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NO CATACLYSM, JUST HOLLYWOOD DABBLE-ON CAA, OTHER TALENT SHOPS FAIL TO BRING AGENCIES TO THEIR KNEES

By Published on .

It seemed like a match made in heaven: Madison Avenue's clients and Hollywood's showbiz pizzazz.

But the fiery romance stoked by Creative Artists Agency's marketing alliance with Coca-Cola Co. more than two years ago is cooling.

Two high-level departures late last year from Beverly Hills talent agency rivals CAA and International Creative Management highlight the tricky nature of Hollywood's crusade to expand upon its traditional role as Madison Avenue's commercial talent brokers.

"The world didn't follow [CAA's] lead, but the world should

look at what the lessons of it were," said Peter Sealey, who choreographed the Coca-Cola deal with CAA when he worked at the cola giant. "It was a wake-up call .*.*. The lesson of CAA and `Always Coca-Cola' is that there are different ways of doing things and if there are, the major institutions better investigate them aggressively."

Led by powerbroker Michael Ovitz, CAA in 1992 parlayed an unorthodox consulting arrangement with Coca-Cola Co. into advertising responsibility for Coca-Cola Classic. The arrangement spooked Madison Avenue and CAA competitors alike. A flurry of meetings between the two industries ensued, ironically including McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, which had had creative responsibility for Coke Classic.

CAA's Steve Carbone and ICM's Bob Colvin spent some 18 months meeting with ad agencies, but few deals came to fruition and both senior executives recently left their respective posts.

Unlike CAA's perceived Madison Avenue raid, William Morris Agency and ICM solicited ad agencies for their input and clients in hopes of forming partnerships.

Mercedes-Benz of North America is talking with ICM and "a variety of other people" about developing marketing programs related to the entertainment field, said Andrew Goldberg, general manager of integrated marketing communications at Mercedes.

"We don't want to do things in a generic, cookie-cutter kind of way," Mr. Goldberg said. "We're looking at how we can have a distinct leadership identity."

William Morris has worked with theme park operator Busch Entertainment Corp. for almost a year to increase visibility of the parks and products in TV, home video and other media.

Neither relationship is viewed as a threat to A-B's and Mercedes' agencies.

William Morris VP Brian Dubin downplays any attempt by the talent agency to secure exclusive alignments.

"We were never interested in doing business with one specific agency or advertiser," he said. "All [discussion] specifically was about meeting with top-level management at many ad agencies merely to strengthen our relationships with them."

Other industry executives confirm talks included everything from collaborating on special events to programming and new media, ventures that will still be explored. Most say, however, that the disparate talent and ad agency cultures stymied early discussions.

Ad agencies are "curious, open to meeting and, in time, will embrace what was trying to be done," said Mr. Colvin, who has left his post as VP-commercial endorsement and licensing at ICM to start his own consultancy called Interactive Media Partners, Los Angeles. "The Hollywood agent culture is different. It is one that exists on deals done quickly, not done on deals nurtured over years. The cultures really precluded an immediate exploitation of the unrest that [CAA Chairman] Mike Ovitz created.

"I had a lot of discussions with Interpublic, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett and Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis," Mr. Colvin continued. "The problem is that none of the things we were talking about as projects get done in six months. Also, it took a little while to overcome agency suspicion that we were going around them for their clients."

BBDO Worldwide New York President Bill Katz said talent and ad agencies are currently rethinking how new relationships can be struck: "If it happens it will be on a project-by-project basis," he said.

Sue Berkowitz, VP-director of entertainment services at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, acknowledges that advertising and talent agencies "don't speak the same language" but said she remains optimistic about programming and new media deals the two can put together.

"I think we're making progress with talent agencies but the problem is being able to deliver clients in a real way," Ms. Berkowitz said. "There has been a lot of talk but not a lot of action. It's a function of finding the right project and client. Corporate America is out looking for deals with entertainment companies in very new ways." Raymond Serafin contributed to this story.

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