Meet Hill Holliday's New Head of Entertainment Marketing

John Dukakis Will Draw on His Political Pedigree, Music Background

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NEW YORK -- Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos, Boston, recently snagged John Dukakis to lead the agency's entertainment-marketing efforts.
John Dukakis
John Dukakis

Mr. Dukakis has dabbled in acting, served as manager of pop legend Prince and owned an entertainment firm, Southpaw Entertainment, whose clients included Boyz II Men and Janet Jackson. Most recently, he worked for Will Smith's production company, Overbrook Entertainment.

If his name sounds familiar -- especially now, as the presidential races gear up -- it's because he's the son of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

This week, Mr. Dukakis chatted with Madison & Vine about his new role as Hill Holliday's senior VP-branded entertainment, for which he plans to draw on his political pedigree and music-industry connections to help brands to "push the envelope."

M&V: You come from an entertainment-industry background, having launched your career as an actor. Did you ever think you'd wind up within an advertising agency?

Mr. Dukakis: Maybe, if this branch of advertising had existed a while ago. What I knew about the advertising industry was from Jack Connors, a family friend, whom I revere, and he is larger-than-life in Boston. As advertising has started to meld with the rest of entertainment, it's become very interesting to me.

M&V: How does your political heritage inform your marketing work?

Mr. Dukakis: A lot of what politics is is marketing. We've known that for a long time; it came out in the open with the '68 campaign when Nixon was packaged. It's all about figuring out how to get the message out there and sell the product. I think [a political background] helps you think about things in a different way. I learned at a very early age how to read a poll, and that it isn't the racehorse numbers but the inside numbers that really matter. That's helped me on the market-research side, helping me see trends and really get a sense of what people are thinking and feeling.

M&V: Would you say that more brands today are open to pairing with artists than maybe 10 years ago?

Mr. Dukakis: Absolutely. ... In a world where recorded music is not doing very well, artists are looking for other areas where they as performers and songwriters are looking to help themselves. So you've got a lot of people who wouldn't have been caught dead doing a commercial actively looking for the work.

M&V: What do you look for when pairing an artist with a brand?

Mr. Dukakis: You look for consistency. You look very carefully at what the brand message is -- in both cases -- and find situations where they dovetail nicely. It's easy to know when they won't work and a little harder to find out when they will. A lot of it is not based on analysis but on your gut of whether this artist is going to serve the needs of your brand. There are some other factors as well -- like, will they cooperate? Are they enthusiastic about what they're doing? -- in addition to just bringing their name and likeness to the brand.

M&V: Given your history in the music industry, will you be involved in brokering deals for music licensing as part of your new role?

Mr. Dukakis: I already am doing some of that and am very excited about the prospects of making it work for everybody. The thing which drew me to Hill Holliday is they think very broadly about media, and because of that it creates a lot of opportunities to work with artists who are also working in a lot of different media.

M&V: What will be big in entertainment marketing for 2008?

Mr. Dukakis: People will continue to figure out how to create viral-ready material. It's clear that the stuff that really works is either very funny or touching in some way, like [Burger King's] "Subservient Chicken." ... It's about finding those ideas no one else has really had. Brands can be a little freer online than they can be in 30-second commercials, and I think you'll see more brands pushing the envelope and be more daring in order to get a little attention.
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