TONY SEINIGER IS SITTING IN THE conference room of his Beverly Hills offices, talking about "Waterworld." The movie's much anticipated-some might say dreaded-premiere is still six months away, and he's addressing the issue of spin control. "The problem is dealing with all the bad press," says the man whose agency is charged with keeping this picture from sinking like a stone. "The press is only focusing on the money," he goes on, pointing out that in these conservative, tight-fisted times such profligate spending comes across as yet another example of Hollywood's inclination for wretched excess. "You have to take out of this appeal all the things people have seen before from the other postapocalypse films and show them that it's not what the press has been calling it," he adds. "I mean, what does some guy in Kansas know-or care-that it's over budget?"
Ah, but perhaps that guy in Kansas does care about the fate of Kevin's Gate. Maybe he's seen one too many segments of "Entertainment Tonight," or read one of the countless articles about the star's running battle with the director and how the Seagram folks who bought MCA won't have to foot the bill for this one.
And just maybe he spent last weekend pondering the fate of this liquid debacle while watching the debut of the second season of the NFL on Fox, in which case he probably saw another side of advertising's Mr. Movies-that of a budding sports and entertainment specialist set on expanding his reputation well beyond that of one of Hollywood's premiere pitchmen.
"Our goal is to broaden our base into every area of entertainment and leisure time that we can," says the 56-year-old president and owner of the Seiniger Advertising Group. Taking his lead from the Wehrmacht-style expansion of his movie clients into just about every form of media imaginable, he's set his sights far and wide.
Tourism? They're contributing to a civic booster campaign from the New Los Angeles Marketing Partnership, he reports. A casino? Seiniger has already been pitching himself to Vegas potentates like Steve Wynn. Videogames? They're already working on a project basis for Activision, producing ads for a CD-ROM game called Mech Warrior.
In the athletic arena, in addition to handling creative for what
Fox's on-air promotion of both NFL and NHL games, the agency also creates print and television ads for the regional Prime Sports network-work that draws some comparison to what Wieden & Kennedy is doing for ESPN-and has also done a warm and fuzzy TV image campaign for Ringling Bros.
The Fox campaign has largely been the work of a creative team that
Seiniger hired away from Lord Dentsu in Los Angeles. Alan Berkes and Ed
Grimes, both 34, have, with the help of a backup creative team, been largely responsible for producing a volume of work that would rival the output of Isaac Asimov. Using the theme "Same game, more attitude," they've written literally hundreds of spots for Fox, all of which have been produced by the sports division's in-house producers (it shows) and none of which could be mistaken for what passed for promotion when the NFL was at CBS.
Based on a strategy of making the player's personalities the prime selling point of Fox football, they've had ordained minister and Green Bay
Packers defensive star Reggie White sing "Amazing Grace," enticed the
Chicago Bears' menacing lineman Chris Zorich to whip a football around like Zorro and surrounded brainy 49ers quarterback Steve Young with law books.
Is this as strange as having Dennis Hopper sniff sneakers in the locker room, or as trendy as most of the extreme-sports ESPN stuff? Well, no, but it's just fine for Fox, which has carved out a personality for its sports division that's more mainstream than weird but still has an edge. Whereas
Wieden tends to make ads reverential to athletes, Seiniger says, "the work we've done is more about saying, 'Hey, I'm just a normal human being.'" He unapologetically considers the Fox ads more "approachable" than Wieden's work, which, while making the usual complimentary comments, he also considers elitist. "They don't make the most accessible advertising," he says. "Our work is much more for the regular guy."
Tracy Dolgin, executive VP-marketing at Fox Sports, says the difference between their work and ESPN's is that ESPN is working with a more
"fanatical" sports fan, while they have to appeal to a broader range of viewers-"people who aren't such sports nuts." They also have to attract new viewers-that means younger viewers-without alienating their longtime fans from CBS.
For Seiniger, moving into areas like broadcast promotion and sports, as well as hiring people from mainstream agencies like Berkes, Grimes and CD
Marty Muller, who joined the agency earlier this year from JWT/New York, is all part of the plan to stretch, as actors like to say. While the agency occupies a major role in the niche of movie marketing, among the ranks of more mainstream agencies they're still considered outsiders. "We don't generally think of them as an agency we compete with," says one
L.A. creative director who is familiar with the shop. Says Seiniger of his more general-market colleagues, "Oh, they just see us as those movie guys."
Indeed, Seiniger feels there are more differences than similarities between he's done in features and what they've done for consumer products and services. The biggest difference, he says, is that "in entertainment-all forms of entertainment-there is no such thing as a test market. You cannot test market a thrill ride in a theme park. You gotta build it, open it and get the butts in the seats. And then you find out if they like it or not."
Another thing that sets movie marketing apart is the need to create an instant image. According to Steve Hayman, president of marketing at Savoy Pictures, a former Seiniger employee who has also worked at mainstream agencies, "You've got to build awareness and interest and what we call first choice, all in that opening weekend." A strange mix of retail thinking and brand imaging, he cautions that movie marketing "is a very complicated process that most regular agencies find difficult to deal with."
For Seiniger, getting into the field was part luck, part calculation. A native New Yorker, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and, in 1964, went to work for the commercial production house EUE/Screen Gems, which at the time was owned by Columbia Pictures. He joined not to learn the commercials business but to learn filmmaking; an outside hope was that the company's movie studio ownership might allow for some eventual crossover to the features side.
When a Columbia executive asked the company to help it make some commercials for a new movie, the assignment was given, in what he recalls as an almost offhand manner, to Seiniger, then 26. He called some buddies on the agency side, created a campaign that did not rely on film clips and shot it. "Overnight, I was this movie maven," he says.
He eventually started his own company in New York just to do movie work, then moved to Los Angeles in 1970 to work directly for MCA, still one of his largest clients. He formed Seiniger in 1973, and has owned it since, except for a four-year stint when the shop was part of the WPP Group.
As one mainstream agency person who's worked for movie clients points out, entertainment marketing is "way different than handling general advertising accounts. You're dealing with highly creative people who don't know a thing about marketing saying, 'Give me what I want.' They don't know how to react to the more traditional strategic brief that an agency would provide. It's sort of like an 'I'll know it when I see it' situation."
In this environment Seiniger is apparently in his element. Described by some as one of those charismatic, hyperactive personalities that people gravitate to, he's established quite a following over the years. "He's really good at handling the difficult movie studio heads and talents," says Lee Kovel of Lord Dentsu, whose agency is currently doing work for Disney. "He's wired in with relationships and connections that matter more than the work, but he's also got a track record of good creative on top of that. People in the entertainment industry think of him as some kind of giant, a genius."
Whatever the outcome of his attempts to broaden his agency's appeal and client base, clearly Seiniger doesn't relish the thought of being in a mainstream advertising environment. He's worked with people from that world for years, and has obviously developed his own nightmarish vision of what it must be like. "Can you imagine if you were the creative director on some dishwashing liquid, and you had to think of that shit every day?" he asks. "You'd put a bullet in your head, right? The beauty of this is that every day there's something new and