Studios OK with marketing messengers

Communications czar not compatible with current system

Film studios don’t see a great need for media czars who oversee their overall media buying and messaging strategy.

Increasingly, consumer product companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble have gotten the benefit of their media agencies communications specialists, and while this would seem like an ideal addition for studios, especially in the age of fractionalizing media and growing digital platforms, many execs say things are fine as they are.

“I don’t think anything is broke,” says Shelley Watson, senior veep and director of entertainment for Santa Monica, Calif.-based media agency RPA, which has MGM as a client.

For one, she notes, studios’ publicity machines already handle a significant part of a film’s marketing efforts, which isn’t part of the paid-media agenda that media agencies handle. Secondly, media plans can change much more quickly than, for example, selling an automobile or mobile phone service.

Lastly, the sometimes scattered way film marketers operate wouldn’t work within the slower process of a media agency communication specialist.

“Movies can be fuzzy as a concept,” says one veteran senior media executive at a major Hollywood studio. “Having a communication specialist? It’s tough enough to get everyone in the same room at the same time just to find out what everyone is doing.”

Says Watson: “Those specialists work better for longer-term products. This time factor just doesn’t exist with movies. Packaged-goods advertisers can have nine months to fix things. With movies, you sometimes get nine hours.”

Movie marketing execs say theatrical media plans are a different animal and continue to be. In buying television commercial time, studios are known to pay premiums for specific and needed commercial positioning. Much of this comes from quick responses of daily, almost real-time syndication national tracking services that can show consumers interest, or lack thereof, in a specific film.

Because of this, Watson says, “It’s not uncommon to have 60 to 70 revisions of media plans.” She doesn’t believe a communication specialist would be a helpful addition to get in-between these lightning fast changing moves.

Also, the current wave of communications specialist isn’t necessary because much of what these specialists do, studios already do inhouse. Unlike consumer products companies, movie studios already have deep resources when it comes to consumer research, testing and creative advertising.

Still, some studios believe the business of marketing movies needs a shakeup, perhaps looking to a broader planning model.

Disney recently made a surprising decision to hire MT Carney, a partner from Naked Communications, a U.K.-based communications planning agency. She will be the Mouse House’s president of marketing for all theatrical units. Most studios typically recruit senior marketing talent from their own ranks in their media, promotion, creative advertising or public relations divisions.

Carney has deep experience in digital arena for companies such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, Google, Nokia, American Express and others, as well as experience as a worldwide media planner for Ogilvy & Mather.

Robert Marich, author of “Marketing to the Moviegoers,” says Disney’s hiring an outsider isn’t a new trend. In the 1970s, studios looked to TV execs to help develop and sell films; in the ’90s studios tapped consumer product companies such as Revlon and Burger King for talent.

More recently, studios evolved in another way: not only disguising movie content as marketing messages but integrating that content over a number of media platforms. Much of this steered studios publicity departments.

“Because filmed entertainment marketing is in almost all cases perceived as content, there was a natural move toward integration,” says Don Buckley, former executive VP of new media for Warner Bros. theatrical marketing and who now runs THA.i, an interactive marketing company.

Studios were the first to offer this type of integration and other consumer product marketers followed.

“Studios were using trailers and TV spots on the Internet before technology caught up and allowed streaming,” says Buckley. “So, I’d argue that the movie business has been actually ahead of many other industries.”

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