Dreams come true

Carrie Smith Matson with Mickey Mouse.

As a brand marketer at Fisher-Price, Carrie Smith Matson, BS ’95, MBA ’96, discovered her passion—marketing to families.

“I jumped at the chance to work for such an amazing company with family-focused consumer products,” says Matson, who joined the East Aurora toy company as marketing associate for infant toys. “What a dream job to be able to market toys and joy.”

Her responsibility increased over her seven years there, working on key infant and preschool toy categories and launching a new line of educational toys called “Laugh & Learn.”

But Matson wanted to try something new, diversify her industry experience—and live somewhere a bit warmer than Buffalo. So, she began searching for big, family-focused brands in the South.

When Disney called to offer her a role as brand manager for the Magic Kingdom, “I came running,” she says.

“Growing up, we went to Disney World every year, so to be able to work not just for Disney but for Disney World was something I’d always aspired to. I had such nostalgia for the brand and so many happy family memories.”

For the next 10 years, Matson would serve in multiple marketing roles at Walt Disney World, developing and executing strategic communication plans for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and the water parks. She was promoted to director of marketing strategy in 2009.

Along the way she helped launch such attractions as New Fantasyland, a Magic Kingdom expansion that opened in 2012, and special events like Mickey’s Halloween Party and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. In all, she led her team of 10 to implement marketing plans for more than 20 Walt Disney World campaigns, driving nearly $1 billion in annual revenue. 

Then, in 2013, she changed course to set sail with Disney Cruise Line, and has been leading its marketing efforts ever since.

Today, Matson is responsible for getting people interested in a Disney cruise, booking a trip, adding on enhancements like shore excursions and onboard experiences, and ultimately getting them to join the Castaway Club loyalty program for return visits.

“We work with our internal consumer insights team, advertising agency and several external groups to develop a marketing strategy and determine who our target audiences are and how we’re going to reach and engage them,” she says.

Matson credits her School of Management education for preparing her to work cross-functionally to achieve her goals at Disney—particularly the team-based approach of the MBA program.

“Working in teams is all I do every day,” she says. “I work with operations, revenue management, marketing promotions and more, and when I was in the UB MBA program we had group members with different concentrations and learned to lean on their expertise depending on the class or project.”

In a year made difficult in so many ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry was hit especially hard, Disney Cruise Line included. Operations halted in March 2020 and Matson’s team of 15 shrunk to just three.

Now the industry is slowly starting to come back, and with her team back up to 12, Matson sees great things on the horizon.

“We’re reintroducing ships one by one,” she says. “We have four ships right now and a fifth—the Disney Wish—set to start sailing in June 2022, plus two more ships in development, so we will soon be a seven-ship fleet.

“It’s been a really challenging year and a half, but we have an incredible brand, and our cruises are an amazing experience. We’re ready to bring those memories and magic back to families.”

Written by Kevin Manne