Agency ups corporate roster with QVC, Best Buy, Chipotle, Cirque du Soleil

Creative Artists Agency knows a Coca-Cola or General Motors doesn’t have a problem getting a Hollywood executive to return a phone call. But the tenpercentery is stepping up to turn those conversations into deals as a growing list of marketers use entertainment to make their products more appealing to consumers.

The agency has quietly ramped up a client roster that now includes QVC, Best Buy, Chipotle, Experian, Southwest Airlines, Cirque du Soleil, Diageo and Mattel, alongside Coke and GM.

CAA’s rivals are also becoming more aggressive in signing more corporate clients as a new battle of the brands heats up in town.

They see marketers not only as deep-pocketed sources for large monthly retainers but also as content creators that could provide more traditional talent with jobs.

Pepsi recently brokered a $60 million deal to pair up with “The X Factor,” and other companies are producing their own live events, Web series, TV shows or films or are co-promoting a studio’s high-end releases. Money is flowing again after the recession held back much of that promotional coin.

Now these companies just need help figuring out how to spend that money.

“These are big companies that can open doors on their own,” said David Messinger, co-head of agency division CAA Marketing. “What we bring is experience to help evaluate who are the right partners and what content works best for these brands.”

Doing that wasn’t always easy in the past, with a brand’s advertising agency and PR teams butting heads with media buyers and other creative agencies working for the company.

Now that traditional campaigns no longer attract the attention of consumers bombarded by marketing messages each day, “The notion that you create a single campaign and send it out in the world and that’s it, those days are over,” Messinger said. “These initiatives are living, breathing things that change over time,” with social media, events and PR becoming larger components of an overall strategy.

“The client now demands” collaboration, Messinger added. “It’s a group effort involving so many different facets.”

For CAA Marketing, that’s meant helping Mattel turn toys like Hot Wheels, Monster High and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe into films, and launching Southwest Airlines’ reality TV show “On the Fly” on TLC.

Best Buy recently turned to the tenpercentery to produce a five-part Web series that was promoted to the 6 million people that visit the retailer’s site, as well as an interactive chair, set up at events, to rev up excitement in its sponsorship of NASCAR races and increase viewership.

GM is also developing two new TV series with CAA, although neither is willing to disclose details on those projects just yet. GM first turned to CAA to help promote its electric Volt sedan, a fleet of which are managed by CAA and are driven to events and meetings by the company’s agents.

The fleet “is about exposing this incredible vehicle to people where we get to be,” said Jae Goodman, co-head and co-chief creative officer of CAA Marketing.

“The Volt has become a real conversation piece around Los Angeles,” Messinger added. “It’s that conversation which is such a valuable thing to GM.”

This summer, CAA Marketing won the Film Lions Grand Prix and the first Branded Content & Entertainment Lions at the Cannes Lions festival for its “Cultivate a Better World” campaign for Chipotle that included the stop-motion animated short film “Back to the Start,” with Willie Nelson’s cover of the Coldplay song “The Scientist” as the soundtrack.

The marketing effort, which promoted sustainable farming, also included a charity component, with sales of Nelson’s song funding the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation and live events.

The agency is also behind Coke’s “American Idol” sponsorship, now in its 11th season.

And while Cirque du Soleil already had been in the entertainment business through its live shows, it wanted CAA to find it opportunities through other mediums. The company’s first theatrical film, “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” unspools in 3D on Dec. 21 through Paramount. Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) helmed the pic, with the 3D elements overseen by exec producer James Cameron.

“It’s for Cirque fans but also people who may not have seen a Cirque show before,” Goodman said.

CAA acknowledges that while the number of brands seeking out entertainment opportunities has increased, “the breadth of work we’re doing with our clients” also has changed, Goodman said.

The overall goal is to be a marketing partner.

“Companies are looking very differently at their marketing,” Goodman said. “Rather than interrupting TV shows with content they hope people will see, in many cases we’re seeing a number of companies create content people want to see. We are in an incredible place to help our clients as they go about doing that.”

What’s also changed is that an increasing number of companies know what kind of projects they want to produce.

“It’s maybe a little less of a Wild West than it used to be,” Goodman said. “Enough marketers have been at it now that conversations are a little more focused than they were a couple years ago. There’s a lot (of examples) in the marketplace for people to point to as an entry point for branded entertainment.”

But one aspect of a campaign is always key, Goodman stressed: “You have to know who you’re selling to and trying to entertain.”

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