Carat’s Yudin an Old Hand at Branding

Apr 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Branded entertainment is nothing new to Michael Yudin.

Mr. Yudin occupies an unusual perch as managing director of ad buyer Carat’s strategic branded entertainment unit and head of his own production company, MY Entertainment, which has two successful shows on Spike TV-“King of Vegas” and “Pros vs. Joes.” He also has projects in development for Court TV and Oxygen.

But in the past, he was getting clients involved in programs as head of the media department at ad agencies McCann-Erickson and Backer & Spielvogel. He took those advertiser relationships with him when he moved to the programming side at Viacom, Paramount and Telescene Entertainment.

“Truth is, it was always out of necessity more than desire, but it’s funny: What goes around comes around,” Mr. Yudin said. “So everyone talks about this branded entertainment thing being the newest thing since sliced bread. Well, I was doing it 30 years ago, and guys were doing it 20 years before me.”

Even in today’s atmosphere of enthusiasm for product placement and other forms of integration by networks and marketers, Mr. Yudin said he thinks the show comes first.

“If a network doesn’t want a show, then it doesn’t matter how much a client wants to do it,” he said. A deal can be struck between marketer and client once the network agrees to televise the show. “The network wants a show that they think is going to be a hit. That’s really what they care about,” he said. Of course, it’s a positive if an advertiser helps defray some of the production costs. It’s a bigger positive if the marketer can help hype the show.

Mr. Yudin doesn’t think marketers should be spending money on development. “That’s not what they do,” he said. But he has a unique way of making potential sponsors more comfortable with opportunities to integrate in the shows he’s producing. He places products from Carat clients into pilots, often without them even knowing he’s doing it. That way they can see for themselves how it would work. “It’s not just smoke,” he said. “And we’ll be able to focus-group the branded entertainment part of it as well.”

With his two hats, different shows take different tacks. On “King of Vegas,” produced with Cool Hand Root Productions, Mr. Yudin was able to bring in Schick and Adidas, clients of Carat parent Aegis, as sponsors. On that show, Schick is featured on the tables, is part of a sweepstakes and sponsors a “Poker Face of the Night” feature.

Schick considers the integrations a big success, said Scott Suky, senior VP and client and commercial director for Vizeum, an agency that, like Carat, is owned by Aegis. “The ability to tie in to the show with some kind of organic content integration is probably the most important thing, and I think that inspired us to do this,” Mr. Suky said.

Schick might not have gotten the opportunity if Mr. Yudin had simply been the show’s producer and not a part of the Carat organization. “Normally something like this would come through the buying group. I don’t think buyers would look at this the same way,” Mr. Suky said. “You could say that’s an advantage of having Michael in-house.”

Open to Other Business

Spike President Doug Herzog brought the idea for “Pros vs. Joes,” to Mr. Yudin before he joined Carat. MY Entertainment produces the show, and while there is product integration in the show, it does not involve Carat clients.

“I always prefer to not have [integrations] built in and build them in ourselves,” said David Lawenda, senior VP of ad sales for Spike. Mr. Lawenda and Mr. Yudin go way back, to when Mr. Lawenda was Mr. Yudin’s production assistant at Lifetime. At one point Mr. Yudin was a consultant for Spike, working on Saturday and Sunday programming for the network.

Mr. Yudin said Carat and its clients are open to working with any production company and network. “We’re not locked into doing business with just MY Entertainment by any means,” he said. “We are open and want to do business with anybody that has a good creative idea in terms of Carat Entertainment.” MY Entertainment has some other projects in the works.

For Court TV, Mr. Yudin has been shooting a presentation for “Reward: Fugitives From Justice,” which features a team of specialists who help viewers claim some of the $10 billion in rewards being offered by insurance companies for capturing bad guys on the lam.

For Oxygen, Mr. Yudin has shot a pilot for a show called “Natalie On,” featuring Natalie Krinsky, who wrote a sex column at Yale and a book titled “Chloe Does Yale.” He describes the show as a combination of “Bill Maher, Ricki Lake and ‘The View,'” offering a point of view of 20- to 30-year-olds on sex and relationships.

Another show, “Tease,” could be the “Iron Chef” of hair, he said. That project is also with Oxygen.

“He calls me every time he’s got something good,” said Debby Beece, president of programming and marketing for Oxygen, who also goes way back with Mr. Yudin. They worked together on a Fred Willard show on Ha!, a precursor to Comedy Central, and on a telenovela for USA Network called “Ocean Drive.” “He was well ahead of the curve, and ahead of the curve is not where you want to be,” she joked.