Stephanie Sperber Offers Practical Advice to Marketers

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Who: Stephanie Sperber, executive vice president at Universal Studios Partnerships. The group specializes in brokering deals with advertisers for the NBC Universal-owned studio, recently landing Volkswagen in an overall pact valued at $200 million that covers films, home video and theme parks. The company also has similar partnerships with MasterCard, Kodak and Chase, as well as theme park tie-ins with Coca-Cola and Nestle Waters.
Stephanie Sperber, executive vice president of Universal Studio Partnerships.

Credentials: Before Universal merged its corporate alliances and theatrical/DVD promotions groups together to form Universal Studios Partnerships last year, Ms. Sperber spent five years overseeing all strategic corporate alliances. She originally started in the company's strategic marketing division, working on brand positioning and brand management projects. Before Universal, Ms. Sperber worked in PR at Rogers & Cowan; helped launch Cartoon Network at Turner Broadcasting; and marketed brands such as the Flintstones, Jonny Quest and the Power Puff Girls at Hanna Barbera.

Why go after overall marketing deals like the one with Volkswagen? How does the studio benefit? "Overall marketing alliances, like VW, provide both Universal and our brand partners the benefit of long-term thinking, strategic insight, better integration and more meaningful activation. A long-term relationship brings the studio a consistent marketing partner in critical categories. Activation isn't from ground zero every time we work on a project together. Yes, there is an initially large learning curve as the two organizations learn about each other's business goals and objectives, but with long-term alliances, we develop a depth of knowledge about our partner's systems, marketing assets, we share more confidential and long-term strategic plans and have common goals."

How does a deal like that benefit the advertiser? "The benefits are similar for our partners. Early access, honest dialogue and an attitude of openness allow advertisers to more fully benefit from our movie, DVD and theme park assets. Long term equals deeper knowledge, which leads to more strategic, embedded opportunities."

What's the appeal of exclusivity -- not just for the brand but also the studio? "To be clear, most of our long-term partners are not exclusive to Universal. While we may be a partner's first call when activating on an entertainment strategy, generally our partners can, and do, work with other entertainment companies. I think the primary appeal of the relationships Universal Studios Partnerships develops isn't exclusivity, it's the longer-term nature of the relationship which leads to more strategic benefits all around."

Where do you see these deals going? Can you have too many? "Yes, there is a point at which too many deals end up minimizing the impact for individual partners. The key is to pick key categories and key players in those categories, as your partners. Interestingly, it's not necessarily the largest company within a category that makes for the most productive partnerships. We have to ask is it better to be one file in a large drawer full of similar files, or better to take up an entire file drawer with all of our programs."

The studios seem to finally take the annoyances brands have with dealing with Hollywood seriously. Why now? "Brands finally realized the power they held. And they weren't afraid to let the studios know it. Brands also started to look elsewhere for viable entertainment options -- including going directly to producers, directors, writers, talent [and] circumventing a challenging studio system. Studios took notice."

Is there any advice you can give brands looking to build a relationship with Hollywood? "Don't get into any Hollywood relationship for the glamour. Get into it as a way to build your business. Recognize the incredible power of entertainment as a way to break through the clutter and build a cohesive entertainment strategy around that."

What keeps you up at night? "The fact that George W. Bush was re-elected. I mean, really ..."

What do you do on your downtime? "Obama 2012."
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