Publicis Media Going Hollywood

Media units talking new entertainment unit

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Publicis Groupe's media agencies, Starcom MediaVest Group and Zenith Optimedia Group, are internally discussing the creation of an entertainment marketing company at the holding company level, according to several executives, including chief executive Maurice Levy.

The proposed unit is being referred to within both shops as Publicis Entertainment and would fall under the aegis of an entity called Publicis Media, a projected parent group for Zenith, Starcom and the new entertainment unit. Tim Jones, president of Zenith USA, and Nick Brien, president of Starcom, are leading the discussions.

The plan is said to include the possibility of acquiring or developing a joint-venture relationship with an existing entertainment marketing company based in Los Angeles. Another option is to simply create the unit from scratch within Publicis. According to execs in the entertainment marketing community, Publicis has already identified a slew of independent entertainment marketing consultants as potential contributors.

The proposed company would create marketing opportunities such as product placement and sponsorship deals for the shops' advertising clients, which include Coca Cola Co. and General Motors Corp., and entertainment entities such as Walt Disney Co., a Starcom client, and Miramax Films, a Zenith client. According to Advertising Age's list of top ad agencies, Publicis Groupe has approximately $2.71 billion in worldwide billings.

According to executives, Norm Marshall & Associates, the Los Angeles based independent product-placement company, is said to have been in discussions with the agency as a joint venture partner.

While Levy acknowledged to Madison + Vine at the end of last week that his company does have a relationship with Norm Marshall, he wouldn't go so far as to confirm any talks about a more permanent business arrangement. "We are talking to them about a specific project for a shared client," he said. While refusing to disclose the nature of the project, Levy also expressed reservations about aligning Publicis with just one Hollywood shop. He said that an exclusive arrangement with one agency would limit his clients' access to projects and talent.

Devery Holmes, president of Norm Marshall, said her company has talked to many ad shops over the years (including Publicis) about possible joint ventures and acquisitions. The company plans to open a New York office in January.

"We have worked with Heineken and a number of advertising agencies, most recently Publicis. One of those projects was Heineken and 'Matrix,'" she said.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% Norm Marshall also works with Publicis client GM.

Jack Klues, CEO of Starcom MediaVest, and Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Optimedia Group Americas, both acknowledged the discussions, saying that the two companies had been looking to create their own individual entertainment units just prior to the acquisition of Starcom MediaVest by Zenith's parent Publicis earlier this year. Following the merger, the two sides began to discuss joining forces in the branded entertainment area.

"It's an ongoing investigation but it's in the very early stages," said Klues, who said a shared entertainment unit could involve an acquisition or a joint venture agreement. "We certainly don't want to be building a direct competitor with CAA or William Morris. That's not the kind of business we want to get into."

Levy also acknowledged internal discussions about the creation of the umbrella media agency that would harness the dual buying power of Starcom and Zenith Optimedia.

"[Previously] it was very difficult to do something because Cordiant Communications was a third party," said Levy, referring to the now defunct ad agency holding company that once owned a 25% stake in Zenith Optimedia. "Since September we've had 100% control, so we can think about that kind of operation. We're in the process of thinking about it and we haven't come to any conclusions. We're exploring and evaluating which kind of combination works."

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