Riding shotgun for Magna

Former TV exec drawn to branded entertainment

Bill Hilary took over in August as president of Magna Global Entertainment, the branded entertainment arm of Interpublic Group's Magna Global media agency. He was the first top-level executive hired to replace Robert Riesenberg, who left Magna in late 2004 after developing high-profile projects like NBC's "The Restaurant" to start a branded entertainment division for IPG rival Omnicom. One of Hilary's first projects at Magna has been co-developing a new Web site for General Motors, www.IGotShotgun.com. The site features exclusive behind-the-scenes content from events MG sponsors, such as the Grammys, the Super Bowl and NASCAR races, and offers consumers the chance to interview celebrities at the events and blog about them. Hilary, a native of Belfast, Ireland, recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter marketing reporter Gail Schiller.

The Hollywood Reporter: Now that you've settled in, can you tell me about your plans for the company?

Bill Hilary: My mission is to find new ideas to ramp up production, to grow the business especially in the new-media area and to be at the forefront of the branded entertainment space. Since Robert Riesenberg left, they've had a team in place here, and they've done a great job at maintaining the existing business — the Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation series on TNT and "Blowout" on Bravo. Magna Global hired me to expand the business, look at new media and at new ways of doing things. I think they felt I could look to the future and take the business to another level.

THR: How do you plan to take MGE to "another level" and lead your advertiser clients into the future?

Hilary: We're on retainer with seven or eight clients to come up with content ideas, and every single one of them is multiplatform. We're working on several projects for mobile phones and VOD; we're working on ways to get several advertisers to work together on projects, we're in the broadband space. Another thing we're focusing on is getting some of our clients to own the backend of the programming or content they fund. Most producers make money off the backend. For advertisers to fully fund series and not own them, to me that's foolish and bad business. (Owning the backend would) become part of a secondary business and fund the development of further content for them. We're also identifying trends (for our clients) and creating programming around those trends. For example, we just recently began taking an interesting presentation out to advertisers to help them get into the "green" space.

THR: What type of "green" content do you have in mind? Would the brands also be integrated into the content?

Hilary: They could make shows with us that they sponsor about the environment. The important thing is that they are the driver and the creative force behind the content, so it is on brand message. The content needs to reflect a message the advertisers want to get across, both about their brand and the environment.

THR: Many people consider branded entertainment to mean that advertisers are somehow integrated or featured in the content. Is that how you would define branded entertainment?

Hilary: There is no one definition. I think that's what people are finding most difficult. Branded entertainment is about connecting the client with the consumer through content. That might be a mixture of product placement with sponsorship banners and an online element, or it might be the total ownership and production by one advertiser of a series of programs, or it could be a mixture of all those things. There is not one business model, and I think the reason Magna Global Entertainment works is because we have a team of expert people in each of these areas who put individual, complex, creative business deals together for each of our clients.

THR: Who are some of the clients you are working with?

Hilary: We are on retainer with a number of people. We're working on original content ideas for MasterCard and the U.S. Army, among others, and Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel's) for product placement.

THR: Can you tell me about the site you co-developed for GM?

Hilary: We run the creative side of the channel with Weber Shandwick, while GM owns the site. It's called IGotShotgun.com because it gives the consumer the opportunity to ride shotgun and get access behind the scenes to the major events that GM sponsors. It gives the user an opportunity to interact with GM and its entertainment assets in a unique way.

Bill Hilary


Magna Global Entertainment

Work experience: Independent producer-director in London; network executive, BBC; commissioning editor of youth and entertainment programming, Channel Four; head of entertainment division, Granada Television; GM/exec vp, Comedy Central; president and CEO, BBC America

Favorite TV ads: Geico auto insurance

Most successful branded entertainment initiative: The Coca-Cola-"American Idol" integration