Media All-Star: Brian Terkelsen

President and managing director, Liquid Thread, navigates the blurring line between art and commerce

Mark Burnett and Brian Terkelsen revolutionized the business of television over a slice and a beer. It was 1993 and Burnett, a former T-shirt hawker on Venice Beach, was looking for a financial whiz to help ride herd on a new genre of reality series designed to capitalize on the nascent trend of eco-tourism.

The newbie producer hired Terkelsen before the pizza cooled. And while Eco-Challenge was not an enduring success, it would serve as the blueprint for Burnett's Survivor, the series that restored CBS to power while validating the sponsor-integration model. It would also nudge Terkelsen into the agency business.

In order to defray some $1.5 million in production costs, Terkelsen went out in search of a few fully integrated sponsors. An executive in the Leo Burnett media department told Terkelsen that while she was enthused by the concept, she didn't think Eco-Challenge ultimately would prove a good fit for her clients. The agency vp may have passed on Terkelsen's pitch, but she was impressed enough to keep his card. In 2003, when branded entertainment proved itself as a media strategy, the agency vp, Laura Desmond–who by then was MediaVest's CEO–tapped Terkelsen to run the shop's content operations.

Eight years later, Terkelsen, president and managing director of Liquid Thread, Starcom MediaVest Group's branded content division, has spearheaded some of media's most successful entertainment-marketing executions. For example, My Life as a Cover Girl, a show-within-a-show baked into the CW series America's Next Top Model, is now in its 16th cycle. Terkelsen also helped the M&M's animated pitchmen score a recurring gig as correspondents on Entertainment Tonight. More recently, Terkelsen teamed up with General Motors to develop Inside the Vault, a syndicated series that chronicles the American male's love of gadgetry. A recent segment finds former Motor Trend editor Angus MacKenzie slaloming down the Pacific Coast Highway in a fully loaded Cadillac CTS luxury coupe.

Looking back to when Lucille Ball would actively pitch Westinghouse products during I Love Lucy, Terkelsen says the challenge is to take bold commercial stances while blurring the line between art and commerce. "If we're not capable of making more intuitive, relevant work that has an artfulness to it," he says, "then we should get into another line of work."