Doing Lunch Has Paid Off for Chrysler's New Brand Rep in Hollywood

Michael Curmi Had Automaker's Latest SUV in Front of Camera in Time for Holidays

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DETROIT -- You wouldn't expect someone with an MBA in finance to be chosen as a brand's go-to guy in Hollywood, but that's exactly what Chrysler Group has done, tapping Michael Curmi to represent the automaker in the newly created position of senior manager-entertainment marketing.
New to Hollywood, Michael Curmi hammered out a deal with New Regency Productions for the Aspen SUV's film debut in 'Deck the Halls,' arriving in theaters Nov. 22.



Mr. Curmi said his mission is to step up product integration across the automaker's three vehicle brands, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, in movies, on TV and in music videos and to help Chrysler Group be more efficient in those areas. He's looking for tie-ins to coincide with new-model launches and "help us get the proper vehicle attributes" blended into scripts or videos in a seamless fashion.

Active in branded entertainment

Chrysler Group has long been active in integrating its vehicles into all forms of entertainment, including video games, and under former VP-Product Strategy Jeff Bell, who left in June to join Microsoft, used the term "brandcasting" as a way to choose which properties were right for certain cars or trucks. The automaker's former director of marketing communications, Julie Roehm, was also a major backer of branded entertainment before moving to her current marketing post at Wal-Mart.

Recent deals include integrations or marketing programs around Paramount Pictures' "Lara Croft Tomb Raider -- The Cradle of Life," HBO's "Band of Brothers," and New Regency and 20th Century Fox's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

Mr. Curmi reports to Christine MacKenzie, executive director, multibrand events and agency relations.

A 37-year-old Michigan native, Mr. Curmi has already made the move to Los Angeles. He volunteered earlier this year to move from headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., and spent the first six months in town learning how business works and the right people to contact.

"There were lots of 'Let's do lunches' and 'Let's do dinners,'" he said.

Automakers set up shop

Mr. Curmi isn't the only in-house brand rep for an automaker in Hollywood. Ford Motor Co. and its stable of brands, as well as Audi of America and Nissan, have executives stationed there, dealing directly with the studios.

He also won't be the last. Chrysler Group sibling Mercedes-Benz USA will dispatch a new entertainment manager to Los Angeles by the first of the year, Mr. Curmi said. In the past, the DaimlerChrysler units had looked at projects separately.

"Sometimes we got things Mercedes-Benz didn't and vice versa," he said.

Under the upcoming system, DaimlerChrysler can offer producers all six of its brands -- Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Maybach and Smart -- and multiple brands can be used in the same projects.

A spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz said she wasn't familiar with the plans.

One-stop car shopping

The strategy could work. Studios have recently become more interested in turning to one automaker for their vehicle needs, such as the filmmakers behind next summer's "Transformers" film, who are using vehicles built by all of General Motors' brands. Studios want to be able to turn to one manufacturer that can provide cars and trucks across various brands and price ranges.

Mr. Curmi is working closely with Chrysler Group's longtime product-placement agency, Hadler Public Relations, in Glendale, Calif. Mercedes-Benz works with Vista Group.

Before Mr. Curmi's arrival in April, Hadler dealt with brand teams in Auburn Hills, said VP Bob Hadler.

"It's actually better reporting to somebody on the ground here who really has a feel for what we do," Mr. Hadler said. "We've had people in the past that almost made us feel like a stepchild."

Mr. Hadler said Chrysler's new entertainment guru "really does know and appreciate the entertainment industry and the value of product placement." He said music videos were "way down on my list of priorities" for the automaker, but he credited Mr. Curmi with getting the Chrysler brand's first SUV, the 2007 Aspen, in the Ying Yang Twins' music video for their new single, "Dangerous," which debuted a few weeks ago.

Holiday feature film

Mr. Hadler said Mr. Curmi also hammered out a deal with New Regency Productions for the Aspen SUV's film debut in "Deck the Halls," arriving in theaters Nov. 22, distributed by 20th Century Fox.

In the film, Danny DeVito plays a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealer who presents his neighbor, played by Matthew Broderick, with a new Aspen, even as the two fight over what Fox bills as a "Battle of the Bulbs" -- decorating their homes for the holidays.

Chrysler hopes to have clips of the movie on its website and expects to have a presence at the premier.

Mr. Curmi hinted consumers also will see the Aspen SUV on a prime-time TV show early next year, although he declined to offer details.

He said his experience goes beyond his finance background because he worked closely with brand teams during Chrysler Group's transition from 25 regional offices to eight.

"The nice thing is, I know how the brands work and what their goals are."
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