Power Plays

In the big industry deals of the past two years, Madison Avenue paid little attention to Momentum Worldwide’s acquisition of niche PR firm PMK. Journalists, however, took serious notice. The press is well acquainted with PMK’s deft brand management of Hollywood’s biggest stars, such as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

Given show business’ hold on consumer culture, the purchase was fascinating to insiders. Would combining Hollywood and Madison Avenue catch fire in the same way professional sports and marketing had clicked?

Momentum, McCann WorldGroup’s event and promotions agency, bet it would.

Last week, the unit bolstered PMK’s clout with the acquisition of Huvane Baum Halls, another entertainment PR powerhouse. The house of Cruise, Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Johnny Depp is now being combined with the likes of HBH’s Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Antonio Banderas.

What was Momentum motive? Perhaps it’s testimony to the growing fusion of marketing and entertainment. Consider ABC’s new reality show, The Runner, which offers advertisers paid plugs that are central to the storyline—Survivor, has already done the same—while The View’s hosts were recently exposed as shills for Campbell’s soups.

Not that these efforts were courtesy of Momentum. The company has kept a low profile and hasn’t revealed specifics about how PMK will work with its clients.

Mark Dowley, vice chairman, WorldGroup Marketing Communications Cos., sees the value of such a deal. He views a Hollywood association as a terrific opportunity to offer both McCann and Momentum clients an early warning of cultural trends before any break at the box office.

After all, Americans now spend more on entertainment than on clothing and healthcare, so linking a marketer’s image to the glamour surrounding a celebrity is a surefire draw in a cluttered marketplace.

But Dowley hopes to forge a new, more strategic model. He wants publicity that is less obvious than mere product placement or the use of stars as traditional pitchmen.

For instance, Momentum participated in the launch of AmEx’s Blue card. The company produced the card’s kickoff Central Park concert.

Thanks to PMK, it was able to line up John Cossette, producer of the Grammies and Sheryl Crow. Crow, in turn, brought some of her friends: Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Dixie Chicks, Chrissie Hynde and Stevie Nicks. Broadcast on TV, radio and the Web, the concert was also captured on a CD. And the CD, which won a Grammy this year, also includes an AmEx Blue card application.

Similarly, PMK joined in an aggressive Motorola campaign to help it become a high-profile brand in the entertainment industry. Motorola has been giving away its phones to stars and production crews on TV shows. The result? A Motorola phone was at the center of a Friends plot and the stars of Will & Grace have used Motorola’s Timeport pager during episodes.

Somewhere, Dowley is smiling.