Mimi Slavin Is Always on the Hunt for Great Media Exposure

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Who: Mimi Slavin, senior vice president of domestic promotions at Time Warner’s Warner Bros. Pictures.

Why you need to know her: Ms. Slavin is the point person at Warner Bros. for linking the studio’s feature films with corporate brand partners. She’s the liaison between those marketers and the studio’s production, marketing and distribution executives, and works with the global brand management teams that handle the studio’s franchises like Batman, Harry Potter and Superman.

Credentials: Ms. Slavin, a studio veteran who has focused on home entertainment for the past decade, has negotiated more than $40 million
Mimi Slavin is on the prowl for partners who bring something new to the promotion of a film.

in co-marketing deals between marketers and DVD releases like The Matrix, Harry Potter and Looney Tunes, as well as TV on DVD titles like The West Wing, Nip/Tuck, and The OC. In her previous job at the studio, where she was vice president of strategic alliances and corporate integration, she worked with Pepsi, Kellogg’s, Frito Lay, MasterCard and Burger King. Ms. Slavin helped promote the launch of the DVD genre with a program that brought together five major Hollywood studios and seven DVD manufacturers. She worked across Time Warner divisions like Entertainment Weekly, Cartoon Network, FX and TNT to hype the release of new DVDs. She linked Visa with the re-release of the classic property Gone With the Wind, and Frito Lay with an animated direct-to-video Scooby-Doo title. Before joining the studio system –- she also had a stint at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment –- Ms. Slavin was a marketing and brand management executive at Nestle.

What kinds of promotions will you focus on in your new job? “Well, besides the obvious, which would be those that will offer great media exposure for the films we are releasing, I am actually very excited to be working with the marketing team, as they are really supportive of looking for nontraditional opportunities. As my boss is also the head of publicity, I think Warner Bros. is uniquely positioned to develop partnerships in a far more integrated way than some other studios may be, and I see a real willingness to do this, which I think will allow for some increasingly creative partnerships. Yes, we want the partners that bring media to the table, but we can also make a lot out of partners that offer a twist, a publicity angle, an opportunity to generate buzz. And, of course, we can offer a great deal in return.”

Since you've worked in home entertainment in the past, how is it different to link marketers with feature films? Do they want different things, do they have different goals? “There really isn't a single answer on this. Different films bring different levels of buzz. A feature film certainly creates, in a way that DVD just cannot, an event simply in its release. This will only happen with DVD, and therefore for the marketing partners, when the film has been an enormous success. Then the DVD becomes more of an event release. So, I definitely am finding that marketers that seek out theatrical tie-ins are more interested in creating an event for their brand. But the level of that can really range. I can tell you that the partners that are signed on for The Polar Express on DVD were looking for, and will get, an event, because that DVD will be an event release. But, the nature of that event is totally different from what a marketer can get out of a new release feature such as The Poseidon Adventure Invasion or Superman, in that often the partnership can be news in and of itself, and there is a freshness and, for lack of a better term, drama that you get from a feature film release that is totally unique. And, of course, the tactics are different, and in a lot of cases, the partners themselves are different. Often the brands that are attracted to the film side are looking for a different level of entertainment marketing –- they want to be in front of something big. Home entertainment offers more pedestrian, retail-based opportunities, but doesn't necessarily offer the same magic of Hollywood. Of course, some partners are looking to more fully leverage an equity, and they will come in for both windows, which I think is really smart.”

Increasingly, marketers want to be integrated into entertainment content. How do you handle that, with producers and the studio having their vision of a film and the brand having its own agenda? “Honestly, it's tough. In an ideal world, everyone would get everything they want, but I definitely don't live in a perfect world. The truth is, while we aren't allergic to product integration, we don't do it or advocate it at the expense of the vision for a film. There is too much at stake in the larger context. If something can work organically, we are open to it; we will absolutely take it to the producers to see if it can work. But, at the end of the day, taking someone kicking and screaming to a place they just do not want to be isn't going to be a win for anyone. I do, however, think that part of my job, as a good partner, though, is to try and push for those things that are really critical to my brand partner, and I will always try as hard as I can, so long as it makes sense.”

