Advocacy Shop Goes Hollywood

As an agency known mostly for its advocacy work—including Oxfam and the ACLU—Benenson Janson might not seem an obvious candidate to advertise films. But with the recent addition of seasoned movie-marketing executive Neal Lemlein as evp of client services, the independent shop is banking that Hollywood could use some of its cause-related savvy.

The strategy? Apply what it knows about advocacy to the projects of small, independent directors. “They won’t just work on the marketing, but as ambassadors and pseudo-agents,” said Gavin Dougan, who signed the Studio City, Calif., shop to handle his first film, Brass Tacks, a contemporary jazz fiction.

“We’re positioning ourselves as an off-site, in-house marketing department for independent filmmakers,” Lemlein said. “It’s time to carve away the fat and work directly with the client.”

A veteran of over 100 movie campaigns, Lemlein went from packaged goods at Young & Rubicam, New York, to marketing and media services at 20th Century Fox. He later founded DMB&B Entertainment in 1986, handling Paramount and NBC.

He said the “conception-to-marketplace” approach would incorporate the director’s ideas into strategic planning, media and creative, as the shop represents filmmakers to distributors.

Dougan noted that little indies are often “misrepresented, cheapened, diluted” or undersold by studio marketers. “No one is going to care about your movie more than you do. It’s naive to not become a student of marketing and advertising movies in a targeted, intelligent way. That’s an issue way beyond just movie marketing. That’s where it’s all heading,” he said.

Dougan said the marketing budget would come out of investor and record-label funding unless it sells, at which point the agency would get back-end points and the film a bigger marketing budget.

“Even if it were sold to a distributor, I would insist on keeping them involved. We’ve been working internally on a campaign already.”

The Los Angeles agency’s recent “cause” efforts—including eye-catching work for Oxfam, Declare Yourself, and the ACLU (“I am not an American…”)—exploit celebrity edge and youth angst already, CCO Andrew Janson explains. “Our style works especially well in the new categories we’re entering, especially entertainment.”