Toon studio taps branding vet Michael Francis to grow family properties

DreamWorks Animation is ready to build a bigger business around its family brands.

The toon studio has tapped Michael Francis to serve in a newly created role as chief global brand officer. Post is seen as key for DWA as it starts releasing three films a year, beginning in 2013, and manages the vast portfolio of Classic Media properties likeCasper the Friendly Ghost, Where’s Waldo?, Lassie, George of the Jungle and the Lone Ranger, which it bought this summer.

DWA describes the appointment as representing “a singular new focus” for the studio: “to leverage the strength of its brand equity around the globe” as it looks to grow the appeal of its characters through films, TV shows, live events, theme park attractions, consumer products and licensing.

DWA chief exec Jeffrey Katzenberg told Variety that Francis is “one of the most important strategic hires we’ve made at the company,” adding, “Michael is one of the most brilliant executives in the last 20 years. When you look at branding, franchise building, consumer products, marketing and integrating all of those elements together in a real cohesive and well-thought through strategy, there’s no one else that’s done so better than him. He clearly understands the world marketplace, which is of critical value for us.”

Francis will oversee the branding of all of DWA’s intellectual property, licensing and consumer products efforts and franchise management activities.

He’s already joined the company part-time and will become a full-time staffer in February.

The exec has a long history managing franchises. He was recently CEO and founder of global brand agency Farview Associates, where he consulted for the Gap and its Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic brands.

This summer, he ankled as president of J.C. Penney, a post he held for eight months, after launching a high-profile rebranding of the retailer that, while embraced by many in the marketing biz, has struggled to pay off in sales.

Francis also spent over 26 years at Target, where was exec VP and chief marketing officer.

DWA has more than a dozen films skedded through 2016.

Studio will focus on turning one of its three pics a year into major consumer products-driven properties, with next year’s speedy snail toon “Turbo,” the following summer’s “How to Train Your Dragon” sequel and “Trolls” to be well represented with merchandise at retail.

With Classic Media, Francis is looking to turn the Christmas titles “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” into larger holiday opportunities for the company.

“There isn’t a stronger, better collection of holiday themed properties,” Katzenberg said. “It became clear and obvious that there’s a huge opportunity to pull them together in a single program that has many pieces.”

Francis said he’s looking forward to elevating DreamWorks Animation’s “iconic branded entertainment properties to even greater heights around the world.” The studio has “a number of exciting opportunities for future growth,” he added, and “this is an incredibly powerful global family brand with enviable brand equity and significant untapped potential.”

Francis isn’t starting from scratch: Classic Media co-CEOs Eric Ellenbogen and John Engelman have already built its characters into brands.

“Great work has already been done,” Katzenberg said. “The groundwork to get these (properties) keyed up has been done, and because of that, (Francis will) be able to hit the ground running and quickly build on what are the franchise opportunities and the branding opportunities.”

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