Relativity at 10: Division Heads on Firm’s Future

Relativity BB Amare Chaka Khan
Suzanne Tenner

Though known primarily as a film studio, Relativity has many flourishing departments, including television, fashion, sports management and digital media. The company recently announced the launch of Madvine, its inhouse agency. We spoke to the heads of several divisions about what the diverse firm’s future holds.

Happy Walters
Co-chief operating officer and CEO of Relativity Sports

With his background in the music business, including as owner and CEO of Buzztone Music, Happy Walters originally joined Relativity in 2008 as president of Relativity Music Group. Under his watch, the company created and released soundtracks for such hit films as “Dear John” and “Bridesmaids.” A certified NBA and NFL player agent, he was already representing several athletes when he noticed the sports platform Ryan Kavanaugh was building.

Recognizing Relativity created content and had great relationships with brands, Walters suggested a test case: At the time, basketball all-star Amar’e Stoudemire was playing for the Phoenix Suns and had no agent. “I got Amar’e to come in for a meeting, and you know with Ryan, once you come in it’s hard to leave without listening,” recalls Walters. “He came in, he saw what we were doing, he was comfortable with me, he loved Ryan. He came in on a Friday and by the end of Sunday, he signed with us. It just ended up being a great marriage.”

Since then, Stoudemire has branched out in unexpected directions, including writing five children’s books in a series called “STAT: Standing Tall and Talented.” He is also a producer on the upcoming Relativity release “Blackbird.” And Relativity Sports now boasts over 300 athletes.

As Relativity has expanded its reach into everything from fashion to energy drinks, Walters says the platforms find a way to work together. “They all have things in common,” he notes. “Athletes are really into fashion and they’re in the forefront. Amar’e designed an entire line with Rachel Roy for Macy’s. Sports and music are closely related; every rapper wants to be a baller and every baller wants to be a rapper.” He cites Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks, who is a rapper and a poet, who did a song for the Relativity film “21 and Over.”

With all this crossover, Walters says the division is developing an awards show
“that combines sports, fashion and music that will kind of compete with the Espys.” Asked if they have a name for the kudosfest yet, he jokes, “Let’s Compete With
the Espys.”

Josh Swartz
President, Relativity Sports

Swartz was the CEO of Wassermann Media Group for almost nine years before joining Relativity, and in that time he’s seen the landscape change dramatically. “Players today are far more keenly aware of their brand and value off court and off field in a way that only the highest-level people were acutely aware of five, six, especially 10 years ago,” he notes.

To that end, a marketing platform is invaluable. “A stand-alone agent that does great player contracts and sits in the 42nd floor of an office building that’s part of a law firm can probably do a really good player contract,” Swartz says. “But the ability for him to access entertainment, marketing and sponsorship opportunities is almost non-existent. What’s really unique about Relativity is that fundamentally it’s a content engine. It’s a studio, it’s been around 10 years making great film and TV, and putting a sports agency alongside that allows the clients to access that entertainment platform with dialing an internal extension. Every other agency has to call Relativity or any of the other studios or networks to try and get their clients placement, while we have an internal pipeline that’s really unique.”

In the past nine months alone, Swartz says Relativity Sports has doubled up its client list. Clients include Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons and Venezuelan baseball player Miguel Cabrera, for whom Relativity negotiated the largest team sport contract for any individual player in North America — a 10-year, $292 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.

Mitch Grossbach
President, M3/Relativity

Last September, Relativity made a bold fashion statement with the launch of M3/Relativity, led by former CAA agents Mitch Grossbach, Matthew Hunt and Martin Dolfi. Based in New York, which Grossbach calls “where the big fashion nucleus is of fashion and brands,” M3/Relativity is building businesses and opportunities with all arms of couture, from designers and stylists to creative directors and makeup artists.

Because agencies like CAA operate under California licensing laws for talent agents, agents are not allowed to be producers. That doesn’t apply to M3/Relativity, which gives the business more opportunities to be directly involved.

According to Grossbach, there are four pillars of their fashion business.

There is individual brand building: “Taking the luminaries and the highest-caliber creative people in each area of fashion and introducing them to new business opportunities that they don’t typically see, but would really like in order to build their legacy.”

Another is advising brands outside fashion and connecting them with fashion businesses, brands and people. He points to Shutterfly, a popular photo and image service. “We are helping them extend two of their big verticals, one being a wedding vertical, by aligning them with the right fashion brands — because Shutterfly feels that aligning with a fashion brand would help extend their equity, especially in categories like bridal and weddings. In both instances, we are using our knowledge and relationships to consult and advise those companies on strategy and deliver results all the way through activation within the fashion industry.”

