Does Smog Need an Agent Now?

William Morris Is Out to Make Some Green by Upping New Clients' Eco-Cred. Pollution, You'll Never Work in This Town Again

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- In Hollywood, even the air has an agent. So do the trains.

Well, sort of.

Meet Sen. Kevin Murray, a Democrat who joined Hollywood's oldest talent agency, William Morris, in January after term limits ended his career in the California State Senate.
Sen. Kevin Murray's been busy signing a raft of new quasi-governmental and corporate consulting clients, helping them embrace a more robustly green ideology powered by entertainment talent.
Sen. Kevin Murray's been busy signing a raft of new quasi-governmental and corporate consulting clients, helping them embrace a more robustly green ideology powered by entertainment talent. Credit: Gabriel Bouys AFP Getty Images

"I could've spent my days walking around Sacramento, asking people to vote for stuff," Murray says, his face clouding over at the mere thought of becoming a lobbyist. Instead, after more than a decade representing Hollywood in Sacramento and fighting for green causes, he has returned to his hometown to help the Morris office face a really inconvenient truth: With the town hobbled by a writers strike, agents still need to keep rolling in the green.

How? While there's no real substitute for 10% of, say, Russell Crowe's latest $20 million paycheck, Mr. Murray is helping the shop diversify. He's been busy signing a raft of new quasi-governmental and corporate consulting clients, helping them embrace a more robustly green ideology powered by entertainment talent.

Whether you're a senator or an agent, Mr. Murray said, "you're in the business of helping people tell their story."

Middleman
He just signed Amtrak, the public-private portmanteau with the $1.2 billion annual budget, and hopes to burnish its image as a better option for travelers by working in partnership with its agency of record, Arnold Worldwide.

Mr. Murray also recently signed Metro, Los Angeles' mass-transit operator, and is helping arrange financing for a free concert on behalf what could become his next client: the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the air-pollution-control agency for Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

As part of his work for Amtrak, the first National Train Day, planned for next May 10 -- the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad, for those wondering about the date -- will highlight both the pleasure of rail and the increasing pain of traveling on blacktop.

Tighter airport security, worsening traffic and higher gas prices do appear to be goosing Amtrak ridership in the Northeast, South and Midwest. Amtrak passengers for the 2007 fiscal year increased to 25.8 million, marking the fifth straight year of gains and setting a record for the most travelers since its inception in 1971.

While the exact mix of Amtrak's entertainment marketing and green messaging for National Train Day is still being worked out, Mr. Lim said, "It's not your classic ad campaign."

Bumps ahead
Indeed, the Morris office will be working with Arnold -- a potentially fraught relationship. Sheryl Ekland, senior VP-group accounts director at Arnold's Washington headquarters said gamely, if a little cautiously, "We're very much interested in what they're going to bring to the mix."

But whatever the methods, one message likely to be sent is what Mr. Lim called "the green theme."

"It's an easy route for us to look at. We're 17% more energy-efficient than commercial airliners or automobiles. Traffic in big cities is a painful experience -- all the more so with gas prices really high."

Being "more efficient" than cars, of course, hardly makes Amtrak eco-friendly. Amtrak's ability to claim such superiority has much to do with the fact that federal fuel-economy standards for automobiles were last updated when Mary Lou Retton was still in leotards. Automakers have to achieve only 27.5 miles per gallon on cars, a figure that hasn't changed since 1984.

That said, money's money. Five years ago, oil was $25 a barrel. Recently it peaked at $96.70; gas prices have doubled compared with 2001. Forget consumer conscience; it's consumer confidence -- now at its lowest level in two years -- that greener, mass-transit alternatives might benefit from most.

That brings us to another of Mr. Murray's new clients.

Lonely trains
"A lot of people in L.A. don't even know we have a public-transit system," says Eric Ritz, the CEO of Global Inheritance, a youth-oriented social-activism nonprofit working with William Morris.
Murray: Still glad-handing for green causes, just not in the California Senate.
Murray: Still glad-handing for green causes, just not in the California Senate. Credit: Jose Luis Villegas

Los Angeles' Metro has grown to some 90 miles of track, but relative to other cities of its size and owing to its limited routes, it's hugely underutilized. About 7.4 million people used Metro rail lines last month, while roughly 5 million passengers ride the New York City subway every day.

"The idea is to make [public transit] part of the conversation," Mr. Ritz said. To that end, he's programming a free concert at Los Angeles' Henry Fonda Theater, with Mr. Murray's help, titled "Public Display of Affection." It's timed to coincide with the 50th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10 next year.

Mr. Ritz said the show will be underwritten in part by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, thanks to still another recent deal Mr. Murray brokered: The only way in will be to present a used mass-transit (Metro bus or rail) ticket stub.

Adding to the show's green hue, many of the artists who'll already be in town for the Grammys will be invited to perform, Mr. Murray said.

Signing up entertainers
The South Coast AQMD's decision to work with Mr. Murray and William Morris came from a desire to change not only consumer attitudes about its role in air quality but also how it gets its message out.

"Historically, prominent members of the entertainment community have been vocal on this," said Barry Wallerstein, the South Coast AQMD's executive director: "Kevin and William Morris give us the ability to tap into [entertainment] community leaders who might be sensitive to this issue."

In the meantime, recent news out of Washington seems to suggest that demand for Mr. Murray's services will be heating up faster than the Arctic ice shelf. Congress just passed a bill that would raise vehicle efficiency standards 40%, to 35 miles per gallon. And the Federal Trade Commission said it will speed up a review of how companies market their environmental claims.

That's music to Mr. Murray's ears.
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