Universal's New Marketer Gets up to Speed, Fast

Sony Alum Josh Goldstine on Reinventing Snow White and 'Theater-worthy' Scripts

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

Josh Goldstine couldn't have joined Universal Pictures at a more pivotal time.

The new president-marketing came on board in August, just as the studio was celebrating two of its most profitable films in recent memory. "Bridesmaids" became the highest-grossing female R-rated comedy in box-office history -- raking in more than $281 million internationally -- while "Fast Five" scored Universal's largest opening weekend to date, with $86.2 million. For next summer, the studio is readying several other high-stakes releases, including "Battleship," "Snow White & The Huntsman," and "Ted" which will have Hollywood closely watching Mr. Goldstine's every marketing move.

Josh Goldstine
Josh Goldstine

Yet Mr. Goldstine isn't breaking a sweat as he sits down for a mid-afternoon interview in his corner office on Universal's Burbank lot. If anything, he's excited for change. Until this summer, he'd spent his entire career in Hollywood with Sony Pictures, where he worked for 20 years -- most recently as senior exec VP-creative advertising. His new role finds him working alongside Marketing Co-President Michael Moses and reporting to studio chairman Adam Fogelson, not to mention the occasional meeting with NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke.

"It's a little bit like drinking from a fire hydrant," Mr. Goldstine says candidly of his first few weeks on the job. "But I'm learning about what plans have been made and where to adjust when I can."

Mr. Goldstine is a life-long movie buff with a penchant for photography, dual hobbies that serve him well for editing trailers and selecting key art for posters and advertising. His next hobby? Finding ways to make Universal's hefty marketing budget -- according to Kantar, it spent $461 million on measured media last year -- work even harder.

Ad Age : You're joining Universal after two decades in creative advertising at Sony Pictures. What lessons from your old job are you able to apply to this role?

Mr. Goldstine: I used to put copy all over our trailers, but the language of these things has changed. Having spent a year delving deeper into the broader marketing department, I learned that movie marketing today really combines sociology, creativity and really communicating with your culture. All good marketing is a blend between the science and the art.

Ad Age : What does that merger of science and art mean to you in 2011, when social media dictates so much of how consumers get their messaging about entertainment?

Mr. Goldstine: Everything about how we communicate is changing. We don't read one review anymore. We go to Rotten Tomatoes to find a score. We have a stream of networks over Twitter. We're embedded in Facebook. But ultimately what drives us hasn't changed. We still need to figure out these themes and elements that speak to people -- things people relate to and why.

Ad Age : How has social media impacted your media strategy? TV viewing is at an all-time high, yet media multi-tasking makes it important to be in different places at once. Will we see significant spending shifts one way or the other in 2012?

Mr. Goldstine: No. But we're applying thoughtful analysis in exploring new media. Everybody was writing off cable, then MTV just had its highest-rated telecast ever with the VMAs. Everybody wants to be part of the conversation of a big event, whether it's MTV or the Super Bowl. We need more big events in movies -- like how "Harry Potter" was a worldwide cultural event this summer.

We're in an experimental phase of figuring out how to test these things -- what percentage should be in traditional venues and what should be in new media spaces? We better begin to think about how movie going is the greatest thing on Earth, and how to keep it alive and thriving in a distracting world.

Ad Age : Movie marketing usually starts years in advance of a film's release, often at the point of green light. How far out are you looking at Universal's releases?

Mr. Goldstine: I'm working on "Snow White & The Huntsman" for next summer right now. We're just talking about plans to reinvent the myth of Snow White. It's both incredibly classic and really dynamic and new. For me it's a big opportunity to work on a franchise movie and have a unified point-of -view that connects everything. And I'm also reading scripts for summer 2013. We're finalizing plans for "The Lorax" in February 2012, with Chris Meledandri [founder of Illumination Entertainment, Universal's animation studio].

Ad Age : Also next summer is "Battleship," which is on track to become one of Universal's most expensive movies ever. The first trailer was just released -- what else can we expect?

Mr. Goldstine: "Battleship" is a big, exciting film for Universal, the kind of tentpole film that I've loved working on in the past. I've gotten to see a lot of what is in the works for the film, and I'm looking forward to becoming even more involved in the campaign. But it's not as expensive as you might think. It's about 33% less than [Disney's] "John Carter of Mars." [It's] a lot less than other movies I've worked on at Sony.

Ad Age : Box office this summer was up in total revenues but down in terms of attendance. How will you reinforce the value of the movie-going experience when consumers have so many choices?

Mr. Goldstine: The thing I think about is , "Is something theater-worthy?" When more people are streaming movies, it forces you to ask yourself, "What is unique?" You have to have a notion of uniqueness and specialness, and the movies in the middle have really suffered -- the been-there-done-that movies. But the ones with cinematic spectacle did pull people to theaters, so that puts upon us an urgency to really think about being authentic.

Ad Age : NBCU has really increased its cross-promotional efforts after the Comcast merger. How will Universal continue to benefit from this synergy?

Mr. Goldstine:"Hop" was a phenomenal example of what this company has been able to do using the breadth of its shows and the strength of the organization. We at Sony -- which didn't have a broadcast network or a cable station -- were jealous in the extreme. It becomes a corporate advantage to work successfully together like that .

Ad Age : So many movies these days are sequels or adaptations or co-productions with brand partners like Hasbro. How do you look for fresh ideas as a movie marketer?

Mr. Goldstine: A lot of the marketing comes from the original DNA of a movie. So the decision to green-light a movie is a belief in the narrative power. In conversations I've had with my boss, I'm encouraged by how many great stories there still are. Branded entertainment gives you a leg up in marketing, but it's still based on fresh ideas. And I think you'll be surprised by "Ted," the movie we're doing with Seth MacFarlane [of "Family Guy]." It's an exciting time to be at Universal. New people and new ideas mean we can tackle a tricky time for the movie business due to the profit models in home video and home entertainment. You have to innovate to solve those problems, and we're in a period that demands innovation.

QUICK HITS

AGE: 43

COLLEGE: Harvard

FAVORITE UNIVERSAL MOVIE: "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" was a truly formative experience. I think I can still recite almost every line to this day.

HOW I EVALUATE A MOVIE CAMPAIGN
The Clockwork Orange Test. If my eyes are glued open and I have to stare at it for the rest of the day, can I tolerate it?

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Josh Goldstine's previous role at Sony Pictures, and incorrectly referred to Universal chairman Adam Fogelson as a co-chairman. Also, Illumination Entertainment founder Chris Meledandri's name was misspelled.

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