If a brand is integrated into a film, how important is it to have some out-of-content promotion and activity? “Personally, I think it is beyond important. To be totally honest, I think that the phrase branded integration is getting thrown out quite a bit, but in my mind, just getting a brand placed into content isn't going to deliver that. A marketer that really is looking to be integrated with an equity, to truly integrate, is going to have to do more than just have a placement in a film –- even if the product is very prominently featured. Think about it: When we have a big star in the film, we still use the star for publicity. Brands need to be doing the same thing. They need to market the integration for it to truly become meaningful. And certainly when the placement is not prominent, a back-end promotion can really heighten the perception of the brands' importance to the film.”

Can you foresee a time when brands would help foot production costs of a movie in order to embed themselves in the content in a way that's well beyond product placement? “In some ways they are already doing it –- like the BMW films and others like them. But at that next level, where they co-fund production in order get their brand messaging across in the context of general entertainment, I really think we are a ways off from that. A project can really lose integrity from a story perspective. And I don’t know that the financial model would really work in a way that would meaningfully meet everyone’s objectives. That said, if a brand has a large capital fund and would like to discuss these types of things, we would probably be interested to hear what they had to say.”

What do brands want from their relationships with studios, and how has that changed over time? “Well, I used to think they just wanted me to be nice to them, but it appears to be getting more complicated. All kidding aside, I think there has been a shift from just wanting to have access to content, to them looking to us to come to them with more fleshed out ideas about what we think could work as a partnership. They are looking for concepts and ideas, not just a property overview.”

Are you seeing new categories emerge as potential promotional partners for film, or is it still the fast food, snack and soda giants that remain the most stalwart players? “Well, the stalwarts you mention are there, which is the good news, but we are also finding some new players, with Internet partners, and with some retailers starting to see opportunities to leverage movies. And there are some, small, very loyal partners who I just don’t want to name, because I am really going to need them now that I have switched to theatrical. I think one of the things that I will be looking at is where we can source new partners from.”

With respect to brand tie-ins, talk a little about how challenging it is to deal with talent issues. Has that changed over time, and do you see it changing in the future? “This is another question not so easily answered. Different talent provides different challenges. Some are easier to work with, they understand the value of what a promotion will do for a film. Others are less clear on why we do promotional programs and why they would participate. As in many things, it's all about managing the relationships, and hopefully making a clear and compelling case for why a partner can be beneficial to a film opening.”

Since we're bombarded with marketing messages, is there anyplace left to go that will seem fresh and interesting to consumers? “Oh, absolutely. I feel like I am just starting to figure out what the next cool thing could be. I hope I can find some smart marketers to come along for that ride. And hopefully we can also come up with some fresh ways to reach them in some of those traditional places as well.”

Have you seen any marketing or promotions lately that have caught your eye? “I think many of us were very fascinated by the Star Wars promotions and just how far the programs pushed the boundaries. Now we get that thrown at us quite a bit, but I think as it was the last of the franchise the need to be at all referential was gone. It was interesting to see. It isn't going to be fun to live with the after effects!”

You worked in home entertainment for a number of years. Do you have a huge stash of DVDs? Any favorites? “I do have a much larger collection then I would if I didn't work in DVD, but you'd be surprised. I have managed to get my hands on all of The Sopranos, Sex in the City, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But the best is Nip/Tuck.”

Are you an early adopter? “Actually, not really, I was probably the last person in my division to get a DVD player. I wasn't sure the format was going to take. Clearly, no one should take stock tips from me. But, I am wholly, unabashedly addicted to my Blackberry. I suggest everyone resist as long as they can. You can never go back.”

How do you spend your free time? “Well, I enjoy working out, spending time with friends, shopping, reading and writing. However, I never really have any free time, so mostly I come home and pass out from exhaustion!”
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