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Release Pitcher : Katie Chin Helps Companies Decide Which Movies, TV Shows to Promote

May 21, 1997|MARLA MATZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Katie Chin doesn't work at Disney, 20th Century Fox or Universal anymore, but she's more popular than ever with her former studio colleagues.

As vice president of worldwide entertainment and licensing for Alcone Marketing Group, Chin is helping to select the movies and TV shows that will be promoted by companies such as Burger King, Pepperidge Farm and M&M/Mars.

The Irvine-based division of Omnicom Group, with billing of $163 million last year and nine offices worldwide, is profiting from the trend toward big, expensive "event" pictures. The studios are looking to grab attention on someone else's dime.

The most sought-after partner is Chin's client Burger King, since McDonald's signed a 10-year pact with Disney last year. Burger King regularly commits to spending $20 million or more to advertise films like this summer's "The Lost World."

But scores of other deals are struck each year with companies ranging from candy makers to computer firms. The Times recently followed Chin on one of her regularly

scheduled days of meetings at the studios, to see how such deals start.

Chin's first stop is at Universal, site of her last studio job, where the halls are lined with "Land Before Time" dinosaur plush toys, plastic "Hercules" crossbows and seemingly every product General Mills makes touting "The Lost World": Pop Secret popcorn, Betty Crocker cake mixes, etc.

In a conference room, Universal Promotion Vice President Lisa Berlin shows brief videos designed specifically for potential tie-in partners. A narrator extols the track record and international appeal of the stars of such properties as the upcoming Martin Short comedy "A Simple Wish" and TV's "Hercules" and "Xena."

"Wish" is due out in July. It's G-rated--"all family" in promotions lingo. But it's coming up too soon for most of Chin's clients, who typically need nine to 12 months' turnaround time.

For "Hercules" and "Xena," Chin asks if Universal might offer a walk-on role for a client to give away.

"Oh, yes. The shows are shot in New Zealand, so that could be a really exciting prize," Berlin says.

Upstairs in the same building, Chin meets with DreamWorks' Anne Giangardella. The studio is still relatively thin on properties, so she emphasizes the bankability of Steven Spielberg.

"The average movie grosses $17 million domestically. The average Steven Spielberg movie has grossed $179 million domestically," Giangardella boasts.

Giangardella doesn't say much about DreamWorks' first animated feature, "Prince of Egypt," scheduled for the 1998 holiday season. Chin also is tight-lipped, but Burger King has been reported to be in discussions about the movie, which is based on the story of Moses.

Back to her black BMW and a short drive to Warner Bros., where Bob Schneider, senior vice president of corporate promotions, emphasizes the studio's reach. He says Warner Bros. has a great ability to generate "publicity and awareness" through company-owned media outlets like parent Time Warner Inc.'s magazines and Turner TV channels.

When Looney Tunes character Marvin Martian turns 50 next year, Warner Bros. hopes its WB Network will feature Marvin in promotional spots. Does tying with a Looney Tunes promotion on WB require a client to buy ad time on the network? "Not necessarily," says Schneider. "But we don't give the Looney Tunes away; they are our crown jewels. There are fees involved."

Schneider has packed a lot into 45 minutes, but he has to run off to lunch with a producer. Over the hill at Fox, Steve Ross, the studio's vice president for worldwide promotions, discusses with Chin the Tanqueray gin tie-in with the current Fox film "Volcano." Chin's clients Heublein (makers of Jose Cuervo tequila) and Guinness (which just announced a merger with Burger King parent Grand Metropolitan) are looking for entertainment ties. Ross says Fox is very open to such deals; several of the other studios, including Warner Bros., express more reticence about liquor promotions.

Across the Fox lot, Chin meets with Mark Stroman, head of national promotions for Fox Broadcasting. Stroman pitches Fox's annual Halloween week, which has drawn sponsors such as Frito-Lay and Coors. As a bonus for their bucks, sponsors get free trips for employees and vendors to Universal Studios Florida.

Chin pulls onto the plush Sony lot shortly after leaving Fox. Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing Mark Workman has what looks to be a leather-bound promotional book for the "Godzilla Maul Tour" on his table. Sony plans a new "Godzilla" movie for summer 1998 and is seeking sponsorship for a mall (get it?) tour.

Workman shows a five-minute corporate video touting the synergies between Sony hardware and software. He tells Chin that a Sony Walkman or some Sony music could be a very valuable premium item. After showing Chin a brief video from "The Mark of Zorro," starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins, Workman encourages Chin to invite clients to visit the set in Mexico.

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