Universal creates incubator for branded entertainment

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NBC Universal, trying to better position itself to snag business from potential marketing partners, has created a Universal Studios-based division that will hand-hold brands that want to hook up with its films, TV projects, theme parks or other entertainment assets in the company's recently expanded portfolio.

Stephanie Sperber, who had been senior VP of the studio's corporate alliances group, will head the new unit, named Universal Studios Partnerships. With the promotion to exec VP, Ms. Sperber becomes one of the highest-ranking women in Hollywood in the branded-entertainment area.

"We felt the studio was a confusing place to do business," Ms. Sperber said. "Brands needed a central point of contact at the studio, and we needed to speak to them in a consistent voice."

Executives in Hollywood have talked about trying to streamline the crazy quilt of the studio system to help marketers, but few have done it effectively. Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax and Time Warner's New Line are perhaps the best working examples, helped along by their relatively small size. Universal Studios Partnerships will take a page from the way advertising agencies cultivate and manage their clients, Ms. Sperber said.


The studio did some formal and informal research with its existing marketing partners, product-placement agencies and marketing-services companies, its own executives and producers to find the weak points in its structure. They found there were disconnects, for instance, in how a corporate alliance partner would be treated from one studio division to the next. The new system is intended to bring in the brands, figure out what they want, try to deliver that, and manage the client from start to finish. Universal's partners include Coca-Cola Co., Kodak, and MasterCard International.

"We want Universal to be a simple, effective and responsive company to deal with," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman at the studio. "We realized there were some areas where we weren't measuring up, and we weren't comfortable with that."

That's not to say that whatever a brand wants, a brand gets, Ms. Sperber said. Her division is charged with getting a grasp on marketers' objectives and figuring out if the studio can deliver on those. If it can't, then executives will have to hand over that news right up front.

That hasn't always happened, causing bad blood between studios and brands that feel they got burned. There have been instances over the years where marketing partners expected, or were promised, access to talent that never materialized for promotional campaigns. General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac dropped a TV ad campaign after it couldn't get the footage it wanted from Warner Bros.' "The Matrix: Reloaded" last summer.

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