Thompson refocusing on showbiz efforts

Ad giant J. Walter Thompson said it has “refocused on its showbiz roots” in a fresh push to work brands across media and to creatively partner with Hollywood, giving its clients a boost in a fragmented media world where the 30-second TV spot has had its heyday.

Announcement of the new global venture, being spearheaded from the firm’s Gotham HQ, is at this point more of a statement of purpose than a list of specific projects, although execs said four or five are in the works. They include a videogame and reality TV show, a high-end movie series and an evolving book series, exec VP John Garland told Daily Variety.

“We’re going to migrate entertainment to the core of our thinking,” Garland said. “We need to operate for our brands the way a talent agency operates for its clients,” he added, with the goal of developing one tentpole idea that can serve a wide-ranging campaign.

“I don’t think anybody has really cracked this equation of marrying the advertiser and their enterprise and interfacing efficiently with what Hollywood does on a daily basis,” he acknowledged. But he said JWT’s “structure is about six to nine months ahead of the curve of everybody else in the space.”

The storied firm certainly has some big names to work with — clients include Ford, Rolex, Schick, Pfizer, Unilever, Samsung, Domino’s, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft and the U.S. Marine Corps.

It also has a history in the showbiz space. In the 1930s, it broke ground by creating and producing radio programs including “The Kraft Music Hall” and “Lux Radio Theatre.” In 1947, it launched “The Kraft Television Theater.”

Garland and Stuart McLean, JWT’s new head of branded production, will lead the venture. McLean most recently ran his own L.A.-based production company, Bedell-McLean Branded Entertainment.

Garland and McLean report to company prexy Rosemarie Ryan and recently appointed chief creative officer Ty Montague.

JWT is repped by Shaun Clark at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton for showbiz ventures on the West Coast.

Media companies and advertisers have been studying, and in many cases fretting over, the fragmentation of media in recent years. The diffusion of digital video recorders, which let consumers zap commercials, poses a particular threat to the lifeblood of the broadcast TV biz and the advertisers who depend on it. While neither big media nor big advertising is known for quick shifts from business as usual, they’re starting.

“Over the last six months, our clients are really demanding this, asking for it,” Garland said.

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