WPP ups integrated ante with Weinstein Co.

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WPP's $25 million investment in the recently launched Weinstein Co. is part of the agency holding company's increasing commitment to the rapidly expanding branded-entertainment area.

In addition to ponying up big bucks to get an inside line on upcoming movies from the brothers Weinstein, WPP is beefing up its operations internally to better leverage its media agencies' assets. One insider said there are also "other deals in development," although neither the executive, nor WPP, would elaborate.

"We're building a stronger structure," said Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of Group M, the WPP unit that sits above MindShare, MediaEdge:cia, MediaCom and Maxus.

Peter Tortorici, who joined WPP's media agency MindShare in late 2004 as president of MindShare Entertainment, is moving up into Group M as president, Group M Entertainment. From that position he can craft entertainment deals for all of WPP's media clients, which will then be executed within each media agency by a handful of leading entertainment-focused executives.

WPP has added two to that cadre this year. David Lang joined Mindshare in March as senior partner and director of programming, from senior VP at Broadway Video Entertainment.

Mediaedge:cia earlier this year promoted Fred Dubin, as managing partner, director of entertainment marketing and promotions, from managing partner, director of broadcast. MediaCom has not yet named a lead entertainment executive.

The Weinstein-WPP deal has the potential to break new ground in branded entertainment. It's not just that the deal terms give WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell or one of his representatives a seat as a silent partner on the Weinstein Co. of representatives, whose members include top media and financial types, including Tarak Ben Ammar, the Franco-Tunisian financier and producer (reported Parisian neighbor to financier and Havas Chairman Vincent Bollore) Vivi Nevo.

It's also that the agreement puts the marketer, or at least its agency, at the genesis of content creation. "With this, we are becoming part of the process," said Mr. Gotlieb. The deal terms include WPP's getting first-look at properties being developed and produced.

This deal stands apart from others in the still young, but burgeoning, field of branded entertainment for other reasons. Most deals are done on a project basis rather than as part of a long-term business strategy. What's more, an ongoing concern with brand-integration agreements arises when a studio strikes a co-promotion, as in the case with "The Matrix: Revolutions" and those holding creative control object enough to impede the agreement's success.

For the moviemaker's part, adding advertising and marketing expertise at its top ranks demonstrates the seriousness of company founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein in exploiting this area. "We're very excited about the strategic relationship," they said in a statement.

Goldman Sachs, which also has a seat on Weinstein Co.'s board of representatives and also has a longstanding banking relationship with WPP, introduced the two parties.

The structure of Weinstein Co. lends itself to a deal with an ad holding firm because product-placement, promotions and marketing functions are run from one division. Executives there read scripts and scout opportunities to incorporate marketers from the earliest stages of production. They're also eager to turn those placement deals into broader integrations and co-marketing alliances that could hype the film throughout the brand's distribution channels.

That sort of thinking appeals to WPP's media executives. It is the world's largest buyer of media, volume-wise. "Our strategy is to broaden our capability instead of just making it bigger. We absolutely believe that this is part of the future, and we're getting it at the ground floor," said MindShare CEO Dominic Procter.

WPP's MindShare Entertainment under Mr. Tortorici is an established innovator in branded entertainment. It has crafted co-production arrangements such as "The Days," which was financed in part out of media budgets for clients Sears and Unilever and developed branded-integration deals, such was matching Sears with ABC's "Extreme Home Makeover."

Making it work

Harvey Weinstein himself has been closely involved in deals between marketers and the films he produces and distributes, and it's a priority at the studio to make such agreements work smoothly. Prior to starting Weinstein Co., while at Disney's Miramax, Mr. Weinstein and his brother worked with a number of WPP client brands, such as L'Oreal and General Motors for "Project Runway," and American Express for "The Aviator."

Lori Sale, exec-VP, marketing and promotions, calls the WPP alliance important because it will give the studio "a one-stop shop" for potential product placement and co-marketing deals that are vital in the entertainment industry.

"It will help me multitask," looking for opportunities for a number of WPP clients at a time, she said. "There won't be a brand category that we can't find an opportunity for."

The Weinsteins plan six film releases by the end of the year, including "Derailed," with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen; "The Libertine," with Johnny Depp; and "The Matador," starring Pierce Brosnan. TV projects include the second season of "Project Runway" on Bravo and small-screen versions of feature films "Sin City" and "Rounders." Barbara Schneeweiss, who worked with the brothers at Miramax, will guide the TV efforts.

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