MT Carney won’t have much time to unpack when she moves into the Mouse House.
Disney is handing its new marketing chief one of its highest profile slates in years that includes “Toy Story 3,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a bigscreen adaptation of the popular videogame “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” the feel-good horse drama “Secretariat” and comedy “You Again,” along with the return of “Tron.”
In November, she’ll also need to make “Tangled,” Disney’s animated adaptation of “Rapunzel,” more appealing to boys after “The Princess and the Frog” managed to attract mainly girls to theaters.
Next year, she’ll have to launch a fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and introduce the Muppets to a new generation of moviegoers. Further down the line, Carney will have to handle the first releases for DreamWorks through the Touchstone banner and a new crop of Marvel superhero pics as well as a potential prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s all while keeping filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Robert Zemeckis, Kevin Feige, John Lasseter and Stacey Snider happy with her ideas.
Scottish-born Carney won’t have any time to waste. Disney’s been without a marketing topper since Jim Gallagher was ousted from the post in November.
With the studio starting the year on a roll with the success of “Alice in Wonderland” — generating $325 million domestically to date, and another $504 million overseas — studio chairman Rich Ross will be putting the pressure on all of his top execs to continue the upward momentum after a year of mostly misfires.
It’ll be a tough task for a marketing exec who has yet to handle the rollout of a major studio film — actually the release of any film.
But that’s what Ross was looking for: a marketing maverick with the creative guts to use every form of media, especially social media, in new ways to launch major film campaigns that don’t blow budgets.
Ross had been adamant about hiring someone from outside Hollywood. He wanted someone with fresh ideas, especially an exec who knew how to effectively use digital platforms to attract younger ticket buyers.
He also wanted an exec with experience in launching new consumer products as Carney did for brands like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark, Johnson & Johnson, Nokia and Nike. This will be key as Disney focuses more than ever on producing pics that can turn into major moneymaking franchises not only at the B.O. but also as homevideo releases, online properties, consumer product lines, videogames and theme park attractions.
As it turns out, Disney already had a relationship with Carney. She had been advising the studio on the development of several film campaigns that are just now rolling out, individuals at the studio have told Daily Variety .
The unconventional choice of hiring Carney is in line with Ross’ think-different approach as he’s assembled his new regime, which includes upping former home entertainment prexy Bob Chapek to oversee distribution, while producer Sean Bailey was named president of production to choose Disney’s future slate of pics.
Disney had already been experimenting with some of its latest efforts, including adopting a modern look for its posters for “Prince of Persia,” an actioner that’s set in the 13th century. It’s also embraced Facebook as a way to reveal the newest toys that will be prominently featured as characters in “Toy Story 3.” And it’s been pushing December’s “Tron: Legacy” since last summer’s Comic-Con in San Diego, unveiling billboards a year before its rollout and integrating the pic into attractions at its theme parks.
In her post, Carney will control a roughly $400 million annual budget as she oversees all aspects of worldwide marketing and distribution, including all creative, media, online development, publicity, promotions and synergy for motion pictures released under the Walt Disney Pictures (including Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Animation) and Touchstone banners.
Her mandate will also be to determine how the films can represent and promote the Disney brand overall, making her job more important than just launching individual movies.
It’s not as if Ross is taking a complete gamble on Carney; she’s already proved capable with campaigns for major marketers as a co-founder of Naked Communications, a media planning shop that’s known for straying away from traditional advertising.
In 2006, she opened the company’s New York City office, which made a big splash when it landed 11 clients in eight months.
While Carney doesn’t have an extensive background in entertainment, Naked rebranded sports cable channel OLN as Versus. More recently, the firm was instrumental in retooling NBC’s on-air look last fall, launching its “more colorful” slogan. NBC hired Naked in early 2009 to reposition the network’s image.
“I would say that Naked is an incredibly innovative team and that MT is a very sharp strategist,” Adam Stotsky, head of NBC Entertainment Marketing told Daily Variety . “As content windows collapse and the tools to connect with consumers evolve, content marketers need to continually push the envelope. MT should help Disney evolve their marketing in this new landscape.”
Ross, himself, is known for his marketing prowess while heading up the Disney Channel. He launched successful franchises like “High School Musical,” “Hannah Montana,” the “Cheetah Girls,” “Wizards Of Waverly Place,” and introduced the Jonas brothers, which turned into licensing powerhouses. Advertising is one of his passions. Whoever landed the marketing post was going to work closely with Ross on film campaigns.
“MT represents a unique type of marketing executive, she has built global teams, can market a product across multiple platforms and has firsthand knowledge of new media and its effectiveness in reaching consumers,” Ross said in a statement. “Just as we have looked at ways to restructure how we create and distribute our movies, we also needed to hire someone like MT, who can lead our incredibly creative global marketing teams and ensure that our films reach audiences around the world.”
(Michael Schneider and Justin Kroll contributed to this report.)