How Mark Owens Bridges the Gap Between Studio and Brand

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Name: Mark Owens

Age: 45

Who he is: Mr. Owens was just named co-managing director of Ketchum Entertainment Marketing, a division of the Omnicom Group public relations agency Ketchum.
Mark Owens, new co-managing director of Ketchum Entertainment Marketing.

His primary task will be to raise KEM's profile in the branded-entertainment arena, with work for marketers such as Estee Lauder, Levi Strauss & Co., Chase Financial Services and Wendy's International.

Where he's from: Before joining Ketchum this month, Mr. Owens was an executive vice president and partner at Omnicom sibling Davie-Brown Entertainment, where he worked for 10 years. His accounts at the product-placement agency included PepsiCo, Reebok, Blockbuster and Hershey's. But Mr. Owens has roots on the marketer side. The Wharton business school grad started his career at Pepsi, working on restaurant partnerships. After that, he and a Pepsi colleague developed a concept for a now-defunct Mexican restaurant called Peso's, along the lines of Baja Fresh or Chipotle but without the success. "It was ahead of its time," Mr. Owens deadpans. Following Peso's devaluation in 1990, he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he kept running into another Pepsi vet, Jim Davie. Mr. Davie ended up hiring Mr. Owens in 1994.

What he's done: In a recent project, Mr. Owens tied the Allied Domecq brand Kahlua to the film Catwoman when he was at Davie-Brown. His efforts led to a script rewrite that had Halle Berry order a glass of milk via a White Russian, mentioning Kahlua in the process. The movie stunk, but the endorsement helped to loosen up the reserved brand's image. And speaking of bad movies that act as good promotional platforms, Mr. Owens also helped to tie Pepsi's Mountain Dew to The Hulk with gargantuan portions of the soft drink. He says, "It's about linking property creatively with the brand that makes sense strategically." Some better movies he has been associated with through brand promotions include Star Wars, with Taco Bell; Shrek 2, with Dial and Pepsi; and Spider-Man, with Hershey's.

What's next: At Ketchum, one of the world's largest PR firms, Mr. Owens' responsibility will be to take the division beyond media relations and seeding products with celebrities to include "new types of content deals and partnerships, like video-on-demand, video gaming and in theatrical releases." In other words, he'll try to make Ketchum a real player in the Madison & Vine space -- "more of a strategic entertainment marketing firm," as he puts it. But traditional PR will remain an important part of KEM's work. In fact, one of the things that attracted Mr. Owens to KEM was its abilities in that arena. "For a brand, a product placement or an entertainment partnership and not telling a consumer about it, through Us or Entertainment Weekly or Access Hollywood, doesn't have as much clout in today's sound-bite world. What's unique about KEM is that we have in-house entertainment PR."

Stock-in-trade: "When you're in the middle, which an agency is, and you're being yelled at by the studio for supporting the brand more and the brand for supporting the studio more you're only as good as you can manage being in the middle. I'm proud of the fact I've been able to maintain really strong relations and convert some of them into friendships on a professional level."
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