Baxter leads way on Sony convergence

By Published on .

Talk about a field of play.

Sony Corp. of America manufactures and markets wares that range from feature films, TV shows, and musical artist recordings to the physical boxes on which people watch or listen, such as TVs, DVD players, computers, digital cameras and PlayStation gaming platforms. With a push for integration from parent Sony Corp., the U.S. unit-which includes Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Consumer Electronics-is charged with making those products work together. That also means cross promotions and co-executed marketing programs.

"This is the time for Sony to not only think outside the product category box, but to think differently about how entertainment fits into people's lives," said Yankelovich Partners President J. Walker Smith. "I fully think that Sony will do it. But it means that right now is the time they'll have to think differently about how they do business. That job has to be one of the three or four most exciting marketing jobs around right now."

The Sony executive taking on that role is Tim Baxter, 43, recently appointed as senior VP-strategic marketing. He will oversee marketing at Sony Corp. of America and develop cross-marketing programs for its operating companies. Sony Corp. of America spent $291.3 million in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Mr. Baxter takes over from Kenji Kitatani, 46, who is returning to Japan and will consult for the company. A 10-year Sony veteran, Mr. Baxter was most recently senior VP-marketing in Sony Electronics' home products division. Before that he was senior VP-marketing for home audio and home video. In his new role, Mr. Baxter will report directly to Sony America Chairman-CEO Howard Stringer.

To put an American in a senior role says a lot about Sony executives' trust in Mr. Baxter. "He's very creative and bright, and very collaborative," said an industry executive who knows Mr. Baxter.

Convergence is a hot topic at Sony, which traditionally relied on a silo system. The integrated concept is tossed about frequently by most of the top executives during speeches, interviews and analyst meetings.

challenges await

Mr. Baxter already has experience uniting Sony products-and Sony operating divisions. He led the effort to increase DVD and home theater penetration, working with Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment on cross promotions. He also helped launch Super Audio CD, Sony's resolution music format, with Sony Music.

And challenges are already waiting. An ongoing dilemma is how best to reach Sony's vast target audience, divided into groups such as Gen Y, young professionals, families and "zoomers" (aging baby boomers.)

New products and services will also present interesting cross-marketing opportunities for Sony divisions and Mr. Baxter. Sony Connect, Sony's digital music service to rival Apple's iTunes, launches this week, and will be one of the groups Mr. Baxter works with. More Sony Style stores should also add marketing opportunities. Sony plans to move into 10 metro markets in the U.S., adding to stores already open in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, two in Southern California, and another set to open in Boston in May.

Sony America's agency relationships are not expected to change. It consolidated its North American media planning and buying with Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann in 2002. WPP Group's Y&R Advertising handles Sony Consumer Electronics.

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