With its acquisition of MediaLink, talent agency UTA is banking that the advisory led by the uber-connected Michael Kassan will bolster its marketing arm by opening new doors to big-spending chief marketing officers. But access doesn’t always guarantee performance—and the talent agency business has a history of failing to deliver on lofty promises of growing marketing offerings.
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UTA—which paid $125 million to acquire MediaLink from Cannes Lions-owner Ascential—sees the arrangement as giving new heft to its appeal to brands that must constantly search for new ways to reach consumers as traditional advertising becomes less relevant in the ad-skipping and streaming age. Kassan, MediaLink's CEO, becomes a partner in UTA as part of the deal. And UTA Marketing, which has housed the talent firm’s brand work, will become part of a MediaLink division called UTA Entertainment & Culture Marketing that will “work at the intersection of brands, marketing and the creative community,” the company stated.
“In a world of streaming and content being delivered in so many different ways you need to be ahead of that curve and how brands are going to live,” Kassan said in an interview. “Brands are learning how to live in a subscription world, and we are sitting in the center of that.”
“With streaming, marketers are finding it harder and harder to play against premium content,” said Jeremy Zimmer, CEO of UTA.
The role of the combined company, Zimmer added, will be not just to connect marketers to its 3,500-strong roster of talent in the fields of acting, sports, music, digital influencers and e-sports, but to advise them “how to become an important part of the storytelling” in those worlds. “We can be a guide to that,” he said, speaking alongside Kassan in the joint interview.
That has largely been the responsibility of ad agencies, and so a big consideration is whether UTA Marketing will cut traditional ad agencies from the equation, at least partially. Julian Jacobs, co-head of UTA Marketing, suggested as much during a recent interview on a podcast produced by Advertising Week: “Media agencies want to sell more media, creative agencies want to sell more creative content. They make more money when those things are churning. We don't really have that here. We are focused on finding the best ideas to help our client stand out and break through.”
“Marketers that we talk to want to have a relationship with the producer of that show they are buying media around,” Jacobs said on the podcast. “They want to have a relationship with that artist that they are partnering with to create whatever it is they may be creating.”
Among the talent on UTA’s roster are actors including Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Frances McDormand, Seth Rogan, Owen Wilson and Harrison Ford. Zimmer said the agency also represents the creators of shows like “Ted Lasso,” “Succession,” “White Lotus,” “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and more, as well as sports stars like LeBron James, music artists Bad Bunny and Post Malone as well as digital influencers and esports players.
The UTA/MediaLink combo can also help marketers create NFTs, one of the biggest marketing trends of the year. Brands have increasingly put to market non-fungible tokens designed by artists in a move to gain notice. On the Advertising Week podcast, David Anderson, who co-heads of UTA Marketing, referenced UTA’s fine arts practice that includes an artist gallery space in Beverly Hills and a soon-to-be-opened one in Atlanta. “As NFTs have emerged, that is an incredible opportunity for our artists … to reimagine their business,” he said, adding that UTA has a “front-row seat in all of those areas.”
UTA says that given today’s burgeoning creator economy there is a heightened need to help brands navigate an increasingly bewildering space. The rise in creators has led to a host of celebrities that populate the rosters of talent agencies diving into the world of advertising—the most high-profile perhaps is Ryan Reynolds, whose Maximum Effort agency was recently bought by MNTN. “Talent without an idea is nothing,” said an agency executive at a large holding company, “unless Ryan Reynolds brings it into the room.”