Meet the execs filling theaters, acquiring subscribers and reviving 'Friends' 25 years later.
Since January, more than 750 movies have debuted at the domestic box office, while in November alone, some 50 new television shows appeared, boosted by the launches of Apple TV+ and Disney+. Consumers have more options than ever before, making the job of Hollywood's marketers all the more indispensable. For its list of top entertainment creatives, THR sought out those executives who helped their programming stand out from the noise. Among the masterminds are Disney's Joe Earley, who launched a marketing onslaught that led to 10 million Disney+ launch-day sign-ups; WarnerMedia Entertainment's Chris Spadaccini, who turned the final season of Game of Thrones into a multiweek event; and Blair Rich, the president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. who stood her ground with Todd Phillips' controversial Joker and reaped a $1 billion-plus reward at the worldwide box office: "We are learning as we go as to what the audience wants to see."
When Ayaz joined Disney's home entertainment division in 2004, he plotted out retail campaigns for the then-booming Blockbuster Video.
Change has ripped through the movie business in the 15 years since, but it's been to his benefit. Now head of marketing for all of Disney's film silos (including Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Animation Studios, live action and 20th Century Fox film), he has helped propel the company to a record $10.5 billion in year-to-date global ticket sales — and Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker still have yet to open. His teams also market titles from the studios that go to Disney+, including The Mandalorian. "The evolution of Disney has created many opportunities for myself and my teams," says Ayaz, who was promoted to his current role in 2018 after predecessor Ricky Strauss jumped to Disney+. "It's been an interesting ride."
Ayaz's year has been defined by five Disney releases that crossed the $1 billion mark and by taking over 20th Century Fox films such as Ford v Ferrari, which opened to a better-than-expected $31 million domestically over the Nov. 15-17 weekend and showed that Ayaz can tackle an event drama targeting adults. Avengers: Endgame, which opened in May, is the top-grossing film of all time with $2.79 billion globally. The campaign included several firsts, including a Fortnite integration. "Every movie has its own challenges," Ayaz says. For Aladdin, it was making sure moviegoers knew that Will Smith was bringing his own take to the genie (a role Robin Williams made memorable in the original animated film). When a teaser trailer prompted criticism, Disney didn't alter its course, and Aladdin earned a better-than-expected $1.05 billion worldwide. — Pamela McClintock
2019 CAMPAIGN I'M MOST PROUD OF It’s a tough choice, but Captain Marvel and Toy Story 4 are two of my favorite campaigns our team produced this year.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN "I found the digital campaign and partnerships for Jordan Peele’s Us to be smart and very creative."
What do beard oil and mermaid soap have in common? Aizenberg and Retzik used both items to promote Robert Eggers’ surreal black-and-white film The Lighthouse ($8.9 million so far). Quirky trinkets were part of the campaigns for several other releases, including a miniature dog keychain for Lulu Wang’s The Farewell ($20 million) — which is garnering early awards season buzz — and a bear toy for Ari Aster’s Midsommar ($41 million). The duo’s grassroots, digital-first campaigns have been key to garnering strong box office returns for the studio’s small-budget indie films.
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT
Retzik: “The cannabis industry. How often does something that big and undefined happen?”
In Searchlight’s first year as a Disney studio, Baldauf and Hooper, who helped Olivia Colman win her best actress Oscar for The Favourite, are in the awards race again with Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. To sell audiences on a Hitler satire, they leaned into Waititi’s whimsical humor, boosting the film to $10.9 million worldwide (and counting). “We really had to figure out a way to freshen up that tired old Hollywood trope about a 10-year-old boy whose imaginary friend is the Fuhrer set in World War II Germany,” quips Baldauf. “We didn’t want to be derivative.”
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN
Baldauf: “Aside from SpaceX, it would have to be A24’s Public Access billboard activation.”
Hooper: “The 2018 new congressional class.”
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT
Baldauf: “Patagonia and Rolex. I’d get to hang out in a pair of eco-friendly board shorts in tropical locales with Roger Federer and other cool people.”
Hooper: “Peloton — I would exercise more.”
MARKETING ADVICE FOR TRUMP
This Bravo vet is the person the movie studios call when they need data to figure out how to lure audiences to the movies. “The Holy Grail for me is cracking the code on what makes a campaign work to get people into the theater,” she says, citing a work on a horror film earlier this year where testing showed that it would prove more effective to market the film to hard-core fans of the genre. For Warner Bros., Barrick’s team, which also works with television networks and gaming companies, collaborated with YouTube to highlight issues in Just Mercy and helped put together an augmented reality trailer for animated Scoob!
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN “Amazon’s Maisel Day.”
