Meet Walter Reynolds' of Embedded Marketing

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Who: Walter Reynolds, CEO of Embedded Marketing.

Why you need to know him: Mr. Reynolds' Los Angeles company recently helped integrate Home Depot into an episode of UPN's sitcom "Girlfriends," and worked Ford Motor Co. into the third and fifth cycles of UPN's "America's Next Top Model." He also helped place the Lincoln Navigator in the Fox Searchlight comedy "Johnson Family Vacation" and in Revolution Studios' "Are We There Yet?"
Walter Reynolds, CEO of Embedded Marketing.

Credentials: Before starting Embedded Marketing, Mr. Reynolds served as manager of business development at MCA/Universal's home entertainment division. He's worked as a corporate intern in the marketing, product planning, public relations and advertising departments at Toyota Motor Sales USA, and as an account director on Honda and Nike while at Muse Cordero Chen & Partners. He also served as an account director on Lincoln Mercury and Ford Motor Co. at UniWorld Group, and started the agency's branded entertainment efforts. Mr. Reynolds is a graduate of UCLA's Anderson School of Management.

Why did you start your company?: "I had a specific opinion on how deals should be developed and brokered, so I decided to take a chance on myself. The primary objective of Embedded Marketing is to connect brands with the appropriate creative entertainment partners in order to maximize exposure and mutual profitability. To that end, I work closely with all marketing entities, including brands, producers, writers, studios, networks and advertising agencies."

More and more marketers seem to be interested in branded entertainment deals, but how well do they understand the space? "Some marketers understand better than others that, at the end of the day, it's entertainment. The hard part is creating win-win situations wherein the brand and the entertainment vehicle both feel as if they've both achieved their goals."

Marketers keep talking about how they want to be as close to the creative idea as possible -- that they want to make deals directly with content producers. Doesn't that run counter to the goals of network ad sales and integrated marketing executives? How do you reconcile the two? "The best ideas come from the creative community. To that end, it's critical to include the creative community as early as possible. The idea should always be the key element. Generally, it is understood that the brand will support a great effort. Ad sales' goal is to maximize revenue and protect their creative partners, so as not to turn a viable franchise into a 30-minute commercial. The key is input from all parties: the brand, network executives and the creative teams. When all parties are on the same page, we create organic content."

How important are out-of-content programs, such as promotions or consumer outreach? Do you need them to accompany a placement? "What happens after the opening weekend? What happens after the episode runs? The out-of-content elements help us measure our success through publicity, goodwill, CRM database, etc. For 'America's Next Top Model,' more than 80,000 people visited UPN's Web site [during the show's third cycle] to register for a chance to win a Ford Mustang. As a result, Ford was able to develop a Top Model Ford database."

In integrations like Home Depot in "Girlfriends" and Lincoln in "Johnson Family Vacation," how involved were you in the creative process and how much leverage does the marketer have in embedding its message in the entertainment? "I never dictate content. Instead, my goal is to share my client's brand attributes -- key selling points, pedigree, etc. In the case of Home Depot, we really wanted to showcase the brand's Do-It-Herself seminars. Home Depot's research suggested that some women might be overwhelmed when it came to home improvement do-it-yourself projects. The brand's Do It Herself classes fit perfectly into 'Girlfriends' DNA and showcased Home Depot's program. If our entertainment partners understand the brand's heritage, attributes and marketing message, it makes for seamless integration. As far as leverage is concerned, a brand can always choose not to buy ads or support a specific program. My role in any deal is to make sure we don't go down that path. To that end, I work hard to make sure that my clients are getting what they expect."

How do you value placements? Do you personally have a scale or measurement tools, or do you use an existing service? "We try to look at everything from eyeballs to consumer response and interaction --that is, CRM, contests -- to the cool factor. If people are talking about it, it was probably good."

There's still a lot of debate over exactly what branded entertainment is. What's your definition? "Branded entertainment is the seamless integration of a brand into an entertainment program, or when the brand becomes a character."

What are the best examples of branded entertainment you've seen lately? "Obviously, I'm partial to some of my work. Outside of that, however, Adult Swim's 'Aqua Team Hunger Force' had an episode about Boost Mobile Cellular service that was absolutely brilliant. They made fun of their brand! One of my favorite movies was 'Cast Away,' starring Tom Hanks and FedEx. In the end, he delivered the surviving package."

And the worst? "Without being specific, the least effective programs -- television or feature film -- are those where the brand is mentioned repeatedly and the placement adds zero value to the program or vice versa."

What are some obstacles branded entertainment still faces? How do you address them? "The biggest challenge is that the market space continues to evolve. There are hundreds of people out there who do what I do and there is no right way to do this. Every project comes with its own challenges, obstacles and rewards. The biggest lesson: Keep your word. The entertainment community is small and people never forget."

What's on your TiVo? "'CSI' and 'CSI: Miami,' 'The Shield,' 'The Real World/Road Rules -- The Gauntlet,' 'The Boondocks,' 'Iron Chef America' and 'Veronica Mars,' to name a few."

What's on your iPod? "Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Al Green, John Coltrane, Kanye West, Ne-Yo, U2, Steely Dan, Richard Pryor, Robin Harris and the Notorious B.I.G."

What do you do with your downtime? "I watch too much television."