Donna Wolfe

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In the world of new TV media tools such as branded entertainment and product integration, Donna Wolfe could be considered not just a media maven but a media idol.

For "American Idol," the wildly popular Fox TV show, Ms. Wolfe, exec VP-chief negotiation officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann was instrumental in negotiating what is regarded as the most successful product integration to date-that of putting advertiser Coca-Cola Co. in the heart of the music talent show.

For that deal Ms. Wolfe negotiated media and product placement, including a key piece-the "Coca-Cola Red Room"-in which musical talent waits to get on stage to be interviewed by the hosts and to drink Coke. Judges on the show can also be seen drinking out of Coca-Cola red paper cups.

If you doubt the success of that show-or the importance of that product placement deal-all you need to do is take a look at one "Saturday Night Live" segment last year.

"They did an `American Idol' bit, which had these huge Coca-Cola cups," says Ms. Wolfe. "You become part of pop culture when `Saturday Night Live' spoofs you."

That might be enough for some, but Ms. Wolfe says many other marketers, including more than 20 upfront advertisers, get the similar treatment when it comes to added value in TV buying strategy.

During last year's World Series, she helped get Sony Pictures Entertainment's product placement for its summer release, "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." The connection? The Anaheim Angels.

"Sony recognized the Angels tie-in, and we negotiated a special opening segment and integrated material into the movie," says Ms. Wolfe. "It became Fox's opening segment of their coverage."

"She is a great workhorse," says Cherie Crane, a former Sony Pictures media executive. "She is a great negotiator." Ms. Wolfe has been at McCann-Erickson Worldwide for 16 years and had worked on Sony business longer than that. She was at Ted Bates & Co. in the 1980s and then Backer Spielvogel Bates working on TriStar Pictures, which later merged with Columbia Pictures.


"She is smart, tough, passionate and lives the business," says Bill Morningstar, exec VP-advertising sales for the WB.

As with all TV media executives, she says the biggest change for her work has to do with media consolidation.

This leads to earlier preparation, especially for the increasingly critical and expensive May/June upfront period. "We start conversations-in January-way in advance of the upfront because value-added marketing ideas are so critical to a buy, and that can't be done in the heat of a 24-hour [marketplace]," says Ms. Wolfe. "The price of entry has gotten really high. So you have to find ways to expand your value."

The upfront process itself still doesn't work well for her clients. "Clients keep their plans close to the vest," she says. "With the economy the way it is, they want to keep their money for as long as they can before they release it." The solution: push ahead the selling season. "The industry would be better served if the upfront was[done] on a calendar year."

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