Follows Talent-Rep Pack Into New Field

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LOS ANGELES -- In the red-hot area of branded entertainment, several of Hollywood's powerful talent agencies have blazed a trail, setting up divisions devoted to giving major marketers insider access and first looks at entertainment projects.

Photo: Fred Prouser
ICM CEO Jeff Berg now plans to match up his talent roster with marketers' branded entertainment needs.

International Creative Management has not been one of them.

But that may soon change with last week’s announcement that the agency, led by chairman and CEO Jeff Berg, had named studio veteran Lori Sale to head a newly formed division focused on branding.

Sat on sidelines

Mr. Berg has long been considered one of the smartest businessmen in Hollywood, negotiating top-dollar deals for his clients. He has a reputation for being tech savvy; he sits on the board of Oracle and was one of the early backers of TiVo-rival Replay, and launched technology consultancy ICM Breakpoint during the dot-com boom. But when it comes to branded entertainment, Mr. Berg’s sat on the sidelines, watching as rivals like Creative Artists Agency, the William Morris Agency, Endeavor and United Talent Agency have built corporate marketing groups, courted advertisers and developed entertainment deals for marketers.

Mr. Berg aims for ICM to become a player now. He’ll just use a different playbook.

Starting next week, Ms. Sale will head a newly formed division that will represent the agency's stable of talent in brand building, brand extending and brand integrating. What that means is, unlike ICM’s competitors who take marketers as retainer clients, the agency will not represent marketers individually but marry its talent with whoever can fill their needs. Dealmaking could involve ICM working with marketers directly, their advertising or media agencies or even other talent agencies to connect brands with existing entertainment properties or to create new ones. For instance, if a client wanted to link with General Motors, which is represented by William Morris, ICM wouldn’t hesitate to start up talks.

ICM's blue chip talent list

As talent agencies have been aggressively courting corporate clients and promoting the value they bring to Hollywood, ICM is stressing that talent is still what drives entertainment. ICM reps a number of high-powered multi-hyphenates like actor-producer Jodie Foster, actor-writer-director Mel Gibson, writer-director-producer Peter Jackson, model-turned-TV-star Tyra Banks and actor-golfer Samuel L. Jackson. Behind-the-camera talent includes Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents"), Rob Marshall ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha") and Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge").

There was a hole in the market, Ms. Sale said, that could be filled with a new philosophy. Marketers are already represented, by William Morris, CAA and Endeavor, but the talent and intellectual property side needed the same kind of attention.

“The idea is for this division to be a conduit to our talent pool and our content," Ms. Sale said. "We're not competing with ad agencies or other talent agencies -- we want to work with them."

Marketing relationships now crucial

It may be pushing its talent, but by forming a global branded-entertainment division, ICM has confirmed what others already knew -- marketers are vitally important to the future of entertainment, and the talent and their agencies increasingly need to develop relationships with marketers to have a leg up in the cluttered media landscape.

“Brands are critical to creating and distributing content," Ms. Sale said.

Landing Ms. Sale, who had been in talks for a senior Los Angeles-based post with Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment, is a coup for ICM.

For the past six years, Ms. Sale has worked for the Harvey and Bob Weinstein, first at Disney's Miramax and then at the Weinstein Co. when the executives left the Disney fold. While there, she matched up the company's slate of films and TV shows with marketers that wanted to co-promote the properties and their own products. Before that, Ms. Sale had her own firm that advised brands on how to get involved with Hollywood.

Lori Sale's previous projects

Recently, she put together deals for Bravo's "Project Runway," a Weinstein Co. property, with Banana Republic, GM's Saturn and L'Oreal Paris. She worked on franchise films like "Scary Movie" and "Spy Kids," shepherding alliances with Coors Brewing Co. and McDonald's Corp. She was in the early stages of working on a long-term deal bartered by the Weinstein Co. with ad agency holding firm WPP Group.

At ICM, she intends to put those skills to work in hooking up the agency's clients in TV, film, music, publishing and other areas with sponsorships, merchandising opportunities or original brand-backed entertainment.

The timing of Ms. Sale’s hire comes as ICM secured more than $100 million in capital late last year from a recapitalization deal with Connecticut-based investor Suhail Rizvi and a funding deal with Merrill Lynch’s AssetBased Finance Group.

Mr. Berg plans to use the cash infusion to seek out acquisitions and new opportunities across its core businesses of film, TV, music and publishing, and add manpower to expand into new areas. Mr. Berg said, “This investment will allow us to accelerate the execution of our plan and continue to deliver the value we promise our clients -- bringing them the most innovative opportunities in the industry,” at the time of the announcement.

Branded entertainment is apparently one such opportunity.

Debate on value continues

Either way, the addition of ICM into the mix of talent agencies active in the branded entertainment space will only fuel more discussion in the ongoing debate about whether they actually deliver value to the marketing community. Players in the space -- on Madison Avenue and in Hollywood -- have questioned whether agencies are just doling for dollars or are providing marketers with a service.

But if there's serious doubt in their minds, marketers aren’t showing it. They continue to stream into Hollywood, hiring the agencies to be their eyes and ears in show business.

Coca-Cola Co. recently re-upped with CAA, though at a reduced retainer. The agency also added Harley-Davidson to a list that already includes Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Procter & Gamble Co., Hasbro, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, Sprint Nextel and Delta. It added Tera Hanks, a product placement and brand integration veteran, to its corporate consulting group.

William Morris has lengthened its client roster with the National Hockey League, Quizno's, 24 Hour Fitness and Monster.com, which join Anheuser-Busch,
GM, Hilton Hotels and Amp'd Mobile, among others.

Meanwhile Endeavor works with American Express, Time Inc., Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Mattel.
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