Lori Sale On The Spot

Lori Sale, 46, head of ICM’s global branded entertainment, which launched last March, credits her integrated-marketing skills to two things: a gift for relentless multitasking and a passion for popcorn, which helps her get through the books, movies and TV shows piled up at home. Prior to ICM, Sale was evp of worldwide promotion at The Weinstein Company (where she led brand integration for Project Runway , among other projects) and its progenitor, Miramax. She also ran her own company, Marketing Mix. Last month, Sale orchestrated a deal to rep ICM’s clients on TiVo micro-channels. –

Q: What’s your first step when working with a brand?

A: The dialog becomes [which of our talent] is the right fit and where are we going to put the brand. We drill down to the DNA. We ask, “If your brand were an actor, who would it be?” They all have a good answer to that. We ask, “Who is the motivator?” After that we say, “Here’s who we represent who’s like that.” Now you’ve made this connection. Before you found this mostly in the celebrity-endorsement world, but now it’s expanded beyond “I want talent in my ad.”

How is the rest of the world doing with branded entertainment? Anyone ahead of the U.S.?

No. The broadcast rules are different from territory to territory, even though there is talk of some of them loosening up a bit. Something like Project Runway, which we created literally with brands, will start to change that. As those formats [conceived with brand marketing] roll out, they’ll change foreign markets, just as the U.S. market responded to [British versions of] The Office and Dancing With the Stars.

How did the ICM team “convert” Dancing With the Stars to brand marketing?

We sat and talked about the essence of the show, and the big news that came out of it was the weight loss. Dancers lose weight—that was the headline. It was completely organic. So we called Slim-Fast and they immediately responded because it was such a good fit. Unilever activated it with their agencies and AIM [Productions, Unilever’s product placement arm]. Then the integration developed into a Slim-Fast-sponsored Dancing With the Stars tour.

What other shows have done a good job with brand integration?

Not to boast, but Project Runway. It works on every level. It has amazing casting. The producers do a fantastic job. It’s a compelling story. And the integrations make complete sense.

What do you feel is the most interesting part of the TiVo deal [where ICM clients will have access to projects on micro-channels]?

From our standpoint, the dialog between [clients and consumers] is expanding and that’s what’s most exciting. In the past, there have always been lots of people in the way or in the middle. … This is a way [talent] can make a deal directly and connect with fans. It’s only a matter of finding which of our talent is open to that channel of distribution and bringing a brand along with it.

Will these micro-channels start with a brand, or always revolve around a client?

We are not representing packaged-goods companies, but intellectual properties … companies with huge assets in entertainment and a huge variety to offer. But, yes, we’ve talked about creating something with a brand, then distributing it on TiVo—something created and integrated in all directions, and ad supported. We’re dialing out to those brands. That’s shocking to some brands—they have to know which calls are going to be worth taking.

How are the changing economics of the film industry affecting the way you work?

[Studios] will continue to do the big tent-pole movies, and the rest of the slates will be movies they will distribute and market but won’t produce. And that is an opportunity for brands. We can think of which movies are brand friendly and then call those brands to put together a film package. The best way is to come in at the early stages and look at the brand as a producer.

What in your background best prepared you to head this department?

It’s always been about connecting brands to properties. It’s my job to make sure the stars align. I’m very Midwest: If it feels like a stretch, it is. I challenge a brand on every phone call.

What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?

It was the day I got the call, “Your mother tells me you’re coming home [to St. Louis] and you need a date.” I just celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary with that date. Back then I was in the Dallas hotel business [and my now-husband] brought me to St. Louis, where if you are in my profession, you have three choices: beer, batteries or dog food. That forced me into integrated marketing.

What’s the worst?

I had an opportunity to sell Marketing Mix to PACE Entertainment, which later got bought by SFX [Entertainment], then by Clear Channel. Instead, I sold it to someone else.

What reading is on your nightstand?

Carly Fiorina’s Tough Choices.

What are your best and worst deals?

We did three of the best Happy Meals with McDonald’s for Spy Kids and three of their worst. (Pinocchio, with Roberto Benigni, was one of them.) [Another great one] was a deal with L’Oreal—we put them and Elle in Project Runway. But my children are my best deal.