Studios offer up the GO-TO GUY

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It's getting more expensive to make a movie, and the price tag to market them isn't getting any cheaper either. So it's no surprise that studios are looking for all the help they can get.

In other words, when a product like "Batman Begins" comes up, so do the opportunities for outside advertisers to push forward such a major franchise. While buddying up with advertiser partners isn't new for the entertainment industry, what has changed is the fact that movie-makers are more willing to listen to what brands want out of such links.

That's good news for advertisers eager to associate their products with a blockbuster movie or hit TV show, but that have grown increasingly frustrated with the way Hollywood has treated them.

Advertisers complain that navigating the different divisions at a studio is just too confusing. They're tired of being viewed as someone to turn to for a quick buck. They also feel burned after expecting, or being promised, access to top talent that never materializes for promotional campaigns.

But attitudes are starting to change.

Take NBC Universal, which last year formed Universal Studios Partnerships to provide a one-stop shop for brands seeking to tie in with films, DVD releases, TV projects, theme parks and the conglomerate's other assets.

The idea takes a page from the way ad agencies manage their marketer rosters. Not only will it attract more corporate partners, but it'll strive to figure out what marketers want and manage them from start to finish. If the studio can't deliver what a brand is seeking, the unit will say so up front-something that has often been left unsaid until it was too late. In the past, Universal partners have included Toyota Motor Sales USA, Coca-Cola Co., Eastman Kodak Co. and MasterCard International.

"We felt the studio was a confusing place to do business," says Stephanie Sperber, exec VP at Universal Studios Partnerships. "Brands needed a central point of contact at the studio, and we needed to speak to them in a consistent voice."

The new division held its first summit in Orlando late last year to let attendees-which included 150 marketing executives from companies like Home Depot, Coca-Cola, eBay, Anheuser-Busch and Burger King Corp.-know that it was starting to speak brands' language.

brand steward

Across town, Time Warner's Warner Bros. tapped Gaetano Mastropasqua to serve as its own brand steward and act as a liaison between the studio and its corporate marketing partners as part of the company's global brand management division.

What Mr. Mastropasqua, a veteran of Los Angeles-based promotions and premiums agency Equity Marketing, will primarily focus on is serving as the go-to guy for brands looking to connect with the studio's franchises, which include Harry Potter, Looney Tunes and the upcoming Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Batman and Superman projects.

Like Universal's new unit, Warner Bros.' global brand management division works with Warner's film, TV, home video, videogame and consumer products units, as well as other Time Warner divisions. Its executives work with promotional partners to create a strategy around a film release and its licensed merchandise, for instance, and carry that through to DVD, pay cable and broadcast TV, guiding brand partners through the process.

With so much money at stake in the first days of a film's release at the megaplex, no studio is looking to lose any additional marketing muscle it might be able to get from a promotional partner.

The cost to market a studio film averaged $34.8 million in 2003, a jump of 28% from the previous year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Numbers for 2004 will be announced next month. Promoting a major summer film can easily cost upwards of $50 million.

starting to pay off

Becoming more brand-friendly looks like it's starting to pay off. Volkswagen has agreed to spend an estimated $200 million over the next three to five years to link itself with NBC Uni- versal's stable of properties, replacing Toyota.

DreamWorks consistently receives high marks for the way it deals with co-promotional partners. The studio has a long-standing relationship with Burger King and Baskin-Robbins. Revolution Studios continues an overall deal with Ford Motor Co. to integrate the automaker's vehicles into its films. Sony Corp., Time Warner's New Line Cinema and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox are also praised by brand managers for their in-house executives' ability to work well with advertisers.