Economy challenges ’90s H’w’d

The harsh realities of ’90s economics, at least for Hollywood, has meant that television has increasingly become driven by advertisers, film studios are more dependent than ever on the foreign buck and music companies will rarely spend the money to nurture new talent unless their first single is a hit.

Such was the consensus of a panel of marketing exex who confabbed Thursday night in the first event sponsored by the newly founded Entertainment Publicists Professional Society. The event, titled “Entertainment Public Relations Economic Outlook for the ’90s,” featured a panel that included: Barbara Brogliatti, senior VP of TV publicity, promotion & public relations for Warner Bros.; Jeffrey Godsick, exec veepee for Rogers & Cowan; Marvin J. Levy, marketing consultant for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin’s Entertainment; and Michael Mitchell, senior VP, Communications/Artists Development for Motown Records. Karen Folsom, of Karen Folsom executive search, moderated.

“The bottom line is that we’re not expanding in the number of tickets sold for movies,” noted Levy, “but there is a wider range of movies being produced now than ever before.”

Thus marketing, publicity and promotion people have a tougher time to find the right marketing strategy that will send people to the box office in droves on the crucial opening weekend.

“Take the film ‘Malcolm X.’ Everyone knew about that film before anyone ever saw an ad,” Levy said. “That was due to a careful marketing campaign.”

Fickle TV

Television, on the other hand, has become increasingly mercurial as executives constantly test-market programs in new time slots looking for the right formula, Brogliatti said.

“That’s become the most frustrating part of the business today,” she said. “TV changes hourly now. There’s no consistency in promotion or advertising because the changes happen so quickly. And the public can’t keep up.”

With few on-air promos and not enough time to advertise the schedule changes in print media, new shows have a harder time establishing a loyal following, if only because the following can’t track their progression.

In the world of music, the economic crunch hasn’t hit as hard because the basic product, a cassette or compact disc, is still relatively low-priced, said Mitchell.

“What we’ve found, though, is that people are more particular about what they’re buying,” he said.

‘Impulse’ buyers

The most active buying market for music has also grown younger, with companies now targeting their campaigns toward the 12 to 15-year-olds, believing they are the prime “impulse” buyers.

In terms of marketing music stars, Mitchell said it all comes down to image.

“The development of the artist and their image has become very important,” he said. “There are a lot of acts out there performing in the same genre, so you need to create an image that will propel your group to the top.”

Client base

For people working in publicity firms such as Rogers & Cowan, harsh economics has meant a dwindling client base in traditional areas, said Godsick.

“It became important for our company to diversify and move into other fields, ” he said.

In addition to handling publicity, the company has moved into promotion and marketing. “What we’ve found is that the traditional magazine cover with a star on it will no longer do the trick,” he said. “We are now going out and finding our audiences and finding new ways to stimulate word of mouth.”

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