Is Disney’s MT Carney Ready for Hollywood’s Shark-Infested Waters?

Disney’s new marketing president, still learning the perils of big-time movie marketing, explains “Secretariat’s” tepid opening and admits ‘I know what I don’t know’

Disney’s new president of marketing and Hollywood novice MT Carney is quickly learning about the perils of jumping into the shark-infested waters of major studio movie releases.

The question is: was she ready to swim? 

This weekend "Secretariat" was the second major release under her tenure, and like "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," it opened with a whimper, taking in just  $12.6 million and getting roundly beaten by Sony’s “Social Network” in its second turn.

See: Box Office: Facebook Film Beats Soft Debuts From Heigl, 'Secretariat'

This past summer was worse still, when the big-budget “Apprentice,” with Nicolas Cage, gave the studio a big black eye. That movie – dragging a $150 million budget on its back – opened to just $17 million domestically, and climbed to an anemic total of $63 million. (In fairness, that was not her marketing campaign, and Carney had only just started the job.)

On Sunday, the Scottish-born marketing executive, who came to Hollywood this summer with essentially zero movie marketing experience, gave a candid explanation of what happened this weekend.

“I’m very proud of the campaign, and it’s a shame it wasn’t a massive rip-roaring success,” she told TheWrap, saying her team focused on the heartland, which is where most of the business was.

“This one I look at and can’t think what we did wrong,” she said. “We had huge buzz. We got more internet buzz than a whole lot of movies. But in the heartland people are older, they don’t run out to see movie first weekend, and 'Social Network' held on better than we thought. It took away a big chunk of our audience.”

"I don’t think we made any big mistakes in the marketing campaign," she added.

Read the complete interview here: MT Carney, Grilled: 'A Baptism By Fire'

Meawhile, Carney has been surrounding herself with high-level marketing experts, moves that have tongues around town wagging.

Disney hired marketing veteran Valerie Van Galder to work with Carney on the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, and Carney recently hired Kevin Campbell to handle creative on DreamWorks films.

She was also part of the decision for Marvel to hire Dana Precious, who will eventually join Disney’s team. Christine Birch of DreamWorks is also working with her closely.

Meanwhile, Carney is also working with media strategist Michael Kassan to review “all facets of our marketing strategy” and look at Disney’s media relationships, she said.

Asked about the new support system, Carney said:  "I have hired and I will continue to hire the absolute best people that I can find. I’m aware of the fact that I don’t have tons of experience, so I hire around me the people that have experience that are really good."

Carney, whose company, Naked, specialized in marketing packaged goods, was wooed by new studio chief Rich Ross with an eye to bringing out-of-the-box innovative thinking to the old studio ways.

Before moving to Hollywood this summer, Carney worked mainly with companies like Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, though she also had entertainment clients like NBC.

Her breakthrough innovation was all about “agnostic channel planning.” Presumably that means that you market a product with an agnostic approach to where  that media appears.

Asked if she felt she had gotten her arms around the movie business in the last three months, Carney was disarming enough to be more candid than most in this business.

“I feel I have enough sense to say I know what I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t mind people being annoyed at me out of ignorance, but I’d hate to ever think out of arrogance.”