What 'Secretariat's' slow start taught Disney

EXCLUSIVE: Marketing chief reviewing studio's strategy

ORLANDO -- Racing saga "Secretariat" stirred the emotions of moviegoers during the weekend -- just not enough of them.

The latest in a series of disappointing film releases by Disney, "Secretariat" represents only the second major theatrical campaign by the recently assembled marketing team of Hollywood newbie MT Carney. She was among those accepting blame for the poor summer outing of Disney's family fantasy "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and on Sunday she acknowledged "Secretariat" was playing well only in the U.S. heartland.

"We always knew it was going to play better in the center of the country than elsewhere," Carney told The Hollywood Reporter. "We did hugely well in the smaller towns and didn't do so well in New York and L.A. But we knew that would be the case."

Supplementing other marketing efforts, Disney promoted the PG-rated picture heavily to faith-based organizations in a campaign reminiscent of last year's sports drama "The Blind Side" from Warner Bros. Carney declined to comment on costs related to more traditional media buys for the movie, but she signaled a continuing evolution of her strategies for the Disney film slate.

A onetime consumer-products marketer, Carney said she is reviewing the studio's marketing approach with an eye toward possible changes.

"One of the big things that we're doing is to look at what's working for us and what's not working," she said. "I have radically changed the marketing team, and we're going to be looking at the media mix and seeing where we should be spending our money."

That doesn't necessarily mean the studio will adopt more unconventional methods in its theatrical marketing, she cautioned.

"We have to look at what's making an impact and actually driving people to see the movie -- as opposed to what just gets people talking," Carney said. "Sometimes there is a temptation just to go for the shiny new thing. So if we should be doing more television, then that's what we will do. If it means more social-networking media, then that's what we will do."

Carney's team has yet to work on a picture they helped to green-light. But that doesn't make challenges such as "Secretariat" any less important, the Scottish-born marketing maven stressed.

"I feel responsible for everything I do, and I take all of this incredibly seriously and personally," she said. "That's something I just have to get over. But when I get to the movies that we helped to green-light, that will help drive the process."