Advertisers getting creative connection

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

As Hollywood more actively seeks creative and financial connections with advertisers, independent series producer Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment has found a unique marriage with leading commercial services company Johnson/Burnett Productions. The two companies have formed the joint “production-outreach” venture BrandMedia Entertainment, designed to actively court advertisers to craft TV series that will drive brand awareness for their products.
In shepherding the new BrandMedia venture, Alan Schwartz, executive vice president of Johnson-Burnett’s entertainment division, said he sees the newly formed company as a “facilitator” where ad agencies and advertisers “can take pride in authorship, because it is not only about their involvement in the creative process but ultimately dictating its direction.”
Mr. Schwartz, a veteran entertainment executive who previously worked at 20th Century Fox Television and Playboy Television, was hired by Johnson/Burnett in October 1999 to foster the development, packaging and marketing of entertainment-related TV programming. He, along with Johnson/Burnett co-founder/ CEO Biff Johnson, is joining Robert Papazian and James Hirsch in the management of BrandMedia Entertainment.
Papazian-Hirsch, known in broadcast network circles for producing CBS’s former “Nash Bridges” drama, is turning to its 3-year-old RayArts Studio independent production company’s production center in Woodland Hills, Calif., as a complementary studio facilities hub along with Johnson-Burnett’s Hollywood Center Studios. With the combined production capacity, Mr. Schwartz said, the intent is to “more greatly satisfy the needs of advertisers and provide opportunities to ramp up series and long-form specials tailored to their branding messages.”
BrandMedia wants to take advantage of the increasing trend of advertisers being involved in the earliest stages of the production process, providing seed funding and creative direction on TV programming. In turn, the promise of full or partial advertising sponsorships have helped their production companies get a quick foot in the door at the broadcast and cable networks, which are looking for new revenue streams.
For example, Ford Motor Co., through the WPP Group’s J. Walter Thompson agency, has teamed with Lions Gate Television on The WB Network’s upcoming midseason reality series “No Boundaries”-lending its title from a campaign for Ford’s lineup of popular sport-utility vehicles. The deal provides for in-show product placement for Ford’s line of top-selling Explorer and Expedition SUVs.
However, Mr. Schwartz said BrandMedia has “no intent, no agenda whatsoever,” to get into product placement similar to Ford’s participation in the “No Boundaries” project. Instead, he said, BrandMedia’s aim is to “focus on helping advertisers shape messages that are compatible [with] how they are identified with their products,” which will likely be showcased through full or partial ad sponsorship commercial buys packaged with the show.
“It would be one of our goals [to have fully sponsored shows], but it would be more consistent with Papazian-Hirsch and Johnson/Burnett where [the advertising] is seamlessly threaded into wraparounds and billboards appearing outside of the program,” Mr. Schwartz said.
“We really are going back to the threading of advertising and offering fewer [commercial] interruptions,” he added, citing Hallmark’s historical full sponsorships of miniseries and made-for-TV movies. “It is all about advertisers delivering on program content that they feel is consistent with the consumer brand image. Advertisers have specific needs, and in this constantly fragmenting television universe, we are really looking to help them deliver an effective message where we are serving as the content messenger.”
Johnson/Burnett is a commercial production services company, with offices in Hollywood, New York, Toronto and London, that is the producerdirector talent conduit for the creative departments of more than five-dozen major advertising agencies. That should provide the BrandMedia partnership with Papazian-Hirsch and RayArt with established contacts for direct channels of communication with advertisers and agencies.
Through its separate Aegis international production company, for example, Johnson/Burnett maintains a worldwide pool of independent film and TV directors, such as John Frankenheimer (“The Man-churian Candidate,” “French Connection II,” “Ronin”), William Gazecki (“Waco: Rules of Engagement”), Fredric Plachon, John Lloyd, Bob Spiers and Nick Lewin.
“We deal with all of the major agencies, advertising clients and different foreign [investors] that come over with storyboards, where we facilitate their creative work in serving as line producers,” said Mr. Schwartz, who added that Johnson-Burnett handles the production of as many as 150 commercials annually. “With Papazian-Hirsch’s contacts in the Hollywood network community, that’s why the marriage makes perfect sense in terms of the production support we bring to the advertising and creative communities as well.”