also do a variety of events, where we position our executive team at free membership parties to answer any questions or concerns they have. The feedback we get is invaluable; it’s living, breathing marketing research.
EW: What do you believe are the keys to sustaining the remarkable momentum the tourism industry generates?
KP: It’s multidimensional. First comes investing behind our products and services to create new news. Many of the 68 million visitors coming to this area are repeaters; if there isn’t something new for them to experience, they might consider other options. Second, how do you make it seamless so people aren’t overcome by the hassles of the experience? This is really about infrastructure. Thankfully, we not only have one of the best airports in the country, we have an airport making monumental investments to make it the best airport in the future. Infrastructure is tied to vision; we’re doing a pretty good job of preparing for that. The other is about people, the quality of the workforce and talent pipeline. How do you attract, retain, and develop them, with the skills they will need in the future? I have a 21-year-old who moved to San Francisco for a career opportunity. Why is that and how do we get him back? Finally, it’s challenging the status quo and creating quality of life for everyone across every economic stratum.
EW: In your involvement in the broader community, have you found people receptive or resistant to a visionary approach to growth?
KP: This community is different from any other place I’ve lived, including New York, California and Chicago, and the difference is the welcoming nature of this area. Also, because it’s so new, everyone has an equal voice here. Whether you want to focus on infrastructure or growth strategies or quality of life, you can get a place at the table and have a great dialogue. That just isn’t true everywhere. Then you move the conversation beyond what people like to the strategy we want to use that will get us to where we want to go the quickest. This is what builds unity and consensus, which is what we’ve been trying to do with the Orlando Economic Partnership. How do we unify thinking and gain alignment?
EW: There have been two ground-breaking initiatives of the EDC: The branding campaign and the merger. You have been involved in both. Describe your part in the branding campaign.
KP: I was at several events where [Orange County] Mayor Teresa Jacobs was speaking, and she kept going back to this theme that the world knows about us, but they don’t understand us, so we need to tell our story. I explained what I did at Disney and told her I would like to help with that. A group was formed, and we hired an agency and gave them a creative brief. They came back with, “Orlando. You don’t know the half of it.” Literally, there was silence in the room and everyone said, “That’s it.” We knew the world knows the first half, the tourism half, it’s the other half we also wanted people to ask about. Thankfully we have the other half — bio-medical, simulation, defense, technology and a robust startup community. This campaign was perfect for the site selector community, which until the campaign had rarely considered us. This got us on the short list. Once on that list, it is ours to win.
EW: What were the key elements in the merger?
KP: There were many, but one of the most significant was our ability to attract Tim Giuliani as CEO. He is a millennial who brings fresh thinking and great communication skills, both publicly and on social media. He identifies with and is able to connect with a very diverse community in terms of age and culture. Frankly, I don’t think we would have been able to land him in this position if our profile through the ad campaign hadn’t been so successful in telling our story and without the merger, which brings both sides of the economic development strategy together.
The merger was an overnight success, 10 years in the making. The time was right for integration and alignment. The city was transforming into a world-class metropolis, and we wanted to think about how to plan for the future in a way that would maintain our momentum and not fragment. The unifying factor was everyone had concerns, but everyone also had the right intentions. Their hearts were in the right place on how to make our community better today and better prepared for tomorrow.