BEHIND THE STRATEGY;TURNER 'TOONS MEAN BUSINESS WORLDWIDE

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The licensing and merchandising of entertainment characters is the rage among international marketers. In fact, Unilever-owned Swedish ice cream maker GB Glace recently renamed its leading brand Flintaglace for a major ad campaign featuring "The Flintstones."

"It's very easy to see that the international business is the one that's slated for exponential growth," said Helen Isaacson, New York-based senior VP and general manager of international licensing at Turner Home Entertainment, which includes classic and new Turner movies and such Hanna-Barbera cartoons as "The Flintstones." Ms. Isaacson was promoted in May, when Turner split U.S. and international licensing into two jobs. "My mission is to form associations with key power partners."

In the case of GB Glace, the "Flintstones" connection helped the brand boost sales by 40% and corner more shelf space, and Unilever's Langnese-Iglo frozen foods company in Germany introduced Flintstones ice cream. Similar Unilever deals are underway in the U.K. and Benelux countries.

"Anything that's successful winds up being exported, or at least tested [in other markets]," Ms. Isaacson said.

Turner is also pulling its divisions together to work on global projects like "The Flintstones" this year (and boy adventurer Jonny Quest in 1996) in one integrated marketing program involving ad sales, licensing and merchandising, the Turner TV networks and program production.

Worldwide, Turner ranks third after Disney and Time Warner in a licensing and merchandising market Ms. Isaacson estimates was worth about $90 billion in retail sales last year.

"About 60% of [Turner licensing and merchandising] revenue is from international now," she said. "It could be more by next year."

The international division that Ms. Isaacson heads numbers only about 15 people in New York and London, as well as a three-person Hong Kong office that opened in June. This compares with hundreds at both Warner and Disney.

No one knows yet how the various Turner divisions will change after the merger with Time Warner, currently in the works, but the combined businesses will be an even more formidable rival to Disney. In the entertainment character licensing area, Warner controls Looney Tunes cartoons.

"Right now it's business as usual," Ms. Isaacson said. "The reality is this is a huge business transaction. Completion will probably take six to nine months, at minimum. It's hard to imagine the two merged companies without realizing the huge opportunities in front of us as a company. It's kind of nice to be part of the largest entertainment company in the world."

Ms. Isaacson and her staff negotiate deals with marketers on a global, regional and country level.

"Now we're increasingly working with marketers to create and tailor innovative character-led campaigns which add value and differentiate their brand in a particularly competitive sector," she said. "We're also taking our properties into nontraditional licensing areas such as the financial sector, where a friendly and familiar character can help break down consumer resistance to campaigns on dry subjects such as car or life insurance."

In Europe, Turner characters are appearing in ad campaigns for everything from car insurance to mouthwash. For example, the U.K.'s Eagle Star Insurance Co. livened up its car insurance ads by using cartoon characters in a humorous TV commercial by Ogilvy & Mather, London.

"We have a broader demographic reach [than Disney]," Ms. Isaacson said. "You can't picture [Disney's] Mickey Mouse or the Lion King in a car insurance commercial, but you can see Fred [Flintstone] driving a car."

In Germany, Turner started a themed "Flintstones" travel promotion last summer with the national train company Deutsche Bahn. On train trips, kids received a toy box in the form of a Stone-Age train and ate Dino steaks and Bronto burgers. This fall, Burger King's Kids Club will roll out a toy promotion across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Aiming at an older market, London-based Tie Rack has signed a worldwide deal to sell an exclusive range of men's ties, underwear and waistcoats featuring Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, Top Cat and other Hanna-Barbera characters in its stores in 30 countries.

Turner's hottest licensing property is "The Flintstones," based on the 1994 movie and this year's 35th anniversary of the cartoon series.

In 1996, the push behind "Jonny Quest" will be the first truly corporate-wide Turner effort, Ms. Isaacson said. "Jonny Quest is the blueprint for a corporate initiative. Every division of Turner will be working on this. It's a great exercise in integrated marketing."

Turner has just made 65 new half-hour episodes of "Jonny Quest," an action drama. Turner execs are selling the programming to broadcasters who will air it along with Turner's own Cartoon Network. France's leading TF-1 channel, for example, will use the episodes to spearhead a new TF-1 youth marketing drive and will lead France's merchandising program.

U.S. toy company Galoob Toys has a global deal with Turner to sell "Jonny Quest"-related toys. Turner's ad sales execs will sell space to advertisers doing "Jonny Quest" tie-ins.

"We're working closely to have international Turner execs develop strategies on a country-by-country basis," Ms. Isaacson said.

The space-age Jetsons have been singled out for a similar corporate-wide push in 1997, and Scooby-Doo is scheduled for a push in 1998.

"Very often an ad buy on a [Turner] network winds up being a promotional and licensing opportunity for that advertiser," she said.

Asia also offers opportunities.

"Asia's a huge market with a very strong emerging middle class," Ms. Isaacson said. "They are more willing to pay a premium for what they perceive as a prestige product. And because of television and international TV networks going [to Asia], there's growth in the popularity of entertainment products."

In designing international deals, she and her team have to take into consideration everything from local rules to ensuring a global licensee's strength in each market.

"We live, breathe, eat and sleep with these characters," she said. "We work on product development with licensees. And we're offering more and more turnkey opportunities to make it easier for marketers to come aboard."

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Helen Isaacson

Birth date: Jan. 25, 1947.

Family: Married; two daughters, 25 and 28.

Education: Master's degree in special education from Adelphi University, New York.

Career highlights: Director of licensing, Murjani International, 1986-89. Joined Turner Home Entertainment in 1991 as VP; promoted to senior VP and general manager of Turner Home Entertainment's newly created international licensing and merchandising division in May 1995.

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