CAA’s ad era dawns under Carbone

Creative Artists Agency’s bid to meld advertising and entertainment moves a major step forward today, when vet commercial agent Stephen Carbone begins work in a top post at the agency.

As announced last week, Carbone’s mandate at CAA is to put top directors and actors in such wide-ranging advertising fields as TV commercials, tour support, interactive media and advertising-supported productions in the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” vein.

A veteran commercial agent for more than 20 years, Carbone is a former executive veepee of arch-rival Intl. Creative Management. But many in Hollywood say Carbone’s appointment means more than a simple raid of the competitor’s workforce.

There is widespread speculation that Carbone’s hire is the first salvo in a coming CAA volley, as the talent agency moves to grow its advertising agency business beyond the representation of Coca-Cola to encompass airlines (Northwest Airlines, TWA or American Airlines), a shoe company (Nike), a computer company (Apple) and a beer company (Anheuser-Busch).

New architecture

Those reports were dismissed as unfounded by a CAA official. CAA chairman Michael Ovitz said Carbone’s appointment marks the first step in the pursuit of a new business opportunity. He said Carbone is “going to map out an architecture for us in any arena that touches product-endorsed events, as well as anything that would come between clients and product endorsement.”

“One of those areas is the director’s level on an international basis,” Carbone said. “The European market is wide open. It has been using high-profile motion picture directors. And it is going to be using more and more of them.”

Other opportunities are on the horizon, including the possible emergence of Barry Diller’s QVC Network as a major buyer of entertainment to accompany its home-shopping programming. Also, corporate advertisers are potential candidates to move into the operation of cable networks, if new delivery systems prove that narrowcasting is a cost-effective way to pitch wares.

Advertising executives said the commercial business has blockbuster potential for CAA because A-list directors and top talent are capable of earning big bucks pitching products in Japan, Europe and the United States.

Commercial experience

Carbone’s credentials add oomph to the appointment.

At ICM, Carbone launched the agency’s commercial division, and helped open up the Japanese and European commercial markets for such clients as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jodie Foster, Sharon Stone and Jacqueline Bisset.

ICM chairman Jeff Berg had no comment on the Carbone move.

Internally, Carbone’s appointment is viewed as a bid by CAA to bring all commercial opportunities under one clearinghouse roof. Previously, advertising agencies wishing to use CAA clients were divvied out to various agents, who often viewed the work as an ancillary business to their movie, music and television mainstream.

Carbone said he will focus on landing directors and performers work in commercials if they so desire, but dismissed any perception that CAA might become directly involved in the production of commercials that its clients are involved in.

That’s good news for the likes of Propaganda Films (“Wild at Heart”) and Limelight Entertainment (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), which are among the few Hollywood production companies that produce movies, television and commercials.

Rick Karo, president and chief operating officer of Limelight, said the company hopes Carbone will use Limelight to produce both advertiser-supported television movies “and the commercials that go in them.” Limelight has an inside track, since it just completed two animated spots for the current CAA Coca-Cola campaign.

When it comes to the bigger picture, however, CAA faces some major challenges in its bid to become an ad industry power.

Marketing clout

“There is a certain validity to the question whether CAA can deliver the marketing clout that an advertising agency does,” said Jerry Fields, president of the Manhattan-based eponymous executive recruitment firm. “But if CAA can learn how to sell a car, a soap or a soft drink, they can possibly sell more goods than the advertising agencies.”

Fields said CAA’s real strength is its ability to reach Hollywood’s vast production community. “They have more creative talent and can technically produce better commercials than the advertising agencies because of the unrivaled access to production and technical people in Hollywood,” he said.

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