I CAN'T DO MY JOB WITHOUT “My husband, who lets me compete with the guys, guilt-free, and has done an awesome job raising our two boys.”
Benson, who jumped from Amazon Studios to CBS in September, left the streamer on an Emmys high. Fleabag garnered six wins and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel nabbed eight. For the latter, his team staged Maisel Day, where vendors around L.A., including a Santa Monica Chevron station, offered 1959 pricing. “I didn’t expect that we would actually run out of gas,” says Benson. Since joining CBS (where he replaced veteran marketer George Schweitzer), he’s dived into fall premiere season for the network. “I still think there’s a lot of life left in broadcast,” he says, adding that he’s exploring how to evolve CBS into “a multiplatform entertainment marketing machine.”
I CAN'T DO MY JOB WITHOUT "People who are collaborative."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT “I have two younger brothers who run a kitchen utensil company and an outdoor furniture company in Duluth, Minnesota. I’d go work with them and market their stuff.”
It’s been a year of growth for Hulu: The U.S.-only streamer hit 28.5 million subscribers in early November, a testament to the work of Campbell’s subscriber acquisition team. Her purview also encompasses the teams keeping existing members happy via customer service as well as overall brand and show marketing. Key campaigns from Campbell’s teams included Hulu Sellouts, where figures like the U.S. Women’s Soccer team promoted the service’s live sports offering, and a Handmaid’s Tale activation tied to Women’s Equality Day called out the gender imbalance in New York City statues. The U.S.-only streamer hit 28.5 million subscribers in early November.
I CAN'T DO MY JOB WITHOUT "Diverse perspectives at the table."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT People.
With $95 million in ticket sales in the U.S., Downton Abbey became Focus’ top-grossing domestic title, enough to earn Cassidy a promotion in early November that gives him more oversight of strategic and long-term initiatives. For the Crawley family reunion, he got Highclere Castle to open its doors to the public in partnership with Airbnb and orchestrated splashy premieres in both London and New York. Biopic Harriet, meanwhile, opened to $11.6 million after a campaign positioning the film as the origin story of a superheroine.
I CAN’T DO MY JOB WITHOUT “A color printer. I’m old-school in that I want to see ads and poster mock-ups printed out. It’s not unusual to see dozens laid out on the floor of my office for review.”
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT "Patagonia. They're such bold and innovative thinkers."
Veteran TV executive Earley, who jumped to Disney from The Jackal Group in January, and his team pulled out all the stops for Disney+, which launched Nov. 12 to 10 million sign-ups. There was a massive Twitter thread listing every one of its thousands of titles, a Disney episode of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, signage at theme parks and a preview of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney-owned TV networks. The goal: Making sure no one could miss that Disney+ was on its way.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN "Kevin Feige's visionary plans for omni-platform storytelling."
I CAN’T DO MY JOB WITHOUT "The incredible Disney+ startup team of promotional magicians, our studio partners who already had their own full-time jobs, my family who hasn’t seen me very much — oh, and coffee."
Since arriving at the CBS-owned cable network from Turner in July, Engleman has organized a last-minute launch for buzzy Kirsten Dunst starrer On Becoming a God in Central Florida, which Showtime poached from YouTube two months before the premiere. Marquee projects include Homeland’s final season, Bryan Cranston miniseries Your Honor and the relaunch of former HBO docuseries Vice.
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT "Peloton is doing a fine job, but I'm a touch obsessed."
Among the longest-tenured marketing execs in television, Fogge leaned hard on comedy in 2019 with campaigns “Comedy Starts Here” and “Peacock Knows Comedy.” The latter — a starry on-air spot featuring Ted Danson, Amy Poehler, Andy Samberg and Megan Mullally — doubles as brand awareness for NBC’s forthcoming streaming service, Peacock. On the linear network, NBC continues to churn out spots for This Is Us, the highest-rated scripted series on broadcast.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN "Gillette's 'The Best Men Can Be' because it's courageous."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT "The Paris Board of Tourism because it would mean spending more time there."
Considered TV's promotional tastemaker, Gibbons has made a career out of eventizing every series on her flagship network's roster. Highlights for 2019 include character-focused key art for Fosse/Verdon and the second season of Pose, both of which took home Emmys. The Disney-owned company also boasts one of cable’s most enduring hits: American Horror Story recently returned with 4.5 million viewers thanks in part to a kitschy, decade-inspired campaign for ninth installment 1984.
I CAN’T DO MY JOB WITHOUT “The constant fear of failure. It’s my 24/7 companion and has become, over time, a semi-good friend.”
