Film exec was in vanguard of branding and promotions

Film marketing and branding exec Karen Sortito, a pioneer in branding and third-party tie-ins, died Dec. 13 in New York City of brain cancer. She was 49.

At MGM/UA Sortito’s negotiations for millions of dollars from high-end promotional partners that contributed to the cost of making and advertising the Pierce Brosnan starrer helped boost worldwide receipts for the film in excess of $350 million. Sortito prided herself on orchestrating deals that were imperceptible to the audience, contributing to, rather than distracting from, the movie-going experience.

She started in showbiz soon after college as director of marketing and promotion at MTV in New York City helping to define the brand in its initial years. In 1989, she moved to the West Coast to join 20th Century Fox Film Corp. as VP promotion/product placement. Three years later, Paramount hired Sortito in a similar capacity, but she was soon snatched up by Gary Barber, then chief operating officer and vice chairman of Morgan Creek Productions. At Morgan Creek, Sortito pursued third-party promotions and corporate partnerships.

In the mid-1990s, she arrived at MGM/UA as senior VP of worldwide promotions and was soon promoted to executive veep. When MGM/UA saw some changes in management, Sortito left and spent three years consulting, finally settling at Spyglass Entertainment in 2002 under the eye of her former boss, Barber.

“Deeply intelligent, full of spunk and energy, she would light up the room with her smile and laughter,” Barber said.

In 2007, Sortito returned to NYC and worked at marketing agency NYC & Co., where she started as senior VP but soon created an entire entertainment division of the company which she headed as general manager.

Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and Sortito’s boss at Fox and Revolution Studios, said, “She was a true pioneer in the world of branding and it was an honor to work with her. She was somehow able to be both the consummate professional and the most outrageous person in the room at the same time — and I loved her for that.”

Sortito won an award from the Promoting Marketing Assn., was honored twice for international licensing excellence by the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Assn. and in 1998 named BrandWeek’s entertainment marketer of the year

Survivors include her mother and two sisters.

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