DRIVING WORD OF MOUTH WITH NONTRADITIONAL PR STRATEGIES

Meet Ferris Thompson of Edelman Entertainment Marketing Group

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Who: Ferris Thompson, president of Edelman Entertainment Marketing Group

Why you need to know him: Mr. Thompson heads up the branded entertainment efforts for the public relations shop in Los Angeles. He helped broker such deals as DaimlerChrysler's $100 million marketing partnership with Celine Dion's A New Day at Las Vegas' Colosseum while he was an agent at United Talent Agency.
Ferris Thompson, president of Edelman Entertainment Marketing Group.



Credentials: Before joining Edelman, Mr. Thompson served as the head of marketing at United Talent Agency, working with producers and talent like Michael Davies ("Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"), Celine Dion and Jesse James ("Monster Garage") to create branded entertainment with Pepsi, Daimler Chrysler and Carl's Jr. As NBC Universal vice president of corporate marketing and partnerships at Universal Studios, he worked with brands such as Panasonic, Discover Card and Kodak to develop multiyear marketing alliances across theme parks and motion pictures.

What marketers do you represent? “We’re working with a wide range of clients across entertainment [Warner Bros. Home Video, Country Music Awards and Xbox], consumer [Axe, Starbucks, Burger King], technology [Xbox, Getty Images, MySpace] and health [Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca].”

There is still some confusion out there on what exactly branded entertainment is. How do you define it? “We believe that many are defining branded entertainment too narrowly. When most people talk about it, it’s about a brand being the television show or a film. We see branded entertainment as an idea where brand meets content and creates something new or relevant, something that helps to introduce a brand, launch a brand or simply create word of mouth about a brand. This can happen in music, with celebrities, on the Internet, within a video game, at events or in film and television.”

What branded entertainment deals has Edelman recently put together? “Again our focus has been on developing creative and nontraditional entertainment programs that drive communication. Our Swedish team created viral branded content for a beer company that traveled the world. In London, we just launched a six-episode TV series for moms on UKTV Style, and we’ve been doing some amazing work for Unilever’s Axe and Dove. Edelman has also been the PR agency for some very successful entertainment programs, including Starbucks digital entertainment, the Sears, Ty Pennington and Extreme Makeover Home Edition program, Burger King and Dove’s appearances on "The Apprentice," the Xbox "Halo 2" launch, and helping to build the Mary Kate and Ashley franchise overseas.”

When it comes to credit for putting together branded entertainment deals, publicity firms are often overlooked. Why is that? “Because our first job is to create value, buzz and word-of-mouth for our clients and not ourselves. It’s also an interesting question especially when you consider that one of the key strategic reasons most companies execute branded entertainment programs is to generate PR. While Edelman has been hired to amplify a number of campaigns, we’re seeing more and more clients come to us in search of those nontraditional marketing ideas. The smart brands are also inviting us to be very much a part of the creative and strategic planning phase, which leads to creating much richer and more successful campaigns.”

When compared to product placement shops or branded entertainment producers, what role can a PR firm play in putting together branded entertainment deals? “I think most brands wouldn’t get into the entertainment business if they didn’t expect some form of word-of-mouth. This is why an entertainment practice at Edelman makes so much sense. We bring nontraditional entertainment marketing together with PR to create ideas that work at all levels. Our role is three-fold: developing strategic concepts that will drive communication; identifying strategies that will amplify those concepts; and supporting the execution. And since our entertainment practice is made up of people from all walks of the entertainment business we have the ability to deliver on all three promises.”

What are the best examples of branded entertainment that you've seen lately? “Starbucks is re-defining how brand and entertainment come together to create new experiences for consumers. I think the Sears, Ty Pennington and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition program is one of the best ever -— where brand, personality, emotion and entertainment have all come together in a way that creates relevance and sells products. Burger King is doing some great work. But of course one of our favorites is what our team has been doing for Xbox helping Halo 2 create $100 million in sales through word-of-mouth. Amazon is quietly and consistently doing some very interesting branded entertainment programs. There are also some amazing programs happening on MySpace both in entertainment and with brands.”

And the worst? “The worst generally are the quick one-shot deals that don’t maximize the full compliment of marketing and communication disciplines.”

What are some obstacles branded entertainment still faces? “In the narrowest definition, it’s sometimes not scalable, it’s hard to measure and takes some time for concepts to come to life.”

How can those obstacles be overcome? “By looking at it in a broad sense, by giving ideas time to be nurtured and by having confidence in the power word of mouth.”

How do you measure success? “All marketers have challenges measuring success. In a great program, entertainment marketing is one piece of a bigger picture and if it works well with PR, advertising, POS, etc, you will create value that will be collectively measurable through research with consumers and sales. Ultimately we’re in the business of communicating and persuading consumers to buy our clients' products and the ultimate measurement is whether it worked or not.”

What's on your TiVo? “'Rome,' 'Lost,' the news, awards shows.”

What do you do on your free time? “Spend time with my family, the dogs and surf when I can.”