PEOPLE: PLAYER PROFILE: RETAIL PRO PROVES TO BE SMART CASTING AT WARNER: GRUEN NURTURES TIES BETWEEN STUDIO AND STORES SELLING LICENSED ITEMS

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After two decades in retail and three years in the entertainment industry, Rob Gruen is on the rise at Warner Bros.

Mr. Gruen was recently elevated to exec VP-worldwide marketing and retail development for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. He arrived as a senior VP in 1994.

The 47-year-old Mr. Gruen brings a fusion of retail experience, brand appreciation and pop culture passion to his post as Warner Bros.' top executive overseeing relationships with retailers that carry Warner-licensed merchandise.

WARNER'S RETAIL INTERESTS

Warner Bros.' multibillion-dollar retail interests consist of licensed merchandise and the non-competing products in its Warner Bros. Studio Stores. Mr. Gruen's side accounts for the majority of the studio's retail revenue.

"I love retail," said Mr. Gruen, who deals with such retail giants as Wal-Mart Stores and Toys "R" Us. "It's like having a daily report card. If you like immediate gratification, this is the place to be."

Mr. Gruen's promotion underscores the importance that Warner Bros. and all Hollywood licensers have placed in recent years on supporting their licensees and retailers at point of purchase with strategic thinking and programs. Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. are considered leaders in this movement.

Warner Bros., behind Mr. Gruen, was one of the first studios to assign an account director to each of its major retail partners to craft yearlong marketing programs.

DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS

This kind of personal attention "has served our needs well," Mr. Gruen said. "We build our business around brands rather than hits. Developing relationships gives us the familiarity to create a whole complement of marketing activities with our retailers."

The crown jewel in Warner Bros.' licensing business is Looney Tunes, a universe of characters that the studio has shaped into a $4 billion worldwide brand with a consistent, relevant image. "Batman," a billion-dollar franchise, also has proved to be a durable brand, even if its movies are not always box office smashes.

DEVELOPING BRANDS

Now Warner Bros. is developing brands that will carry it into the next century. The studio has the Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network toys to play with via Time Warner's acquisition of Turner Broadcasting System. And marquee icons like "Scooby Doo," "The Jetsons," and "Tom & Jerry" will get the branding treatment.

Warner Bros. has its first major animated musical, "Quest for Camelot," arriving next spring. With the relaunch of the "Superman" movie franchise next year, the studio is angling for a another "Batman" merchandising franchise.

Mr. Gruen has been in retail for 20 years, with stops at Dayton Hudson Corp., Federated Department Stores, Rose's Stores and Target Stores.

"Customers have a lot of choices at retail, and while they want convenience, they also want a positive, even entertaining shopping experience," he said. "We're harnessing our equity to deliver that fun and excitement to the retail

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