As the Ford Division preps for upcoming new model launches, including the Freestyle sport wagon, Five Hundred sedan and the next-generation Mustang, Kaline's mandate squarely shifts the responsibility from deposed WPP Group Unit Amplify and its dismissed leader Rob Donnell to an in-house triumvirate led by Kaline and Myles Romero, brand entertainment manager at Ford. Al Uzielli, a Hollywood consultant and the great-great grandson of Henry Ford, has been retained to grease the skids with Los Angeles content producers.
"Ford has more to offer Hollywood than any other car company as far as product is concerned yet the navigation and entry into Ford has been extremely difficult. Ultimately, I was seeing GM and Chrysler win out on a lot of things," said Uzielli. "My role is to be a central conduit for the entertainment community to enter Ford and then my job is to enlist the different brands and agencies of record to best facilitate [the process]." Uzielli will put all of his other business interests on the backburner for now to focus on his new role. Until recently, Uzielli, a film producer and owner of popular Beverly Hills eatery La Dolce Vita, had been involved only informally with Ford.
"Al has practical experience in actually producing and creating content for these new mediums and he combines that with being uniquely positioned and able to navigate nimbly within the Ford organization," said Mitch Kanner, head of the brand group at The Firm.
Romero, based in Dearborn, Mich., has been spending two weeks a month in California, meeting with Hollywood types. Romero said he's been "beating the pavement" in Hollywood to connect with producers, studios, directors and the like. Uzielli has been setting up the confabs and accompanying Romero.
"We are re-introducing Ford Motor Co. to Hollywood," said Romero. "I'm not sure they know all our great products and what we are able to do." The trio represents Lincoln, Mercury, Ford, Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar and Mazda, in which Ford holds a majority stake. The automaker reviews between 1,000 and 1,500 different entertainment proposals annually, including movie and TV scripts, Kaline estimated.
Ford has resources beyond its cars and trucks, such as its design studios. Ford of Europe designers created the car in the current children's movie "Thunderbird." Kaline said the automaker has even collaborated on movie sets.
Holding his cards close to his vest, Kaline would only say "there's plenty in the works" for Ford in the entertainment space. In the hip-hop music video arena, look for more tricked out sport utilities, predicted Romero, declining to share details.
The carmaker isn't promoting the new movie "Taxi," in which Queen Latifah drives a souped-up Ford Crown Victoria cab. That's because the sedan is a so-called fleet vehicle, sold primarily to police departments and businesses, explained Kaline. Ford didn't initiate the placement, but gave Twentieth Century Fox its blessing.
Ford also plans to get more involved in entertainment industry events. At this year's Academy Awards, it was sole sponsor of the Motion Picture-Television Fund's Oscar-eve bash, attended by even Chairman Bill Ford. Ford also had a branded cabana poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel during Oscar week. A video game challenged players to get the best mileage driving a Ford Escape hybrid-engine SUV from Hollywood Hills to the ceremonies. Said Romero: "Leonardo DiCaprio did pretty well."