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT “A size-inclusive women’s clothing brand. I’ve witnessed a massive sea change in the last two years as brands realize there is big money to be made when you don’t force a woman over a size 12 to wear flowered tablecloths.”
Greenstein, who was recently upped from president of worldwide marketing and distribution to president of SPE's film operation alongside Sanford Panitch, had a red-hot summer. Spider-Man: Far From Home ($1.31 billion) became the top-grossing title in Sony's history, and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ($371 million) proved that an original vision can slay. And in early 2019, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($375.5 million) landed an Oscar following its release in late 2018. Greenstein continues to oversee worldwide marketing and
MOST INNOVATIVE THING I'VE DONE THIS YEAR "Put down my phone the minute I walked in my front door at home."
Friends ended 15 years ago, but the sitcom was impossible to miss in 2019 — and not just because a war was waged over its streaming rights. Gregorian’s carefully orchestrated campaign for the comedy's 25th birthday re-created the coffee shop set in New York, sent a replica of its famous orange couch around the world and put sold-out screenings of "fan favorite" episodes in 1,000-plus theaters.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN "Volumetric capture using AT&T’S 5G technology."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT Starbucks
Haskins and The CW were two for two with successful launches for freshman dramas Nancy Drew and Batwoman, which both earned full 22-episode orders, no longer the norm in broadcast television. For sophomore drama All American, which after a soft 2018 debut found a following on Netflix over the summer, Haskins focused on attracting some of that audience back to the network for the second season’s linear premiere, which was up 47 percent compared with the first season. The CW marketing push has also been getting the word out about the network's streaming platform, which now holds full-season libraries of new series in the wake of its recently lapsed Netflix deal.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN "CBD oil. It's the new gold rush where there are no rules."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT "Charitable giving is undergoing a radical change where donors want to know exactly where their donations are going versus into a pot of undeclared money."
When Green Book lagged at the box office after criticism by real-life subject Don Shirley's family members, it was Kounelias who kept the film on track. She understood that awards voters and moviegoers outside L.A. and New York wouldn't be put off, and redeployed the campaign with Universal. Green Book became Participant's top-grossing title with $321.3 million globally and won the best picture Oscar. Kounelias also helped steer the campaigns for Participant-backed Roma, RBG and Ava DuVernay's When They See Us. Says the executive: "When we finance and produce a movie, we have a big seat at the table."
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN "I'm a Game of Thrones fan and two things immediately come to mind: the Super Bowl spot with the Bud Light Knight and the Mountain; and how Oreo re-imagined the main title sequence.
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT "I'm a big fan of Virgil Abloh."
In July, just after Stranger Things’ season three rocketed to 40.7 million viewers in its first weekend, Netflix tapped BBC Studios’ Lee-Joe to shepherd the Netflix brand in 190 countries. On her team is 14-year Netflix vet Spenley, who oversees strategy and creative, working on campaigns like one tied to the final season of Orange Is The New Black that raised money for criminal justice reform. Spenley, who has also worked with partners like Apple, Comcast and Samsung, spearheaded Netflix’s push into franchise licensing, leading to Stranger Things toys and merch. Pallotta, meanwhile, is responsible for the brand’s cheeky social media presence (6.8 million Twitter followers) and channels like Strong Black Lead.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN
Lee-Joe: "Social businesses such as Ecosia, a green internet search engine that uses most of its revenue to fund tree-planting projects around the world."
Spenley: “Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat taking vegan plant-based and lab-created meat mainstream.”
Pallotta: “I love following everything in the hyper-competitive shoe industry, like the emergence of Allbirds as a simple, well-made, sustainable product with a brand built mostly on Instagram.”
For Jordan Peele's horror-thriller Us, Moses and Caines dropped a trailer during NBA games on Christmas Day, a rare move that resulted in more than 100 million views in the first week. Us, which opened in March, earned $255 million against a $25 million budget. With Good Boys, the duo leaned into the R rating (despite its three young stars), helping the pic become one of the few recent studio comedies to break out, grossing $111 million globally. Summer dramedy Yesterday, meanwhile, popped at the box office ($150.7 million) thanks to an aggressive trailer campaign.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN
Moses: "I really admired the authentic embrace of Joker."
Caines: "Will Smith's Instagram, which I visit daily."
O'Connor knows how to make a little go a long way. Roadside boasts the two top-grossing platform releases of the year so far: Judy ($23.4 million), starring Renée Zellweger in a role expected to land her an Oscar nom, and The Peanut Butter Falcon ($20.3 million), perhaps the biggest surprise at the specialty box office this year. For the modern-day Mark Twain tale, O'Connor made sure to open in Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., alongside the usual art house theaters in New York and L.A.
