The pairing of a Hollywood producer and one of the world's most-connected political PR firms might make for strange bedfellows, but not when you consider what brands need most: measurable return on investment.
Their new Burson unit will be called Allscreen Studios, and will operate as a joint partnership between Burson-Marsteller and Mr. Haft, who had previously done a stint as a VP-digital strategy at AOL in 2001.
Looking for the next hot thing
Mr. Haft, in an interview with Madison & Vine, said: "Producers ... we're sort of heat-seeking. We're looking for the exciting place to tell stories. This is where it's all headed."
Allscreen Studios will integrate client brands into original media content that Allscreen will develop, co-own and license to sponsors for distribution on network or cable TV, or via digital platforms including online and mobile devices.
Burson already reps Fortune 500 clients such as Ford Motor Co., Merrill Lynch, Hormel, SAP, and Comcast, though it's not yet clear which, if any, of those clients are signing on for the branded-entertainment treatment.
As a pollster, Burson CEO Mark Penn served as political adviser to Bill Clinton on Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign and throughout the second term of the administration, and currently serves a strategic adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, having done polling for her successful election to the U.S. Senate in 2000.
Mr. Haft said the conversations coalesced around the same time that Mr. Penn's best-seller, "Microtrends," was in early drafts.
"We talked about how what's held digital media back is that there's no way to measure return on investment," Mr. Haft said. "Then we sat down and realized, 'If we could take Mark's extraordinary results-measurement tools, and I could find a way to create story-telling devices to enable advertisers to reach consumers, we could really do something.'"
So, is branded entertainment as practiced by Mr. Haft advertising or PR?
Mr. Haft insisted it's actually both: "Without question," he said, "we see ourselves as absolutely in the business of selling both the companies and the products. Our goals are to engage audiences first and foremost, cut through the clutter, execute with world-class talent and produce measurable results."