Retail Veteran Michael Francis Joins DreamWorks Animation

Former Target CMO, JC Penney President Moves to New Arena

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Michael Francis has been named to the newly created post of chief global brand officer at DreamWorks Animation.

Michael Francis
Michael Francis

Mr. Francis, the high-profile former Target CMO and JC Penney president, will be responsible for worldwide branding initiatives, licensing and consumer products and franchise management.

"Michael has spent nearly three decades as a superstar in retail, and his expertise in building franchises is second to none," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said in a phone interview. "We are looking to exploit our movie and TV brands at retail with smart, creatively built consumer products and branding. We believe Michael will build a new business opportunity for DreamWorks that will drive revenue."

Mr. Francis will join DreamWorks Animation immediately in a part-time capacity and come on full-time in February, reporting to Ann Daly, chief operating officer. Anne Globe continues as CMO at DreamWorks Animation.

The studio's large portfolio of franchises includes "Shrek," "Puss in Boots," "Madagascar," "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Kung Fu Panda." In July the company acquired Classic Media for $155 million in cash, giving it access to a laundry list of classic characters such as Casper the Friendly Ghost, Lassie and George of the Jungle. In September it laid out a four-year plan that calls for releasing three films annually, including "Turbo," a planned July 2013 release about a garden snail who gains extraordinary speed, and "The Penguins of Madagascar," a planned March 2015 spin-off from "Madagascar."

"There's an opportunity to harness the energy and raise its profile," Mr. Francis said in a phone interview. "There's so much in its portfolio, and it's ripe for greater domestic and international exposure."

DreamWorks Animation has turned its attention to consumer products and branding in recent years, forming partnerships with Royal Caribbean and Gaylord Hotels for a DreamWorks Animation experience, as well as working with theme parks. "We feel we have only literally scratched the surface," Mr. Katzenberg said.

Mr. Francis' hire comes as DreamWorks Animation attempts to shake off the poor performance of its most recent movie, "Rise of the Guardians," which has won just $53.7 million at the box office between its opening Thanksgiving weekend and last Friday, according to Box Office Mojo. The disappointing performance has undermined the company's stock price. Cowen analyst Doug Creutz expects DreamWorks Animation to take a $60 million write-down attributed to the film.

Mr. Francis' arrival might help calm some jitters. Mr. Creutz said in a research note last month that the psychological impact of DreamWorks Animation producing a money-losing film could be more harmful than the expense itself.

Mr. Katzenberg said while DreamWorks Animation needs a senior strategist of Mr. Francis' caliber, it wasn't actively seeking someone for this role. But recent events had left Mr. Francis ready for a new phase in his career. "It was one of those magical moments," Mr. Katzenberg said.

Mr. Francis has a long history in retail, starting out as an executive trainee with Marshall Field's in 1985. He became exec VP-marketing at Target in 2001 and the company's CMO in 2008, overseeing some of the big-box retailer's best-known ad campaigns, including "Design for All" and "Hello Goodbuy," and marketing around design partnerships with Michael Graves, Liberty of London and Missoni. He overhauled Target 's agency roster and experimented with 15-second spots for the "Life's a Moving Target " campaign.

Mr. Francis left Target in October 2011 to become president of JC Penney, where he was responsible for all merchandising, marketing, planning and allocations, and product development and sourcing. The department store retailer has been in the midst of a complete overhaul, garnering mixed reactions from consumers and poor sales. Mr. Francis brought on a number of well-known designers and created vibrant, upbeat campaigns, but left in June 2012 after just eight months.

He joined Gap in September in a part-time consulting role.

Mr. Francis and Mr. Katzenberg had been in conversations on and off for two years, with talks getting more serious after Mr. Francis left Target . "We stayed in touch during his less-than-fulfilling path at JC Penney," Mr. Katzenberg said.

During conversations that began in earnest this summer, Mr. Francis said he was impressed with the vision for DreamWorks Animation and saw a chance to maximize its revenue and presence in consumers' minds.

"We could create an opportunity for him better than anyone else out there," Mr. Katzenberg said.

Mr. Francis said his role at Gap was always intended to be a short-time gig, and he will continue to finalize some projects for the specialty retailer before he takes on his permanent position at DreamWorks Animation.

Mr. Francis won't immediately relocate but will be spending most of his time in Los Angeles, where DreamWorks Animation is located.

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