Then there is content; Grossbach says they are developing digital properties and digital entertainment series in tandem with all of Relativity’s business and distribution landscapes. “We now have the opportunity to co-develop television shows leveraging Relativity’s substantial television team and our business, and using our knowledge of the fashion industry to bring forward a whole bunch of relationships with both talent and platforms,” he says.

The last pillar is investments. “We are about to embark on an investment business to help accelerate the growth of somewhat early-stage fashion business and brands and use the Relativity platform as a catalyst to really help transform the rate of which a brand can grow its business.”

Tom Forman
CEO, Relativity Television

When Tom Forman joined Relativity in 2008, there was no television department. Today it boasts 70 projects in active development and 17 series set to air over the season, and has become a leading player in unscripted programming with hits like “Catfish: The TV Show.” “We went from me sitting alone in an office by myself to almost 800 employees at any given time,” Forman says. “This has become a real thing and we’ve become a real player in the television space.”

Because divisions work together so closely at Relativity, TV becomes involved the earliest possible stages. “This week, I was at a screening of a film Relativity is considering as a potential acquisition and the question (is) — even before they think about how it will perform at the box office — is there an opportunity in television, too?” He points to “Catfish” and its star, Nev Schulman, as a film they turned into a successful TV property, with Schulman as the host. “Four minutes in, I knew Nev was a star and we needed to find something else to do with the guy,” Forman recalls. “Luckily, we found the perfect thing, to continue what he was doing.”

To that end, Relativity has developed series based on several of its movies, including “Act of Valor” and “Haywire.” It’s finishing up a script for a TV adaptation of the Bradley Cooper hit “Limitless,” with Cooper on board as a producer. He says the company is interested in the worlds created by these films. “There have been a handful of really terrific Relativity properties that created environments and worlds and memorable characters, but almost more importantly, spaces in which we can go play and TV series that could run for many, many seasons.”

Because Relativity is constantly expanding, Forman adds that he is able to present opportunities he wouldn’t have thought of when he joined. “I never thought we’d have a chance to play with a sports roster that includes hundreds of recognizable athletes,” he says. “I get incoming network phone calls who say, ‘Do you guys have an athlete who might be interested in being part of this project?’ And you say, ‘I bet we do.’ ”

Danny Stepper
CEO, Madvine

The newest addition to Relativity Media brings together all the above departments into the world of advertising with Madvine, the company’s inhouse agency. With the world of advertising shifting so clients can no longer rely on 30-second television spots, brands need to find creative new ways to get the word out. Enter Madvine.

Headed by former Coca-Cola executive and producer Danny Stepper, Madvine derives its name from New York’s Madison Avenue and Hollywood’s Vine Street. Stepper says Relativity works as a partner to brands. “Ryan and I walk in and talk to (chief marketing officers) and we say, ‘We have a great solution for you. Come in in a true strategic manner, take off your tactical media-buying hat, and come in and be a partner with Relativity and let us take your brand and let’s wrap in our 10-15 films a year, our 35 television shows, our 300 athletes,’” Stepper says. “It’s really hard for a brand to ignore that because it’s such a powerful platform and the market is speaking right now with the success that we are having.”

Clients include Pathway Genomics and MondelezēIntl., which owns Oreo, Trident and Stride. The first brand to sign on was Evian water. “They built their brand through entertainment and they kind of forgot about that the last 10 years,” Stepper says. “We were able to get them into 7-Eleven, which happens to be Fiji’s No. 1 customer.”

Evian’s VP of marketing, Olga Osminkina-Jones, is thrilled with the partnership. “Evian is now committed to be back and relevant again to the young audience and has an eye on helping to curate and create pop culture,” she says. “Relativity’s original concept of all-encompassing brand partnerships and the idea of 360-degree entertainment platform of film, TV digital, fashion and sports was very compelling for us.”

Once a brand signs on, it gets involved as early as the development stage of production. Stepper says Evian water will be featured in a “natural, organic fashion” in Relativity’s upcoming Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Best of Me.” Rather than a traditional product placement, where an Evian bottle might be placed in a shot, Stepper says the integration will be far more compelling. “They got involved very early, got all the creative people to buy into the vision, and we all held hands together and did something that’s going to be really cool.” While he can’t reveal too much, he adds, “It really puts the brand front and center outside the movie, while inside the movie it’s just going to be an organic, natural flow.”

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