New Players Starring In Movie Studio’s Search

Paramount Pictures’ review of its $480 million media planning and buying account represents a rare opportunity in a category that doesn’t see agency switches often. But this story had advance publicity.

Paramount has had conversations with at least two undisclosed media shops in the past year, sources said. One agency executive said the studio “didn’t share a lot of their reasons” at the time, but “the powers that were there wanted to make a change.”

And now, there are new execs in charge of marketing and media at the studio. Steve Siskind, evp, worldwide marketing and advertising, joined Paramount in Los Angeles in February from 20th Century Fox, where he worked with Mediaedge:cia sibling MindShare. Before that, he was a senior buyer at Initiative predecessor Western International Media, which handled Disney. In March, Miramax marketing advisor Gerry Rich arrived at Paramount as president of worldwide motion picture marketing.

Contending for the account are Interpublic Group’s Initiative; WPP Group’s Mediaedge:cia; and the incumbent, Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest, which handles broadcast buying and some planning for the home-entertainment division, a client rep confirmed.

The three contenders are fighting for the rights to represent a client in a big-billing category—the Top 10 studios collectively spent more than $4 billion on ads in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR—that rarely sees change. WPP’s MediaCom has handled Warner Bros. for a quarter-century. Initiative had Disney for 16 years before losing it to Starcom in 2001. The relationship between Omnicom Group’s OMD and Universal Studios is almost a decade old.

Not including Paramount, about $1.5 billion in movie media billings (from New Line, Disney, Sony and Dreamworks) have gone into review since 1999, according to Adweek reports, compared with $5.6 billion in packaged-goods media assignments and almost $4 billion in automotive.

A studio client is “a different beast,” said Justin Poe, svp, group media director at Omnicom’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas, which has handled Dreamworks since 2000. “Once you find somebody who knows what they’re doing, you’re hesitant to switch and train somebody over again.”

“You would think [studios] would be among the most volatile categories,” said another exec. “But they don’t have a lot of places to go.”

Seven out of the Top 10 media shops already handle a major studio, and each shop among those has at some point had one on its roster. So infrequently do studios become restless, in fact, that one source said, “I think of Paramount as one that has moved around more than other studios”—even though it hasn’t switched shops in almost a decade.

In addition, said another exec, studios are “the most hugely executionally focused category in advertising. Perhaps the pressure of those demands causes the relationship with the client to be closer.”

Studio needs don’t change much, either. When they launch media reviews, they’re usually over basic issues such as cost or service. Even brand integration, a trend where media shops are in the vanguard, isn’t requested much. When Sony and Disney went into review in 2001, another source recalled, the subject never came up. (Miramax, however, said the prospect of deals with Publicis clients was part of what prompted it to move its estimated $250 million business from nine-year incumbent Palisades Media Group in Santa Monica, Calif., to Publicis’ Zenith Media in 2003—only to return to Palisades in May.)