PR agencies and marketing embrace Hollywood

The line where brand marketing ends and Hollywood begins is blurring.

Chipotle launched an original web series, Farmed and Dangerous, on Hulu last February.
Chipotle launched an original web series, Farmed and Dangerous, on Hulu last February.

The line where brand marketing ends and Hollywood begins is blurring as more companies walk down Sunset Boulevard and create content with film directors and Academy Award winners.

It first came to my attention when Chipotle launched an original web series, Farmed and Dangerous, on Hulu last February, which featured just two brief visual references to the brand. Since then, the trend has really taken off.

What makes Chipotle’s online show interesting – other than a cow blowing up in episode one – is that it was produced by former Hollywood exec Daniel Rosenberg, who now owns New York-based production company Piro. The series was also written by Jeremy Pikser, the screenwriter behind Warren Beatty’s feature film Bulworth.

At the end of last year, Lesley Chilcott, who won an Oscar in 2007 for co-producing the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, created a film for coffee company Illy called A Small Section of the World.

The unbranded documentary, which was released in theaters, tells the story of female entrepreneurs in Costa Rica who developed a sustainable coffee production business. Even though it was backed by a brand, the documentary’s filmmakers plan to submit it for consideration at the Academy Awards, as well as the Cannes Lions and Clios.

This week, American Greetings debuted a new campaign called ThankList, which includes a digital portal with five documentaries created by two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple and production company Nonfiction Unlimited. The videos encourage people to thank those who have had positive impacts on their lives.

American Greetings also showed really well in last week’s PRWeek Awards with its World’s Toughest Job campaign, which centered on a film that became the number one trending video on YouTube, with 21 million views. Both campaigns were produced in partnership with ad agency Mullen.

With more brands outsourcing their content, this is also a big opportunity for PR agencies, and some firms are already jumping on the entertainment bandwagon.

Edelman parent DJE Holdings formed a joined venture at the end of 2014 with global talent and literary agency United Talent Agency and Jarrod Moses, founder of United Entertainment Group. The partnership provides Edelman with major access to talent, and it’s a way to "bridge the gap between Hollywood and Madison Avenue," as the firm said in a statement.

Edelman also won the PR Grand Prix in Cannes for its work on Chipotle Scarecrow, which led on a film produced by talent agency CAA.

On the flip side, Catalyst was bought by sports, fashion, and media company IMG Worldwide two years ago, which is owned by talent agency William Morris Endeavor.

Mergers and acquisitions are not the only ways to get a step up in the brand marketing-Hollywood trend – agencies are creating or expanding existing film departments. Nearly every PR agency says hiring out-of-the-box talent is a major focus, alongside advertising or data, analytics, and research executives.

It may be time for comms firms to start recruiting more directors, screenwriters, and producers, as well as adding more video training programs for current talent.

An engaging, memorable film relies heavily on a strong plot and theme, and PR pros are storytellers by nature. The technical stuff – lighting, dialogue, camera angles, music, editing – is where filmmakers will shine and, together, the video can come to life in all directions, across all media.

PR already owns most of the hotly-contested social media space, now it’s time for the industry to also make more strides on the red carpet.

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