From James Bond to 'American Idol,' Ford Finds Its Audience

Whatever the Medium, Myles Romero Hones Automaker's Hollywood Efforts

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Who: Myles Romero, global brand-entertainment director, Ford Motor Co.
Myles Romero on 'American Idol': 'It has given us a platform to introduce great products ... It is no accident that we have renewed our commitment for season six. We love the show.'

Why you need to know him: Mr. Romero oversees Ford Motor Co.'s branded-entertainment efforts, from product placement in TV shows (such as "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Desperate Housewives") and movies (this summer's "Mission: Impossible III" and the upcoming "Casino Royale") to sponsorships ("American Idol") and the development of original programming.

Credentials: Mr. Romero has been with Ford for a decade. He's been the automaker's global brand-entertainment director for three years. Before that, he held various positions within Ford's marketing, sales and service organization. In addition, he ran the organization's diversity program and marketing-leadership programs, holding each spot for a year.

Do any of the recent management changes at Ford, especially Alan Mullaly becoming president-CEO, affect what you're doing in entertainment? "None. My team [which includes Al Uzielli, Henry Ford's great-great-grandson and cousin to Bill Ford Jr.] met early on with Ford senior management to ask if this group should continue or if it was not as much of a priority as it was two to three years ago. We received a resounding stay, so as we move into our third year, I feel the best is yet to come. Mark Fields, president of the Americas, gets what my team does ... and he values that greatly. With his support, we will continue."

"American Idol" has been a huge success, and Ford has been involved with the show since it started. How has being associated with that show helped Ford over the years? "It has been of great help in allowing Ford to reach massive numbers of Americans consistently with one of the top-rated shows. Aside from creating general awareness and reinforcement of the primary Ford blue oval brand, it has given us a platform to introduce great products like the Mustang, Fusion, Escape and Escape Hybrid with our friend Kermit the Frog. It is no accident that we have renewed our commitment for season six. We love the show."

What types of deals does Ford look to do when it comes to entertainment? You've been pretty focused on product placement over the years. Are you looking to expand beyond that? "We continue our focus on quality, not quantity, of product integration in feature films, TV and cable programming, and music videos. In addition, we love to work with partners in the development of content that organically integrates our brands. We welcome all ideas and then leave it to the process to help direct which projects actually peak our mutual interests."

How important are video games, or mobile or web-based content, for the company? "They continue to be important, and within the Ford division, mobile and web-based content is getting more and more attention. For example, we have web-based short films documenting the issues and opportunities facing Ford Motor Co. and inviting in anyone to participate in our story. What we are finding is that web users are spending record times with Ford -- more than they would have in other web scenarios."

How do you prioritize which projects you do? What factors do you consider when choosing them? "We demand a script and treatment for all projects. My team reads every script we receive to sift out well-written from mediocre. We focus our efforts on the good stuff and generally pass on anything less than great. For feature films and TV, we generally require distribution to be in place before we get serious with the project. But there are exceptions, of course. Focusing on quality, we look at all the elements that are required to optimize the potential success of a project. We look at the quality of the writers, director, producers, track record, etc."

It was announced months ago that you're developing a reality TV show. What are some of the challenges you've had to deal with when taking on such a project -- especially at a company that's not used to producing original programming? "It has been a fantastic learning opportunity. Obviously, I am limited on details because we are in the midst of this, but every day brings a new learning opportunity. I guess the greatest difference is there is no template for how you do this unlike during the upfront or with traditional media."

You're not just handling Ford when it comes to branded entertainment. You've also got Aston Martin, Land Rover, Jaguar, Mazda, Volvo, Mercury and Lincoln. Are there certain brands you focus on getting more exposure than others? "If we do our job right within this office, we cast a wider net of opportunities for all brands, and with 86 projects under our belt, they are spread equally across the portfolio. With the Volvo brand, we actually work collectively with [entertainment broker] International Promotions Entertainment Marketing on that part of the business, and together we bring so many opportunities for Volvo. Because each of our primary brands is uniquely positioned to target a specific customer, we find we have a product for just about any entertainment project out there. For example, in a feature film we can place an Aston Martin, a Mazda and a Ford and each is customized to fit the character, so one film can bring in many opportunities. James Bond and the upcoming 'Casino Royale' is a prime example. I have a Ford Mondeo, Aston Martin, Range Rover Sport and Jaguar XJ all starring in the movie."

There is still some confusion out there as to what branded entertainment is. How do you define it? "Integrating your brand in some way with an entertainment property like a TV show, cable programming or a movie. The industry tends to use fancy names for a business that is decades old. The reason it has so much attention is due to all of the choices people have to watch entertainment. As a marketer, I want to be where those people are; it is why we exist. Also, technology allows people to watch what they want where they want and can skip through commercials -- all the more reason why integrating your brand into a program is increasingly important."

What are some examples of branded entertainment that you've liked recently? "Outside automotive, I really dig American Express. They continue to do some really cool things with short films, and deep, integrated associations with entertainers. I also admire Ken Lombard and the great things he is doing with Starbucks Entertainment. They are creating new models that all brands can learn from."

What haven't you liked? "I hate sloppy, gratuitous product placement. There is not enough room to list all the bad examples out there. Just turn on your TV or go to a movie and you will see the bad stuff. We sometimes make a misstep, but nine out of 10 placements we do are organic to the story line and make sense for the customer. People are very aware of product placement, so Ford strives to integrate our brands in a way that makes sense and respects the creative. It is why we opened a Ford office in the heart of the entertainment community, to manage the process with the care it deserves."

What's on your TiVo? "Oh, so you want an insight into my psyche? Well, OK. I currently have 'Ugly Betty,' 'Judge Judy,' 'South Park,' 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Brother's and Sisters' and 'Six Degrees' on my TiVo. I have very diverse tastes and love everything from the completely ridiculous to that which makes you think. I will TiVo 'American Idol' once that starts up again. I love that show."

What's on your iPod? "Too much to list as I have the four gigabyte [model] but here are a few: Maroon 5, Jodee Mesina, 'Best of Motown,' 'Dance Craze' dance mix, 'W Hotels Mix' and the Propellerheads. How is that for diversity?"

What do you do on your downtime? "I work hard and play hard. I like to read, sky dive, travel, cook, play with my two little Yorkies (Roo and CeCe), sit on two boards and run a little real-estate venture here in Detroit. I love life and have a passion for what I do."
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