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Brian woods finds an important similarity between former employer Blockbuster Entertainment Group and new employer Planet Hollywood International.

Mr. Woods arrived at Blockbuster as the then-fledgling video chain was just charging out of the gate. He left in December, as exec VP-chief marketing officer, with Blockbuster perched as a video and music retailing giant.

Now, 6-year-old Planet Hollywood is in the familiar position of being ready to burst onto the larger entertainment scene.

The 54 Planet Hollywood rest-aurants worldwide and a growing stand-alone retailing division will be joined by 24 more restaurants in 1997 and 25 next year. The company also owns the All-Star Cafe, and may launch Hollywood Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., in a venture with ITT Sheraton.

Mr. Woods, 37, who began his career at Blockbuster in 1988, was named in late January to the new post of president for Planet Hollywood's brand and retail divisions, reporting to Planet Hollywood International President-CEO Robert Earl.

Neither Mr. Woods nor his boss sees a problem in his making the transition from video to viands. After all, Mr. Woods' experience already extends far beyond movie rentals. He created the nationally televised Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, the Blockbuster/Visa affinity credit card and an exclusive merchandising relationship with Coca-Cola Co. He also has forged partnerships with Sony Corp. and AT&T Corp.

"Those are all things that Planet Hollywood has not really gotten into yet, but in some ways has better potential than Blockbuster did," Mr. Woods said.

Mr. Earl, himself former chief executive of Hard Rock Cafe, explained: "I wasn't looking for a restaurateur. I was looking for someone who understood how to take a brand forward to its next stage. We have this big brand, and he's charged with the responsibility of taking it into the year 2000."

Not only does Mr. Woods have a strong corporate background, his celebrity and entertainment relationships made him a perfect candidate, Mr. Earl said.

Mr. Woods noted that though Planet Hollywood may be best known as a restaurant, upward of 40% of top-line sales and 80% of company profits come from non-food merchandise created from the trademark, including jackets, caps and memorabilia. The company grossed nearly $500 million in 1996.

"When you look at the dynamics of what their business really is, this is really about entertainment and trademark exploitation," Mr. Woods said. "They saw that this company needs to be very much trademark and branding driven, and that growth in the company is going to come in conventional and very unconventional ways."

Messrs. Earl and Woods met during production of the Blockbuster awards show. Though Mr. Earl pledged last summer that he would bring in a top brand builder, Mr. Woods didn't come to mind until word surfaced in December that he was leaving Blockbuster.

Mr. Woods had no intention of leaving the video retailer, but when CEO Bill Fields announced last fall the company was moving to Dallas, Mr. Woods began receiving job offers. He ultimately decided in December he would stay in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to explore his options. Planet Hollywood is based in Orlando.

"It just seemed like eight years might be enough time at the same place," Mr. Woods said. "Maybe the next move would be to take the helm of something, and this seemed like the right time to make that move."

Where Planet Hollywood has become known for extravagant opening parties, complete with celebrities and fans, once the lights fade the marketing needs to continue, Mr. Woods said. He might call on movie studios to tie in theatrical premieres and press junkets to Planet Hollywood.

Planet Hollywood has no ad agency, but the brand is growing at such a clip that such a hire shouldn't be far off, Mr. Woods said.

The executive said he has some mixed feelings about taking the helm of a global brand, but doesn't feel out of place.

"Certainly, I have not been in a business associated with food in any way, but there are certain trade-offs," said Mr. Woods, who will attend 20-plus grand opening celebrations this year. "It's nice not to focus on 5,000 [Blockbuster] locations. And as [wife] Sherry likes to put it, if nothing else, you know you're going to go to more than 20 of the best parties in the world every year.

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