I CAN'T DO MY JOB WITHOUT "Post-it notes."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT “If I could oversee the launch of the next-generation Corvette that is about to come out, I’d quit my job tomorrow.”
The 17-year Coca Cola Co. vet jumped to the Viacom-owned network in time to assume marketing responsibility for streamer BET+, which launched with content from Tyler Perry and others days after her appointment in September. Paige, who has worked on brands like Sprite and Shea Moisture, is now prepping for BET's 40th anniversary. She notes, "While it's a celebration of our past, it's a significant jumping-off point for our future."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT "SoulCycle or Peloton, because of their mind, body, spirit ethos."
Quinn is celebrating the success of Bong Joon Ho's Parasite, which has already grossed $11.3 million in the U.S. on its slow rollout over awards season, making it the top-performing foreign-language film of the year. Two-year-old Neon also is home to Apollo 11 ($9 million) and The Biggest Little Farm ($4.4 million). The longtime New Yorker (who recently relocated to Los Angeles) says the key to selling a doc is treating it like a Broadway show.
MARKETING ADVICE FOR TRUMP "After 2020, watch Groundhog Day, Scrooged or Peanut Butter Falcon."
When faced with Todd Phillips' controversial Joker, Rich and Richards chose to embrace the film's dark themes and opted not to redesign the campaign after security concerns erupted. The strategy paid off: Joker has crossed $1 billion in worldwide box office. And through it all, they managed to have some fun with the campaign, debuting the first image of star Joaquin Phoenix as the supervillain on Instagram. The studio also had strong performers in Aquaman ($1.15 billion) and It: Chapter 2 ($459 million). Nevertheless, the studio has stumbled when it comes to some small- and mid-range films including the Stephen King adaptation Doctor Sleep.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN
Rich: "Quip toothbrush."
Richards: "I was inspired by the USA Women's Soccer team and the powerful marketing that originated from their World Cup victory."
Before heading to Disney with longtime boss Dana Walden, Ryan's parting gift for Fox (her home of two decades) was the highest-rated unscripted premiere in seven years. The Masked Singer, a surprise on all fronts, pulled a 3.8 rating among adults 18-to-49 in live-plus-7 averages during its first season, becoming the network’s de facto flagship. At ABC, she’s already helped launch drama Stumptown and comedy Mixed-ish — each of which got the network’s spending spotlight for fall 2019 and earned swift full-season orders.
Fox heralded its new era as an independent network with an Emmy night rebrand spearheaded by Schillace, his colleagues Scott Edwards and Ian MacRitchie and branding studio Trollback+Co. The subtle adjustment to the aging Fox logo hinged on an abstraction of the familiar lettering — a move meant to evoke a creative startup spirit. Whatever they're doing, it's working. Fox ranks as the No. 1 network of the young fall, with top-rated entertainment series The Masked Singer and new drama Prodigal Son, which required Schillace to sell America on a show about a serial killer dad.
2019 CAMPAIGN I'M MOST PROUD OF "Prodigal Son. Having the title of number one new show of the fall is definitely a great reward for all the work."
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT Peloton
HBO's go-to guy was promoted in June to run marketing for WarnerMedia's vast entertainment portfolio. He's now charged with introducing consumers to streamer HBO Max, launching in May. After pushing out Game of Thrones' final season — one that broke audience records (44.2 million viewers) and earned a final best drama Emmy — HBO scored a trifecta in reintroducing industry favorite Succession and launching The Righteous Gemstones and Watchmen.
MOST INNOVATIVE CAMPAIGN “Us. I’ll never look at scissors the same way again.”
MARKETING ADVICE FOR TRUMP "Stop conducting foreign policy with Game of Thrones memes."
Weinstock and Daily crafted a campaign for Rocketman that took full advantage of its living subject and executive producer Elton John. The R-rated musical grossed $195.2 million worldwide to become one of the most successful biopics of all time and a bright spot for the studio in a year when Gemini Man and Terminator: Dark Fate failed to resonate. Looking ahead, a trailer for Top Gun: Maverick garnered major traction, earning 200 million views in the first week, and a spot for the redesigned Sonic the Hedgehog scored the highest like-to-dislike ratio of any studios trailer in the last three years in its first 24 hours, and drove the strongest levels of positive sentiment overseas that Paramount has seen in the past two years.
DREAM (NON-HOLLYWOOD) CLIENT
Weinstock: "It's a tie between Lego and the Lakers."
Daily: "Animal Planet."
— N.J., Pamela McClintock, Michael O’Connell and Piya Sinha-Roy
A version of story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.