What's Behind Hollywood's Great Marketing Chief Exodus?

What's Behind Hollywood's Great Marketing Chief Exodus?

Fox's Oren Aviv follows Marc Weinstock, Anne Globe, Terry Curtin. What's going on?

In a matter of months, Hollywood has seen the closest thing to a clean sweep of top studio marketing executives the likes of which hasn't happened in recent memory.

Last week's ouster of Oren Aviv (top photo at left) from Twentieth Century Fox was only the latest in a rather astonishing series of firings at Hollywood's movie studios:

  • Marc Weinstock (top at right) was shown the door at Sony Pictures after a summer of underperforming movies including “After Earth,” “White House Down” and “Elysium.”
  • Anne Globe (top in middle), a close deputy to DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, was fired after the disappointing opening of “Turbo” and last year's failure to get an Oscar nom for “Rise of the Guardians.”
  • Industry veteran Terry Curtin was booted from Relativity after last year's movies didn't click (“Mirror, Mirror”) and replaced by Russell Schwartz, another vet.

Also read: Fox Marketing Shake-Up: Oren Aviv's Style Clashed With Fox's Top Brass, Say Insiders

  • Adam Fogelson, the chairman of Universal, was booted from the top job. He came out of marketing at the studio as a top aide to the previous chairman and marketing chief Marc Shmuger. Fogelson got fired after a decent box office run at the studio, but under his tenure the studio's performance overall remained lackluster.
  • Aviv was brought in just two years ago off a distinguished run running marketing at Disney (and that studio had its own travails after bringing in the controversial MT Carney after Aviv), but didn't mesh with the creative wizard Tony Sella.

But now Sella, one of those hard-to-find talents, is apparently going too. What gives?

Also see: We Staffed a Whole Movie Studio With Ousted Executives – And It's a Dream Team

Here's what's interesting: none of the fired executives was a novice.  And despite recent stumbles, they all have many years of successful campaigns under their belts, including Weinstock's rather brilliant “Zero Dark Thirty” campaign last year and Fogelson's oversight of the lively “Despicable Me.”

Moreover, it's not as if they are all being replaced by a new generation of forward thinkers. Yes, at Sony Weinstock was replaced by the talented digital marketer Dwight Caines. But at Fox, whose focus is increasingly on global dollars, international experts Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus were brought in. Former Warner Bros honcho Dawn Taubin came in to replace Globe, and Relativity's Schwartz is an old hand from the 1990s, when New Line was redefining indie film.

So what's behind the change? Hollywood is famous for habitual dumping on marketing departments when things don't go well.

“Marketing is always the most exposed position at the studio,” David Weitzner, a faculty member at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the former worldwide marketing president for 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, told TheWrap last week.

“I always believed part of my salary was hazard pay,” he said. “No matter how much you spend, if the film works, it was a marvelous and brilliant production. If it didn't, it was bad marketing. It's a studio's mentality to never deal with the fact that it made a bad film.”

Also read: Sony Marketing Chief Marc Weinstock Exits Studio After Poor Summer

That's certainly true. Someone has to be made to pay when big movies don't perform. (Though I'm still mystified why Sony's Steve Elzer had to take the fall.)

There's something else afoot. The mass firings are a sign of the industry's general nervousness about the state of the business. The mostly-tentpoles strategy of the major studios is a high-stakes game that puts marketing in an even more exposed position than before. Even a smaller studio like DreamWorks Animation finds itself betting big on marketing with only a few movies a year.

If the firings were to lead to the rise of a new set of executives filled with fresh ideas and fresh blood, it would be a rational choice for change at a pivotal time for the studios. But more likely we'll see a game of musical chairs, especially since the expertise for marketing movies is so terribly specific.

Also read: Fallout Over Universal Shake-Up: Adam Fogelson, Steve Burke and the Flubbed Firing

Is the firing spate over? It seems to be. Warner Bros has a team led by Sue Kroll that is defying, er, box office gravity with “Gravity.” But with this weekend's dead-on-arrival opening by Disney of the DreamWorks film “The Fifth Estate,” despite a constant barrage of TV spots, is marketing chief Ricky Strauss in trouble? I'm reliably told by internal sources that Strauss is entirely safe, with the upcoming “Frozen,” “Thor 2” and “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Still given the current mood in this town, he'd do well to watch his back.

Brent Lang contributed to this report.

  • hupto

    Marketing basically runs the studios nowadays. They don't care if a project's good or bad. All they care about is, “How can we sell it?” Hence the glut of remakes, sequels and pictures based on TV shows, comic books, video games and toys. As long as they continue to lead the production execs around by the nose, they must bear the lion's share of the responsibility when the public kicks the tires and finds them flat.

  • Guest

    But with this weekend’s dead-on-arrival opening of Disney’s “The Fifth Estate,” despite a constant barrage of TV spots, is marketing chief Ricky Strauss in trouble?

    Ricky Strauss

  • Bill

    “But with this weekend’s dead-on-arrival opening of Disney’s “The Fifth Estate,” despite a constant barrage of TV spots, is marketing chief Ricky Strauss in trouble?”

    Ricky Strauss is not the problem plaguing Disney. The problem at Disney is that they have never fully resolved the legacy of MT Carney. Most of the top executives were hired on her watch after she pushed out Oren Aviv and Jim Gallagher's seasoned leaders. Ricky needs to finally close the books on MT Carney's legacy and sweep the second and third layers of executives out the door.

  • rizzo51

    No one went to see THE FIFTH ESTATE because it's a movie about a man that most of America either hates or has never heard of. It's got nothing to do with marketing! It's all about the movies, people. GRAVITY is doing well because it's a great film that people are talking about — no marketing “genius” can replace good word-of-mouth!

  • Tom

    The studio chiefs need to come to terms that the failures of so many movies is not the result of bad marketing, although in a few cases the marketing certainly didn't help. The failures are the result of a business model that has collapsed. Until they can devise a new business model the failures will continue and executive overhauls will be nothing more than window dressing.

    What is required is a courageous studio chief to stand up and burn his/her organization to the ground and rebuild a new 21st century studio from the ashes. Who has the courage to take such action? Kevin Tsujihara at Warner? Alan Horn at Disney? Jeff Schell at Universal? Jim Gianopolus at Fox? Brad Grey at Paramount? Amy Pascal at Sony? Based on their track records to date, I don't think any of them have the moxie to become the leader we all need.

  • ek

    Nothing revealing here, just a recap of events. Weitzner is of course correct: a hit is great production, a flop is bad marketing. That's axiomatic and always has been. Studio marketers don't choose their projects, they are given them, good and bad. In days gone by, a studio could hit a hot streak of mixed genres with mixed budgets and reasonable marketing costs. Today everything is highly leveraged and there is no breathing room. Marketers are at the mercy of the productions they're handed and they do all they can; no one wants a bomb. But but the public always has and always will have the last word and, nowadays, through social media, get to voice it earlier and louder. The issue is that the new heads of the studios (there has been a revolution in that space as well) are often grounded in areas other than film and/or domestic movie distribution and are judging marketing with different criteria than their predecessors and there's the old bugaboo about new regimes wanting to put their stamp on things including their department heads. It's their right, of course, but it often leads to bad personnel decisions and miscarriages of justice.

  • Ted Nolan

    Try bringing in people from Iowa to run the studios.

  • Vino

    Agree w COMMENT that marketing ppl “run” the studios, hence all the remakes and comic brands. A pox on all.