Does marketing films featuring Al Gore and Mr. Spock seem like a highly illogical career jump? Then meet Megan Colligan, an indie film public relations and marketing vet who's now co-president of marketing at Paramount Pictures along with Josh Greenstein. (Gerry Rich, Paramount's former head of worldwide marketing, left the studio last August.) As Colligan explains, there isn't as much difference marketing big-budget action figures and indie films as you might think. In both cases, the main goal is to manage expectations. But Paramount's slate of testosterone-driven tentpoles will test that theory. Brandweek interviewed an eight-and-a-half months pregnant Colligan in mid January, which means she's due right about. . .now. Here are some excerpts:
Brandweek: How has the grassroots marketing you've done for An Inconvenient Truth and smaller films prepared you for the tentpole pictures you're releasing this summer? Also, how does your pr background give you an edge over people with more traditional marketing experience? There's so much more overlap these days.
Megan Colligan: Well, I'm fortunate because I co-run Paramount's marketing department with Josh, who has a much more commercial background and he also comes from the creative space. We complement each other that way. When I was at [Paramount] Vantage, when you're in the indie space, you learn very quickly that you can't take your audience for granted. You have to work to get people to be engaged with your film, but also understand the precise nature of what it is and what it's not. And I think that's true of Star Trek and Transformers as well.
BW: How so? Don't franchises have built-in audiences?
MC: You have to be really disciplined and you want people to go into the film with an appropriate expectation for what it is and what it's not and celebrate the best things about the film and get the audience excited. They're such different beasts in the way you release them. It's such a different experience even in the Oscar arena of releasing Benjamin Button on over 2,000 screens on Christmas day and releasing Revolutionary Road over the course of five weeks. It's a different discipline, even though fundamentally, you're doing the same things: It's about timing, it's about strategy. My big takeaway in all this? It's not as different as I expected it to be.
BW: How do you and Josh Greenstein work together? How do you split the duties? Do you alternate movies or take on different roles?
MC: We work on every project together. On some projects he takes the lead role and on others I take the more alpha lead role and it's not actually something we discussed—it's something that's very organic, I think, to the process and to who we are. I've known him for 15 years—I was at Miramax when he was at Dimension. He was at my wedding. There's a comfort zone. There's a lot of work to do, and if our communication wasn't so easy, it would really add a whole layer that would complicate everything.
BW: Paramount has been known for its culture of in-fighting. 2008 was a really good summer for the studio financially, yet the marketing chief left... Can you talk about that?
MC: I think... [hesitating] [Paramount Pictures CEO] Brad Grey hasn't been here that long. A lot of key players who have key positions here haven't been here that long. I feel like the company is getting to a place where ... sometimes it takes a little while to shape it and mold it and make it yours. You get in a situation where you're releasing pictures that you didn't make, and you have staff you're cobbling together and it takes a little while to smooth it all out. If there were any political issues going on, I was so apart from that at Vantage, it was such an oasis. It's a nice place to come into the office each day.
BW: Let's talk about this summer's slate. What kind of programs we can expect to support Star Trek [5/8/09], Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [6/26/09] and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra [8/7/09]?
MC: Star Trek is a franchise that's been around for a long time, but certainly J.J. Abrams is putting a very fresh spin on this one. We have an audience that is highly aware of what the brand is and the challenge is going to be repositioning it and letting people know that this is a whole new exciting movie that's emotional and has great action. The challenge there will be making sure people understand that. With the previous Transformers movie there were a lot of challenges about making people realize that this was a film extravaganza. People thought of Transformers as a toy brand, so you had to get away from the fact that it wasn't a toy movie but a giant piece of entertainment. This film is hugely anticipated, so there is no challenge of building awareness for it. It's about doing the right things to make sure the spectacle of the marketing campaign lives up to the spectacle of the movie so that you're capturing people's excitement.
And then G.I. Joe is on some levels where Transformers was for the first movie. It's the launch of a brand people are very familiar with, but have certain conceptions about. Young boys to grown men have all played with G.I. Joe has had a lot of iterations as a toy through the years, so the film is a fresh take on all of it. A global fighting force defending the world against evil. The film will be about getting people excited about something that doesn't have an automatic built-in audience or expectation. We'll educate people over time.
BW: [Star Trek director] J.J. Abrams is a really great marketer.
MC: Marketing campaign works best when you have a filmmaker who's really savvy about it—they live with their projects for so long, and in that process, they know what other people are going to find exciting about their film. J.J.'s really smart about how not to overhype something and not to make it obvious and typically 'Hollywood.' I think people have as much fun in the anticipation of Lost as they do of watching the episodes.
BW: Is there a particular medium that you see as underutilized in entertainment marketing? One that you will harness more in 2009?
MC: There's a whole generation of kids growing up watching TV but not commercials. Stunts and in-theater programs and how to effectively use a trailer and leak things online and engage an audience earlier and how to properly use your film itself will become increasingly important. I think that's why in time we're seeing more marketing departments having two people run them: It requires a lot of knowledge about a lot of different disciplines to be able to craft these campaigns because there isn't these three things you need to do to get a movie opened today. It's about casting a very wide and strategically laid net. But that makes it more fun, too.
BW: How is the economy impacting your marketing decisions?
MC: The theatrical business is pretty healthy, but the home video business is taking a big hit, so we're all under a lot of pressure to be smarter about how we spend our money. We're taking a harder look at every aspect of our campaigns—$2 million outdoor billboard campaigns to build awareness, premieres—and saying, 'Is this the best use of our money?' Everybody's taking a harder look at how they're allocating their dollars and how they could be used in other ways that could ultimately serve the movie better.