This executive spends every working day thinking about the weekend

By Published on .

Suzanne Cole remembers a time, not so long ago, when a $10 million opening weekend was considered a rousing success for Hollywood's major studios. Not so these days, when movies under her watch need to crack into the tens-plural-of millions before any backslapping commences.

No pressure at all for Ms. Cole, who's recently been promoted to senior VP-media at NBC Universal's Universal Pictures, where she's working on such films as "The Producers," based on the Broadway hit, "Cinderella Man" with Russell Crowe and Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong."

"It's always been an opening-weekend business," Ms. Cole said, "but now you have to swing for the fences for that massive number out of the gate. If it doesn't open big, it's not going to go up after that."

That reality has meant that Ms. Cole and her team must be ever more strategic about their media plans and flexible enough to change them moment to moment, based on how the movie is tracking with certain target demographics.

Universal, still relying heavily on network TV, uses a mix of media these days, with an increased emphasis on the Internet and emerging technologies, said Ms. Cole, 42. The studio is working with TiVo to get movie messages across to even those consumers who seem intent on skipping through commercials.

HITTING THE FAITHFUL

Though TV is vital, not all TV is created equal in Ms. Cole's eyes. She's often keenest to buy ads during shows with die-hard fans. Those are the consumers who are more likely to watch a show when it airs, rather than using a time-shifting digital video recorder, and to pay more attention during the program. Even if those fans watch the show later, she's found, they watch it shortly after it airs and often watch the ads.

"I might buy on lower-rated shows because they happen to be stickier," said Ms. Cole, a six-year Universal veteran. "I consider where to buy based on the content, not solely on ratings. A lot of this is gut because I'm a marketer but I'm a consumer, too."

Colleagues say Ms. Cole is an aggressive but fair executive who knows the movie business well but also understands the broader pop-culture context. Her attention to detail is legendary.

"She never forgets a number, she never forgets a unit," said Debbie Richman, director of national broadcast at Omnicom Group's OMD Worldwide, Universal's media-buying agency. "She's always challenging us to find the next big thing."

Ms. Cole is nimble, Ms. Richman said, looking for ways to improve a media plan, even if the wheels for a film opening are already in motion.

"She doesn't just buy a schedule and wait for it to run," Ms. Richman said. "She's constantly looking for how to make the biggest impact."

Ms. Cole, a former executive at Saatchi & Saatchi and DDB, said she made the transition to the client side because she wanted to be hands-on in creating media strategies. She did so for Polygram Filmed Entertainment, a studio that was eventually absorbed by Universal, and for such Universal hits as "Ray," "Meet the Fockers" and "The Bourne Supremacy."

In addition to film releases, Ms. Cole also oversees the media plans for the studio's DVD launches, which, she says, have grown "to look like an event business" with much the same emphasis on the opening day's bottom line.

Just Asking

What's your favorite movie? "Casablanca"

What's your favorite so-bad-it's-good movie? "Point Break"

What do you do when you're not watching movies? "I love to eat, and I love to cook." She's known for her macaroni and cheese.

What's your second career choice? A photographer. She's had some of her black-and-white street scenes from a photo workshop in Buenos Aires exhibited in a gallery show.

Firmly believes in: Better living through shoe shopping.

In this article:
Most Popular