Hollywood has been buzzing about the job vacancy since the departure last fall of Chris Pula, a former New Line Cinema marketing executive with a reputation for being a bit of a corporate renegade. He lasted less than a year at Warner Bros., following a string of box-office disappointments.
FOLLOWING DISNEY'S LEAD?
Until now, the names rumored for the Warner Bros. job have been Hollywood marketing veterans. But the intense buzz surrounding Mr. Ball has the community speculating about the studio following the example of Walt Disney Co. and going outside the entertainment world for a new marketing chief.
The Disney comparison is made juicier by its fast-food ties: In 1996, Disney hired Burger King Corp. marketing executive John Cywinski to head motion-picture marketing.
Mr. Ball, who joined McDonald's in 1995 from a Los Angeles ad agency that handled McDonald's regionally and of which he was a principal -- Davis, Ball & Colombatto, now DavisElen Advertising -- could be open to suggestions given the recent marketing woes of the fast-food giant and a recent management shakeup.
He joins a growing list of names; those already mentioned for the post include Mark Gill, president of Miramax Films' Los Angeles office, as well as former top marketers at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Corp.
Mr. Gill last week denied he was leaving Miramax.
Those familiar with Warner Bros. said key executives there have long been enamored with McDonald's marketing, a regard that predates the fast-feeder's much-publicized miscues.
Warner Bros. isn't rushing into a decision; marketing plans for spring and summer are already set.
A Warner Bros. spokeswoman said the position is open and a search is taking place, but wouldn't comment on candidates.
Mr. Ball didn't return calls by press time; a McDonald's spokesman said Mr. Ball isn't leaving.
The rumors swirling around Mr. Ball point back to the turmoil within the McDonald's marketing machine. The company recently reorganized its national marketing structure as part of the chain's ongoing efforts to do more local marketing.
The company spokesman insisted the revamp hasn't diminished Mr. Ball's responsibilities; his assistant said on Friday that he was on vacation.
Given the current environment at McDonald's, some doubt any one executive can craft and implement a singular marketing vision.
Some executives close to McDonald's said that David Baney -- a Burger King veteran recently hired by McDonald's to oversee calendar planning and national marketing initiatives -- is being groomed to succeed Mr. Ball. Marketing services, worldwide media planning and franchisee group liaison executives all report to Mr. Baney (AA, March 16).
Contributing: Louise Kramer, Chuck Ross