SMG Combines Entertainment Units Under One Platform

Liquid Thread Looks to Weave Branded Content Into Multiple Screens, With Multiple Clients

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LOS ANGELES ( -- As branded entertainment migrates toward Silicon Valley, so are the agencies producing this new wave of sponsored content. Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group is combining its three content-creation units into one multiplatform branded-entertainment practice, called Liquid Thread.

The new unit, made up of Starcom Entertainment, MediaVest's ConnectiveTissue and digital creative group Pixel, will be lead by President-Managing Director Brian Terkelsen, the former president of ConnectiveTissue.

The new structure is a result of what SMG CEO Laura Desmond has long touted as the agencies' role in "reimagining what content can be in the future marketplace," as she told Ad Age. "We believe, to be a great brand and media agency, we need to help marketers facilitate human experience across all screens by understanding who those unique consumer targets are and then sequencing and segmenting that content in ways that will be most relevant to them."

Category growth
Liquid Thread's formation also comes as the digital migration among major marketers has made branded web video a key priority. PQ Media estimates the medium grew 15.1% in 2009 to $306 million when coupled with advergaming, ultimately accounting for a small portion of the nearly $4 billion spent on product placements and branded integrations last year.

At the core of this new structure, which will combine the three agencies' 45 employees, is a series of new branded-content initiatives designed to move seamlessly across platforms.

A fashion and entertainment program for Procter & Gamble called "The Thread," for example, is a partnership with Yahoo's Shine platform designed to associate brands such as CoverGirl and Secret with celebrity fashion tips. A Hispanic version, "De Moda," rolled out last October and will enter its second season later this year. Samsung's partnership with the World Cyber Games is also expected to be expanded under Liquid Thread's multiplatform content strategy, as is M&M's on-air sponsorship of "Entertainment Tonight."

Liquid Thread will ultimately work to identify scalable ways to distribute branded content, much in the same way WPP's Group M Entertainment works with brands such as Unilever and AT&T to identify multiplatform marketing opportunities for digital-based content, such as Bertolli's "Into the Heart of Italy" miniseries.

"When people ask about the distribution of an idea that comes out of an entertainment group, there typically must be a TV component, and maybe there's a tail that wags a website. Our distribution is primarily digital, with TV attached," Mr. Terkelsen said. "If you take digital and identify the niche-mass audiences, we suggest there's a new social-media relationship for brands in a niche-mass way that needs to be organized, created and curated."

Client participation
Although the ConnectiveTissue, Starcom Entertainment and Pixel brand names will go away, each of the unit's respective regional heads -- MediaVest's Robin D'Elia, Pixel's Jeff Marshall and Starcom Entertainment's Tom Weeks -- will maintain current roles and report to Mr. Terkelsen. And despite the inter-departmental communication about clients whose strategies could be leaked to their competitors at other agencies, Mr. Terkelsen said the same privacy standards and individual-agency confidentiality will still be applied to Liquid Thread's unique structure. Instead, the unit will share production resources across each agency with potential cross-agency synergies, such as Starcom client Kellogg doing more co-branded programs with MediaVest client Walmart to drive product sales at Walmart stores.

"The notion that shared resources for production execution and that larger deals will be crafted across multiple clients is something that's actually new and something we can do more effectively in this structure," Mr. Terkelsen said.

Other potential partners include Laura Caraccioli-Davis, Starcom's former head of entertainment who recently departed the agency to run partnerships for Ben Silverman's Electus. Also in the works is a $100 million three-year pact between P&G and Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network that Liquid Thread will play a key role in helping to execute.

As for the Liquid Thread name, Mr. Terkelsen said he wanted something that could communicate the way content needs to flow to any screen, not just three or four platforms. "Connecting consumers and brands through some thread of narrative is the objective here. Our work and these connections needs to go everywhere."

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