Julie Kantrowitz's 'Dear Santa' Project Also Gives the U.S. Postal Service a Ride

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Who: Julie Kantrowitz, chief marketing officer at Omnicom Group’s Full Circle Entertainment.

Why you need to know her: Full Circle CEO Robert Riesenberg brought Ms. Kantrowitz on board at the TV production company late last year to develop branded entertainment opportunities for advertisers. The company has produced such brand-backed shows as NBC’s Meet Mister Mom, TBS’ He’s a Lady and Spike TV’s The Club.

Julie Kantrowitz, chief marketing officer at Omnicom Group’s Full Circle Entertainment, has the U.S. Postal Service ready to hype a holiday music CD in its 37,000 locations.

Credentials: Before joining Full Circle Entertainment, Ms. Kantrowitz served as chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner’s Global Marketing Solutions Group, which developed cross-divisional marketing programs for companies such as Unilever, ING, Wendy’s and Chrysler. She also spent considerable time at Time Warner’s syndicated TV division, rising to the head of the media sales group and selling programs like Friends, Rosie and Extra, and helped launch Warner Bros. Online, running the group’s ad sales group.

What are the most recent projects you have worked on at Full Circle? “We are only 18 months old and have had over 70 hours committed to various networks. Our newest project is a holiday special, which is called Dear Santa and will run on Fox Dec. 9. We are producing partners with Lions Gate Television. We have an interesting tie in with the U.S. Postal Service since this show is about making children’s holiday wishes come true and their letters to Santa come through the Post Office. In addition to selling a compilation holiday CD they will promote the show in their 37,000 locations. Jeep and 7-Eleven are ‘heroes’ in many of our stories, helping to facilitate the wish fulfillment.”

Then there’s Bound for Glory. “We have partnered with Reveille and Actual Reality Productions on Bound for Glory, which is currently on ESPN on Tuesday nights. It is a reality series about the Montour Spartans in McKees Rock, Pa., a high-school football team that were once winners. We brought in former NFL greats Dick Butkus and Ray Crockett to coach the team. It’s a real-life Bad News Bears. It is not just about the team winning the games. It is about renewing a winning spirit, and optimism to the team and hopefully the whole town.”  

What marketers are in Bound for Glory? “Dodge, Energizer, Reebok, KFC and the U.S. Army.”

How are they integrated? And how are they involved in the show? “Each client has a sponsorship which, yes, includes a schedule in the show and a tailored in-program storyline integration built into the various eight episodes, which were created collaboratively with the FCE creative team, our producing partners and the client representative. Examples include Dick Butkus driving a Dodge Ram Mega Cab and Ray Crockett driving a Dodge Charger. In one episode Dick Butkus presents Lou Cerro, Montour’s coach with a Dodge Ram Mega Cab to thank him for his partnership and as a way of passing the torch back to Lou Cerro. Reebok provided the same uniforms and equipment that they provide all 32 NFL teams and brought in major NFL athletes to train the kids. The Army has Drill Sergeant Self working with the kids on discipline, self-esteem and taking responsibility for their positive and negative team achievements. KFC sponsored team dinners and competed against Dodge at each of their locations in a Booster Club Car Wash. All proceeds went to Hurricane Katrina Relief. Energizer gave the school a new high-tech scoreboard that, of course, has the Energizer Bunny running across the screen, which emphasizes their ‘Keep Going’ messaging.”

What made the show appeal to the brands? “It is one of those rare, feel-good projects that has the heart of an Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition and the texture of Friday Night Lights. We were able to be very clear about the fact that the brands were helping to transform this team and town. Brands are battling to stand out and capture a captive audience, allowing for stronger connections with their consumers. This show provided an excellent opportunity for each brand participating to stand out in a unique way.

Has Hollywood's creative community started to understand the needs of brands more than it used to when trying to lure marketers to their projects? “As the business continues to mature, more and more producers are taking a more sophisticated approach to working with brands. At Full Circle we understand the brands and are part of the creative community as well. We also have the expertise to execute.”

And how about the brands themselves? Do they understand what they want to get out of branded entertainment? “There are some companies who have a branded entertainment strategy and have staffed themselves to execute and take advantage of those opportunities. Most brands are in the early stages of figuring out what their objectives are. A big part of what we do is help brands develop entertainment strategies and then deliver quality programming to fulfill those strategies.”

There is still some confusion out there on what exactly branded entertainment is. How do you define it? “I think we are defining it as we go. One way to describe it is branded entertainment is the optimal pairing of entertainment properties and marketing messages to create a more effective whole.”

What makes a good integration? “When you have engaged the viewer and the brand message while preserving the integrity of the storytelling, you have achieved a successful integration.”

What are the best examples of branded entertainment that you've seen lately? “The best examples of branded entertainment are those that fit into the storytelling.”

And the worst? “The worst examples are those that are gratuitous insertions of brand messaging that disrupt the entertainment value of the show.”    

Why aren’t more brands being integrated into scripted fare? “Until recently, there has been a resistance on the part of the networks and studios. We are looking at several scripted projects and the key is to find the one that will allow for the graceful integration of brands.”  

What are some obstacles branded entertainment still faces? “There isn’t a defined standard way of doing business, which for some companies can be an obstacle. I think part of what makes this area exciting and challenging is you can be very creative on structuring business partnerships that result in a win-win venture for both sides of the table.” 

What’s next for Full Circle? “We are branching out into new areas that include developing content for the wireless, VOD and interactive space. We are also branching out into the syndication area, which has been previously untapped.” 

What’s on your TiVo? “This might be shocking but I don’t own one, although my 11-year-old daughter is lobbying for one.” 

What do you do with your free time? “I treasure and love to spend as much time with my husband and daughter, which currently means a lot of time traveling to various soccer fields. I am on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Montessori School as well as chair their annual 'Giving' campaign. I also serve on the board of Young Audiences New York, an organization dedicated to advancing the artistic and educational opportunities for New York City public school students, and I co-chair their annual gala event. This year we are honoring Peggy Green of Zenith Media.”
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