Talent Agency Forms Branded-Entertainment Unit

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Lori Sale, who has been the longtime liaison between corporate America and Harvey Weinstein’s film and TV projects, has left the Weinstein Co. for a senior post at Hollywood talent agency ICM.
Until now, ICM has not had an executive or division devoted to branded entertainment. Lori Sale will head the new unit.

Ms. Sale will head up a newly formed global branded-entertainment division that aims to hook up ICM’s talent pool with marketers and ad agencies looking for an insider link to high-profile stars, writers, filmmakers, musicians and pop culture personalities.

“We’ll take what the brands tell us and figure out if we can match them up with someone of complementary interest or if we can build something from the ground up,” Ms. Sale said. “I'll be like a dating service.”

Marquee names
ICM represents some marquee names in entertainment, including Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Tyra Banks, Felicity Huffman, Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone, Ellen DeGeneres and Usher. Behind-the-camera talent includes Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”), Rob Marshall (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) and Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”).

The new division could delve into star-driven licensing and consumer products, create brand-backed entertainment with its clients and help package deals with media companies, studios or other talent agencies, Ms. Sale said.

The division’s mandate is expressly different from other Hollywood talent agencies, where executives have formed corporate consulting units to advise marketers on how to become embedded in the entertainment world. Marketers pay a retainer, in many cases a hefty one, for early access to projects in development and talent that they hope can speak to coveted young consumers.

“We didn't see a need in the marketplace to go there -- it’s covered,” Ms. Sale said. “What’s not covered is the representation of intellectual property and content.”

Debate continues
There’s been considerable debate in branded-entertainment circles in recent years about the service and tangible results those talent agencies provide, though marketers are still streaming in, with agencies like CAA and William Morris maintaining long rosters of blue-chip clients.

Coca-Cola Co. recently re-upped with CAA, though at a reduced retainer. The agency also added Harley-Davidson to a list that already includes Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Procter & Gamble Co., Sprint Nextel and Delta Air Lines. And it recently hired Tera Hanks, a product placement and brand integration veteran.

William Morris has bulked up its client list with the National Hockey League, Quizno’s, 24 Hour Fitness and Monster.com, which join Anheuser-Busch, General Motors Corp., Hilton Hotels and Amp’d Mobile, among others.

First foray
Until now, ICM has not had an executive or division devoted to branded entertainment, though video-game maven Keith Boesky was once on staff there, scouting for client opportunities in interactive gaming. He no longer works with ICM.

The move comes several months after ICM announced private equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management and Merrill Lynch were buying a majority interest in the talent agency. The deal has been pegged at nearly $100 million, and ICM CEO Jeff Berg, to whom Ms. Sale will report, signed a new long-term contract.

While working for Mr. Weinstein, Ms. Sale shepherded deals with marketing partners such as L’Oreal Paris, GM, American Express, Coors Brewing Co. and McDonald’s Corp. She was in the early stages of working on a long-term alliance bartered by Weinstein Co. with ad-agency holding company WPP Group that intends to marry the company’s creative output with marketers such as IBM Corp., Nokia and Procter & Gamble Co.

Ms. Sale put together brand integrations in the current Bravo hit “Project Runway” (a Weinstein production) with Banana Republic, GM’s Saturn and Mattel, and with Campbell Soup for lifestyle guru Sandra Lee and her “Semi-Homemade” cooking show. She also worked on franchise films like “Scary Movie” and “Spy Kids” while the Bob and Harvey Weinstein were still at Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax.

Ms. Sale's replacement at the Weinstein Co. is expected to be announced soon. Until then, she’ll continue to work on “Project Runway” and upcoming film releases.

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