PEOPLE: PLAYER OF THE WEEK: MERCADANTE JOINS TEAM REBUILDING UNIVERSAL CITY: THEME PARK'S EXPANSION IS ACCOMPANIED BY RE-EMPHASIS ON MARKETING

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Add theme parks to the array of brand-building challenges Blaise Mercadante has undertaken.

Mr. Mercadante is now in the post of exec VP-marketing at Universal Studios Florida, leaving Taco Bell, where he was VP-marketing. But his resume also includes work on such brands as Pizza Hut, Apple, Princess Cruises and Doritos.

At the Orlando theme park, Mr. Mercadante is overseeing brand development. The move comes at a time of aggressive expansion for the facility, with partners Seagram Co. and London-based Rank Group in the midst of a $2 billion building spree.

NEW MARKETING TEAM

Construction has been completed on a new marketing team as well. That revamp included naming Norm Merritt exec VP-sales; he had overseen strategic planning at Walt Disney World as VP-sales and travel-industry marketing.

Mr. Mercadante's arrival rounds out a team built specifically to take the destination and the brand to the next level on a worldwide scale, said Fred Lounsberry, who held Mr. Mercadante's title before being promoted to exec VP-sales and marketing.

"We are a very heavy retail business, and we're going to evolve to a different level of marketing from a brand aspect," Mr. Lounsberry said. "His agency background and history at PepsiCo [units Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Frito-Lay] really fit the profile of the level that we were moving to."

Earlier in his career, Mr. Mercadante worked on the agency side in research and account management posts at the Los Angeles offices of Tracy-Locke and BBDO Worldwide. Among his clients at Tracy-Locke were Taco Bell, Frito-Lay's Doritos and Tostitos, and Princess Cruises. His accounts at BBDO included Pizza Hut and Apple Computer.

In working on both Universal Studios Florida-which in the next few years will be repositioned as Universal City Florida-and its sister park in Hollywood, Calif., Mr. Mercadante said he is realizing yet another opportunity to build a "world-class" brand.

HEAD TO HEAD WITH DISNEY

"The thing that drew me was the opportunity to build a very strong retail brand," Mr. Mercadante said. "Frankly, with Disney we are head to head with the strongest brand in the world and in their strongest market."

Mr. Mercadante enters the geographic epicenter of theme park marketing. In addition to Universal and Disney World, central Florida is home to Sea World Orlando and Anheuser-Busch Cos.' Busch Gardens Tampa. To the east is Spaceport USA, the attraction centered on Cape Canaveral.

Working with Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, which replaced Seiniger Advertising, Los Angeles, as agency of record last fall, Mr. Mercadante will develop a marketing plan whose goal will be to attract international vacationers and "sophisticated" local residents.

Mr. Mercadante sees no problem applying parent Seagram's universal values: to be customer-driven and focused. It's no different from how he traditionally approached client goals-by starting with a customer's point of view.

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