A few months ago I visited Paramount Studios. I’ve always loved tv and film and touring a movie lot, especially one so steeped in history, was a dream come true. RKO and Desilu Studios eventually became part of the Paramount Studios of today, so on a tour, you get a glimpse of old Hollywood as well as today’s working studio.
While on an escorted tour, a Paramount Page took us to the part of the lot that was Desilu Studios. She stopped to show us a pretty little park with some buildings in the background that had various facades. As the page began her story on the history of the park, I realized that although its generally acknowledged that Lucille Ball was a very good business woman, her strategy to deal with fan expectations was brilliant.
First. some background. Lucille Ball was the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio. It was 1962. The public was supportive of Lucy as an actress, yet they weren’t so keen on her being the head of a major studio. It wasn’t a question of her ability as much as a question of the times. She was a mother of two children and while acting was a job, it wasn’t considered the same as running a studio.
Lucille Ball had been in show business for years and she knew that public opinion was key to her success as an actress and ultimately her success as a studio head since she would want the public’s support.
According to the Page, Lucy had Lucy Park created outside her office at Desilu Studios. The grassy area and landscape was an exact duplicate of her Hollywood home’s backyard. To the side of the park, there is a building facade, where it matches her parents’ home in Jamestown, NY.
Why? Because she knew the public and her fans wanted her to be the mother and not the corporate executive. She understood that they wanted to see her with her children, having picnics or playing with them. They wanted to see her taking them to visit their grandparents.
Back before there were blogs and 24 hour news sources, the press kept secrets, especially if given access to stories. On numerous occasions, Lucy would have the press come to Desilu Studios to take pictures of her and the kids on a picnic or playing in the yard. She would use the facade of her parent’s home the same way and have pictures taken of her just outside her parent’s house. These pictures ran in magazines and papers with captions like “Lucy at playing with her children at home” and “Lucy in Jamestown.” The public loved the pictures and felt reassured that her priorities were in the proper order.
Lucy understood strategy and she understood her audience. She knew what they wanted from her and she created a strategy to meet their needs as well as her own. Various strategies are needed in a business and knowing your customers’ expectations is part of any business strategy.
Lucy understood the importance of strategy and it enabled her to successfully run Desilu Studios until she left Desilu in 1967. During her tenure at Desilu Studios, she approved the production of Star Trek, Mannix and Mission: Impossible.
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