And now with the departure of Ferris Thompson, the agency's head of entertainment marketing, to public relations shop Edelman, those at the corner of Madison + Vine are wondering whether his exit will spell UTA's retrenchment in the space or a re-energizing of its efforts.
A UTA spokesman in Beverly Hills told Madison + Vine that the shop's management "remains committed to the branded-entertainment space and is gearing up for a series of announcements."
However, some observers have questioned the value that the talent agencies actually bring overall beyond treating brand marketers to starstruck dinners at the Ivy and sprinkling other forms of Hollywood pixie dust.
"It's all about where their bread is buttered. Majority of their income comes from the talent business. So [as they pursue brands] there will always be a conflict of interest," said Jarrod Moses, CEO of Alliance, an entertainment-marketing outfit under the Grey Global Group banner.
Moses said that many brands who pay the ten-percenteries fat retainers ultimately become disillusioned. "For brands, it might make sense to pay the money to invest for the first year in learning [about the entertainment industry]. Question is what happens after that first year? What you'll see is a lot of brands will fall off after that first year or the retainers are reduced."
William Morris Agency, Creative Artists Agency, Endeavor and UTA execs all declined to respond to Moses' comments, however, it should be pointed out that shops like CAA—with Coca-Cola—, and WMA—with Anheuser-Busch and General Motors—, have managed to maintain perennial relationships with brand marketers. In fact, A-B has been with William Morris Consulting for 11 years.
Unlike its arch-competitors, such as CAA and WMA, who are firmly ensconced in the branded entertainment space—having set up well-staffed corporate marketing and consulting units—, UTA's interests, for the most part, had been represented by Thompson to Madison Avenue.
Only International Creative Management head honcho Jeff Berg has been more reticent. Berg had been rumored to be considering institutionalizing a move into the branded-entertainment space, but has yet to pull the trigger.
Endeavor recently hired former Interpublic Sports & Entertainment Group chief Mark Dowley to rejuvenate its efforts with corporate brands, overseeing a group that includes Jimmy Yaffe, who previously headed Endeavor Marketing Solutions. That group suffered attrition last year when Mark and Erik Stroman bolted to hang out their own shingle, Entertainment Marketing Partners, with brands like JetBlue as clients.
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% As has been documented, by and large, the ten-percenteries' growing interest in the corporate brand world has dovetailed with the increasing pressures on their revenue model for their traditional business. There are more agents fighting for fewer deals than during the salad days and the days of million-dollar spec script sales and TV development pacts handed out willy-nilly to talent has also been largely curtailed. Agencies have tried to make up for the squeezed margins by resorting to a volume play by padding their client rosters.
And by wooing corporate America with the promise of entertainment as a marketing platform.
And with the branded entertainment space still a nascent arena, one Madison Avenue player, who requested anonymity, said questioning the value proposition of entertainment "should cast a wider net beyond just scrutinizing the guys on Wilshire."