Integrating the Brand

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Attention planners: It may be time to add product placement to your repertoire.
With the likely mass rollout of digital video recording devices by cable operators over the next few years-and the DVR’s capacity to fast forward through commercials-product placement will become increasingly important.
At least that’s the theory of Roy Salter, the entertainment financial wizard who wants to be the bridge between television producers and Madison Avenue.
Mr. Salter, the former principal and managing director of Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin-where he founded the firm’s entertainment and media group-has co-formed a new company, Brand Advisors LLC, to help advertisers find, evaluate and analyze product placement opportunities in television and film.
While at Houlihan Mr. Salter was well known for developing analytical tools to evaluate the risks and return of investing in media, and he hopes to apply that knowledge at Brand Advisors.
Here’s the premise: Mr. Salter and his crew review the summary descriptions of projects in development and then catalog and cross-reference them against a group of interested advertisers. When the marketers decide which scripts pique their interest, Brand Advisors hires a script reader to break down the script and delineate, with creative input from talent agencies, producers and advertisers, how the brand could be integrated into the story in a suggestive way, said Mr. Salter.
“We help facilitate that because we have great relationships with Hollywood and Madison Avenue,” he said. He brings to the table years of relationships with film and television studios and has access to the majority of Hollywood content in development.
If a studio were developing a TV show about comedians working on an airline, for instance, Brand Advisors would look for opportunities for messages to be integrated with the places the characters go, the airlines they travel on and the food they eat. Possible product placement opportunities could be for a car company, an airline or a beverage company, he said.
When an advertiser is interested, Mr. Salter applies his financial and statistical methodology. “We forecast within statistically measurable ways the outcome and convert that into audience impressions and present this to the advertiser so they can think about this in a way they haven’t thought about before,” Mr. Salter said. “We are a service available to protect the interest of advertisers to make sure their brands are more closely integrated into programs,” he said.
The scenario must consider several factors: money needed, audience reach and demographic profile. Brand Advisors then provides its clients-the advertisers-with dollar figures on audience measurement and how the expenditure will pay off.
Brand Advisors essentially provides a forecast for potential profitability and then translates that figure into the universal currency of media planners-costs per thousand, explained Scott Flacks, who will be the chief operating officer of the company. “You can advise an ad agency where in the curve you can invest in content that will produce a CPM in a desirable range,” he said.
In the past, product placement was negotiated on a fee basis. The new process actually quantifies the value of product placement for the first time.
Brand Advisors will have access to almost every piece of content in development in film and TV and has relationships with TV production companies such as Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, talent management companies such as Brillstein-Grey and studios such as DreamWorks and Sony.
The Brand Advisors concept is cutting-edge, said Steven Blume, chief financial officer for Brillstein-Grey. The key to success is convincing Hollywood that Brand Advisors does not compete with internal resources at studios and ad agencies but instead adds value. Mainstreaming product placement is essential for the entertainment industry given the growing presence of personal video records, he said. Brand Advisors isn’t the only new company to settle into this niche. A group of entertainment executives, including attorney Skip Brittenham and former television executive Rich Frank, have created Integrated Entertainment Partners to find product placement opportunities in films.
Like Brand Advisors, the company hopes to weave the product sensibly into the storyline rather than just insert a product arbitrarily into a scene.
The two companies are different because IEP works with the studios, while Brand Advisors serves the advertisers, Mr. Salter said.
Also on the Brand Advisors team is Ave Butensky, who recently retired as president of the Television Bureau of Advertising.