James Bond Branding Guru Karen Sortito Dies at 49


Executive helped resurrect the 007 franchise at MGM in the mid-1990s; she also aided in defining the MTV brand during its formative years.

Karen Sortito, a revolutionary branding executive who helped resurrect the James Bond franchise at MGM in the mid-1990s, died Monday of cancer in New York. She was 49.

Known for her sparkling creative energy, Sortito represented a new breed of marketer for the film business. She came from MTV, where, straight out of Southern Connecticut State College in 1983, she helped define the brand during the network's formative years.

Sortito also worked at 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Paramount, Morgan Creek Prods., Revolution Studios, Spyglass Entertainment and NYC & Company, the city's official marketing and partnership agency.

"She was a true pioneer in the world of branding, and it was an honor to work with her," said Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Sortito's boss at Fox and Revolution. "She was somehow able to be both the consummate professional and the most outrageous person in the room at the same time -- and I loved her for that."

As head of worldwide promotions for MGM/UA, Sortito helped negotiate high-end promotional deals with the likes of BMW for millions of dollars, which contributed to the cost of making and advertising GoldenEye (1995), the first Bond film in six years and the first to star Pierce Brosnan. Worldwide receipts for the film were in excess of $350 million.

When MGM/UA went through a reshuffling of management, Sortito spent three years consulting in various capacities and in 2002 joined Spyglass as executive vp worldwide marketing under Gary Barber, her former boss at Morgan Creek, and his partner, Roger Birnbaum.

Sortito headed back East in 2007 and at NYC & Company, she created an entertainment division that she headed as GM, entertainment. She created events that would often tie into movies promoted by her friends and associates in Hollywood.

In 1989, Sortito moved from Manhattan to the West Coast, joining Fox as vp promotion/product placement. Three years later, she was hired by Paramount in a similar capacity until she was recruited by Barber, then COO and vice chairman of Morgan Creek, to take charge of the company's pursuit of third-party promotions and corporate partnerships.

"She had a spirit second to none and lived life to the fullest," Barber said. "Deeply intelligent, full of spunk and energy, she would light up the room with her smile and laughter."

Sortito was named BrandWeek's Entertainment Marketer of the Year in 1998, twice was honored for International Licensing Excellence by LIMA and earned a Reggie, the highest award voted by her peers, at the prestigious Promotion Marketing Assn.

Sortito is survived by her mother, Phyllis Sortito; her sisters, Mary Sortito and Diane Ritucci; her brother-in-law, Louis Ritucci; two nephews; and her beloved dogs Carmela and Bella.

Details on services to be held in New York and a memorial service to be held in Los Angeles will be announced later.