Disney Names Ricky Strauss as Marketing Chief

Ricky Strauss
Ricky Strauss
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Ricky Strauss, the president of Participant Media, has been tapped as Disney's new head of worldwide marketing.

Strauss will replace MT Carney, the controversial executive who joined Disney in April 2010 with no experience in the film industry and announced her resignation this week. With the choice, Disney chief Rich Ross is selecting a seasoned executive who has worked on The Help, the DreamWorks and Participant-produced drama that Disney distributed in 2011 with much success.

“I am happy to welcome Ricky Strauss to the Walt Disney Studios family," Ross said in a statement. "With 25 years of industry experience, he brings a deep understanding of all aspects of the film business as well as incredible skill in branding and cutting-edge marketing. He will undoubtedly raise the studios’ creative bar as we enter 2012 and look ahead at showcasing a spectacular slate of films to audiences around the world.”

The selection of Strauss ends one of the most active guessing games in town. Industry insiders ran virtually every conceivable name up the flagpole only to have it shot down again. As recently as Thursday, rumors flooded Disney that former New Regency executive Bob Harper was joining the studio.

Disney had been openly seeking a replacement for Carney for months. Some have speculated that she finally departed simply because she was tired of the open search for a replacement. But others believed that War Horse's disappointing performance upset director Steven Spielberg and that the timing of her departure was related to his displeasure. The hiring of Strauss, who was involved in marketing DreamWorks’ one standout hit, The Help, and is close with DreamWorks' Stacey Snider, gives some weight to the latter theory (Snyder and Strauss worked together at TriStar).

Some executives currently or formerly associated with Disney have yearned for an experienced hand to guide the marketing department after watching with dismay as Ross, himself inexperienced in movies, terminated many seasoned staffers.

"MT could perhaps have worked out if Rich hadn't fired everyone else," says one. "Other outsiders have been welcomed and flourished." Alluding to an anecdote about Carney in a New York Times article that chronicled her downfall, this observer says, "MT didn’t fail because she wore white pants and wasn’t welcomed into the club. Rich took off the entire top level of management there and then put in a novice and let her flail." (Among those who departed Disney were distribution veterans Mark Zoradi and Chuck Viane, who retired; distribution exec Bob Chapek was promoted to consumer products.)

Disney faces big challenges in the coming months. The studio will release the pricey sci-fi action adventure John Carter in March, and this summer brings The Avengers, the first Marvel Studios picture to be marketed and released by Disney since the company purchased Marvel.

Some insiders have expressed surprise that Strauss would take the job given the situation of the studio. "I don't get it. I have no skin in it, but what's in it for him? I would be too scared to do it," says one industry observer.

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