Why an Ad Shop Has a Hollywood Agent

Taxi's Chokolat Signs On With WMA as It Looks to Become a Respected Content Creator

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NEW YORK -- Tinseltown's betting on a new star from Madison Ave: William Morris Agency has signed on as one of its newest clients branded-entertainment agency Chokolat, a unit of Toronto-based agency Taxi.
Jeff Spriet
Jeff Spriet

To be sure, top talent firms and ad agencies have long had alliances—even beyond brokering deals between marketers and celebrities. WMA rival Creative Artists Agency, for example, has an equity relationship with New York-based SS&K.

Still, for Beverly Hills-based WMA -- which was built on screen legends such as Katherine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra and continues to represent many of Hollywood's biggest names -- adding an ad-agency entity onto its roster of clients is an unusual move, and one that's shaping up to be pretty sweet for Chokolat.

Plans to grow
Launched in 2003 by Taxi co-founder and Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Paul Lavoie and Jeff Spriet (who's had stints at Ogilvy & Mather and Ammirati Puris Lintas and once ran his own youth-marketing firm, Wiretap), Chokolat has plans to grow, beefing up staff in the New York office among other things.

For one, Taxi's looking to WMA to help get Chokolat in front of the key constituents -- showrunners, broadcasters and marketers -- to whom it wants to be better known. The deal "will further broaden Chokolat's bank of talent and facilitate access to key decision makers at U.S. networks," Mr. Lavoie said in a statement.

"The TV business is a relationship business. ... Without those relationships it's very hard to get a project off the ground," Chokolat's co-founder and president, Mr. Spriet, echoed in an interview.

Oh, and by the way, about those projects: Don't expect them to be solely branded-entertainment ones.

"We just want to be known for producing great television," said Mr. Spriet, who in his four years at Chokolat has worked on projects with marketers the likes of Nike and MSN. "If brands can be integrated seamlessly, and there is a reason for them to be there, we love that, but TV shows should be worth pursuing regardless of brand."

To that end, Chokolat has two major nonbranded projects in the works: a series for the Viacom network here in the U.S., and a drama for the CBC in Canada -- both could end up in prime time.
'11 Cameras'
'11 Cameras'

"11 Cameras"
Separately, Chokolat has inked a deal with Endemol UK, a developer and sellers of television formats, to license "11 Cameras," a 22-episode half-hour soap opera created by Chokolat.

Under terms of the agreement, Endemol has the right to sell the show (which is told entirely through webcam footage) to independent producers and broadcasters in markets around the world.

Mr. Spriet said he hopes the sale of the show will help boost Chokolat's presence in the TV-production community globally.

Hans Schiff, Chokolat's agent at WMA, is confident about the possibility of launching his new client to stardom.

"I've been intrigued by what these guys have been creating for awhile," he said. "The principals of the company are creative people, and they've come up with ideas that we think are smart." Going forward, they will "create content that makes a lasting impression in the U.S. and global marketplace."
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