M.T. Carney Is Leaving Disney as Film Marketing Chief

Exec's Madison Ave Ways Clashed With Tinseltown

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M.T. Carney
M.T. Carney

M.T. Carney is leaving her post as head of worldwide marketing for Walt Disney Studios, according to reports, leaving behind an instructive tale for advertising executives who want to dip their toes into new businesses.

By many accounts, including a New York Times report posted Sunday about her "downfall," Ms. Carney had the experience and skills necessary to market everything from Disney 's "Pirates of the Carribbean" franchise to its many Pixar animated favorites.

Her prior career included a long spell at WPP's Ogilvy, after which she co-founded an outpost of media-planning shop Naked in New York. She had a significant tenure as a marketer of packaged goods, a business in which the loss of a tenth of a percentage point in market share can mean the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars.

When Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross hired Ms. Carney in April 2010, he said the studio was rethinking its marketing "just as we have looked at ways to restructure how we create and distribute our movies." That meant, for example, letting the same team handle a film's promotion when it hit theaters and when it later came out as a DVD; theatrical and home releases have traditionally been handled by separate teams.

Ms. Carney "has built global teams, can market a product across multiple platforms and has firsthand knowledge of new media and its effectiveness in reaching consumers," Mr. Ross said then.

But change rarely comes easily, especially when stakeholders consider the established methods pretty tried and true.

Hollywood saw total domestic box-office revenue sink 3.8% last year and ticket sales fall 4.7%, according to Box Office Mojo, but the industry has located the trouble in movie quality and growing competition for consumers -- not in its marketing.

Many in the movie industry also consider their glitzy celluloid product very different than boxes of tissue or bars of soap. Ms. Carney, according to the Times, was accustomed to using research to help focus a marketing plan, not operating by the seat of one's pants, as is the wont of many Hollywood executives.

Despite the outsize attention focused on it, the film business has always been an insular one, and the same is true when it comes to advertising. The studios routinely rely on in-house marketing plans, not ones devised by shops such as BBDO , CP&B or Young & Rubicam (though many of them do tap the big media-buying firms owned by the large ad conglomerates). Ms. Carney, by many accounts, was simply trying to ply her trade, but was stymied by others who wanted to rely on more tried-and-true methods, and she many not have received the internal support she assumed she'd have at her back.

By the second half of 2011, Disney was reportedly seeking a successor.

Yesterday after the Times report, which reiterated Disney's effort to replace her and said she wanted to return to New York, Deadline and others reported that Ms. Carney was officially out. Disney did not immediately respond to requests for comment today.

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