Leading JWTwo Entertainment's 'Brand Studio'

Stuart McLean and Peter Isacksen Develop Content for Marketers to Distribute

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Who: Stuart McLean and Peter Isacksen, co-presidents of JWTwo Entertainment, the branded-entertainment arm of WPP Group's JWT.
Stuart McLean (left) and Peter Isacksen are co-presidents of JWTwo Entertainment, the branded-entertainment arm of WPP Group's JWT.

Why you need to know them: The pair is trying to help one of Madison Avenue's giants become a force on Madison & Vine. Their current project is "Max and Katie," a sitcom-like series created for the upcoming launch of Unilever's Sunsilk hair-care brand in the U.S. The project's 85 two-minute episodes about the hectic life of a 20-something woman will appear online, as well as on cable channel TBS, cellphones and at retailers starting in September. Comedian Paul Reiser is co-producing the series.

What's your definition of branded entertainment? Mr. McLean: "As brands realize that they are the biggest broadcast channels in the world, we will see a very different definition, and the model will flip from branding entertainment to creating entertainment for branding. We have been fortunate that our clients have embraced this and allowed us to take them from the back of the line to the front of the line by developing entertainment that is born out of a brand's DNA, unencumbered by product placement and commercial messaging. The value comes in distributing the property through all the consumer touchpoints in a brand's marketing channel: on packaging, in store, e-mail, promotion, online, mobile and traditional broadcast. This allows the brand to do its job delivering a piece of entertainment that resonates with their consumer and lets the entertainment just be."

What are the biggest challenges in getting deals done? Mr. Isacksen: "The biggest challenge is to have everyone talk and communicate. There can be so many parties that have never met or worked together and might have different goals that it can be trying at best. We try to simplify the process for clients and make sure that where we started is where we end up. Transparency is another key -- if you don't know an answer, then say that ... and have fun. OK, that's not a challenge, but it is our motto."

Media agencies have had a higher profile than their creative siblings when it comes to getting branded-entertainment deals done. Why do you think that is, and where do you see creative agencies fitting into the Madison & Vine space? Mr. Isacksen: "At the end of the day, we believe that creative drives the ship for the broadcast partner or whatever medium we are working in. We need media help for sure, but you must have great creative partners. The creative community in L.A. has been over the moon to jump on and go for the ride. ... It is a very pure creative experience."

Besides the leadership, how does JWTwo differ from [the now shuttered] Icon [email protected]? Mr. McLean: "JWTwo Entertainment is an evolution of JWT's continued commitment to the space, and learning from past iterations is an important part of that. First and foremost is the fact that JWTwo Entertainment is fully integrated into JWT for seamless creative development. We have also evolved our business model. We call ourselves a 'brand studio' because JWTwo Entertainment is creating a library of assets. We create and develop properties that we license to brands as well as original programming that we license to traditional and digital channels. In fact, we just opened our new facility, which has a one of the largest Apple-centralized computer systems in North America, which is basically a 60-terabyte toy for creative talent to play with."

Tell me about how Sunsilk's "Max and Katie" was born. Mr. McLean: "'Max and Katie' was born from a great brief. Sunsilk knows their consumer inside and out, so the insights really drove the bus. We took the brief into the Hollywood creative community and looked at a range of opportunities, from comic strips to Webisodes to video games, and finally realized that this short-format series really fit across the board.

Mr. Isacksen: "Partnering with Paul Reiser and Nuance productions as well as Leslie Grief as co-executive producers really took the project to the next level creatively and cemented our relationship with TBS."

How will you and TBS and Unilever measure that program's success? Mr. McLean: "Watercooler talk is the benchmark of success, although I guess it would be more accurate to say IM chatter about the show. 'Max and Katie' allows Sunsilk to have a different conversation with their consumer by showing they understand her not only in storylines but also in the delivery of the show across cellphones, e-mail, in store, online and, of course, TBS, a staple in Katie's TV nights."

What branded-entertainment projects or trends have been most successful in your mind? Mr. Isacksen: "Vans comes to mind because they are celebrating their category and their consumer. I love that Vans gets other brands to pay for their marketing via sponsorships. That's when you know that you've nailed it."

Which haven't been? Mr. Isacksen: "Anyone who gets a deal done has my utmost respect and helps move the ball farther down the field. In the next few years, it's experiment time, there will be winners and losers, and we should learn from both. Clients will do the same."

What's on your TiVo? Mr. Isacksen: "'The Sopranos,' 'Dr. Phil,' 'Oprah,' 'Deadwood,' sports and 'Drake & Josh' for my 4-year-old, Nicole."

Mr. McLean: "'The Daily Show,' 'The Sopranos,' '24,' 'CSI,' 'Boston Legal.'"

What do you do with your downtime? Mr. Isacksen: "Try to forget the work stuff and spend it with my family. The beach is my muse and keeps me mellow."

Mr. McLean: "Point the plane in a different direction and explore."
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