LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- When the 25th anniversary performance of "We Are the World," re-recorded to benefit the Haitian earthquake relief efforts, has its debut tonight during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics on NBC, the exhausting credits will read like a who's who of Hollywood: original producer Quincy Jones, co-writer Lionel Richie, Wyclef Jean, AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, producer RedOne, "Crash" director Paul Haggis -- and WPP?
Yes, "We Are the World" has an ad exec on its side. Peter Tortorici, CEO of Group M Entertainment, serves as an executive producer and was involved from the project's early stages. Less than three weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Mr. Tortorici and the "We Are the World" team assembled an appropriately diverse lineup of singers and actors -- Kanye West, Janet Jackson, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Pink, Lil Wayne, Miley Cyrus, Jeff Bridges and "Slumdog Millionaire" composer A.R. Rahman are among the nearly 80 performers -- at L.A.'s Henson Studios on Feb. 1.
Group M Entertainment is functioning as an agency of sorts for the project and its distribution, but all its work -- like everyone's in the project -- is pro bono. The agency helped secure the music video's premiere during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, which will be followed by the launch of the official website, World25.org, and availability on iTunes later tonight. A cable roadblock is scheduled for Saturday, per a partnership with the Cable Advertising Bureau. A "We Are the World" YouTube channel is up next, as well as a feature-length documentary about the making of the 25th anniversary, featuring footage of Haiti relief efforts shot by "Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman. Fremantle Media, producers of "American Idol," are also helping to broker international distribution deals for the project.
"Twenty-five years ago it was a song," Mr. Tortorici said. "Now it is the world in terms of its potential to create a community. What it can do in terms of its potential is very powerful. This is a great example of how the media industry can come together for something significant and important. To put aside our differences, our adversarial buyer-seller relationships, and create something where we're all really proud to be a part of it."
The original "We Are The World" left an impressive legacy to live up to; the original project raised and distributed more than $63 million to USA For Africa, selling more than 7 million copies of the album and nearly 2 million digital sales and related merchandise. The Jan. 23 "Hope For Haiti" telethon, however, raised nearly $58 million in one night, breaking the records for most money raised by a single telethon and largest single-day pre-order album sales on iTunes.
Ad Age caught up with Mr. Tortorici on the eve of the premiere of "We Are The World -- 25 For Haiti" to discuss the project's fast-tracked back story, how he leveraged his 25-plus years of relationships in the broadcast and agency community, and why he no longer has an excuse for the "I need this done by Thursday" client phone calls.
Ad Age: So how did an ad agency get involved with such a massive project?
Mr. Tortorici: Group M Entertainment is about making investments and creating relationships to build properties, so basically that's what I was doing. But this was one of those stories that starts in an unlikely place. Myself and our chairman, Martin Sorrell, met with Randy Phillips, who's not only the CEO of AEG Live but also Lionel Richie's manager. They met as mutual acquaintances, and we thought Lionel's someone who should be involved in more things with marketing. We met with Randy and Lionel and started to think about what kinds of interesting things we could do together that were interesting for him and for us but still create something fresh and new.
We talked about "We are the World." Lionel mentioned a group had talked about re-licensing the song, but he wasn't sure it was the right thing to do because last time the cause behind it was so significant -- then Haiti happened. At that point Lionel and Quincy [Jones] spoke together and said, "We gotta do this." At that point I talked to Irwin Gottleib [CEO of Group M], told it was an amazing thing for us to contribute to and Irwin said absolutely. Great companies are measured by how they help people, and the most important thing is our people and the people we represent.
Ad Age: There's a lot of disparate parties involved here -- NBC Sports' Dick Ebersol and Marianne Gambelli, Fremantle Media's Keith Hindle, AEG Live, Paul Haggis, Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones, dozens of performers. How did everyone stay on the same page throughout this two-week process?
Mr. Tortorici: I have to give a shout-out to Randy Phillips, who has been my partner in this in trying to manage this monster of a process. He and AEG Live have just been incredibly generous in putting their resources to work -- their legal team, production team have all just been absolutely incredible, a real joy to work with him and all of them.
This is all pro bono so there's no financial interest in this at all for us. The way we treat this is, in a sense, how does this relate to who we are? We as an agency want to create properties -- and when we say properties, intellectual property -- engage people and delight them and keep them connected for a sustainable period of time. That can be a song, a movie, a webisode, a paragraph written in text -- something through the power of words, music and images that can delight, entertain and inform. This is a really great example of all those creative examples coming together to tell a story, and it really does exemplify who we are and what we're about in a very different plane.
Ad Age: How does this compare to a typical branded-entertainment project?
Mr. Tortorici: I've been in the business for 25-plus years and the president of two broadcast networks, and I have to say there's nothing I've been involved in that exceeds what this has provided in the way of challenge and complexity and also in terms of potential reward even though none of it's financial. This is so huge and part of it has to do with pressed time -- 12 days to go from A to Z. And "We Are the World" ... If you're not humbled by the idea of trying to do something with that, you're just not paying attention. It's one of the most iconic pieces of music, artists -- that's why Lionel was wary of doing it again. When you see what came together for this, I do think we certainly respected it. I don't think I've ever been in involved in anything bigger than this.
Ad Age: The average large-scale branded-entertainment project takes six to nine months to execute, and this took less than two weeks. How has this experience changed your productivity as an agency?
Mr. Tortorici: Well, we certainly can't say no to clients anymore who say, "I need this done by Thursday." It's a blessing and a curse.