Michael Francis, who drew much praise during his long tenure directing marketing and advertising at Target but served an unfruitful stint as president at JC Penney’s more recently, is joining DreamWorks Animation as chief global brand officer, where he will lead its worldwide licensing and consumer-products efforts, including manufacturing, sales and branding.
“Michael is among the world's top brand strategists whose distinguished career in successfully growing brands around the world is unparalleled, and we are thrilled to welcome him to the DreamWorks Animation executive team,” say DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and COO Ann Daly in a joint statement quoted by the Hollywood Reporter’s Pamela McClintock.
“We have custom-created this vital new role specifically for Michael so that he can work toward developing our business on a global scale by leveraging both the overall DreamWorks Animation brand in addition to our growing collection of high-quality family entertainment properties," they continue.
Francis reports to Daly; Anne Globe remains CMO.
DreamWorks has produced the "Shrek," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar" blockbusters and acquired New York-based Classic Media for $155 million last July. It now owns the rights to such stalwart characters as Rocky and Bullwinkle, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Mr. Magoo, Lassie, and The Lone Ranger.
“The new crop of film and TV characters from that library could help the studio launch its first branded television channel,” points out the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Verier.
"We're working very hard to expand beyond the core movie business," Katzenberg tells him. Francis "will be engaged in every aspect of what we do in terms of helping us build our brands and franchises and how to get the greatest value out of them."
Francis has been on a temporary assignment with The Gap that is wrapping up. He will work part time with both the retailer and DreamWorks through February, when he will relocate from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and give full attention to the studio.
Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi writes that the arrival of Francis might “calm some jitters” about the direction of the studio, which is attempting “to shake off the poor performance of its most recent movie, ‘Rise of the Guardians,’ which has won just $53.7 million at the box office between its opening Thanksgiving weekend and last Friday, according to Box Office Mojo.” It is expected to lose money and was a “rare misfire,” writes Verier, but the company has still lost 40% of its market value of over the last two years.
The forthcoming “Turbo” -– the story of “a lightning-fast snail who has always wanted to race,” as one previewer puts it –- is among the properties Francis will be trying to supercharge. Katzenberg tells McClintock that the movie, which will be released July 19, “has the most potential of any film DWA has ever released in terms of consumer products potential.”
Katzenberg iterated the importance of hiring Francis in several interviews over the weekend, telling the Wall StreetJournal’s Erica Orden it is “one of the most valuable and strategic hires that we've made at DreamWorks maybe ever,” and saying that the decision to add him to the company's leadership was “one of those duh moments.”
Katzenberg has known Francis since he was at Target, and they have been “in conversations” for about two years, according to Poggi’s piece. "We stayed in touch during his less-than-fulfilling path at JC Penney," Katzenberg tells her.
When Francis had joined CEO Ron Johnson’s turnaround effort at Penney, he was said to have the "vision and courage to re-imagine the department-store experience," Ad Age’s Natalie Zmuda recalled. But that gig ended abruptly in June.
The AP’s Anne D’Innocenzio wrote at the time that “analysts were surprised by the sudden departure of Francis, who injected a quirky, whimsical style in Penney's advertising even though critics said it didn't properly spell out the new pricing strategy.”
Quirk and whimsy are part and parcel of the appeal of DreamWorks’ creative products, of course. It will be Francis’ task to squeeze every last drop of profit out of them by re-imagining the merchandising possibilities.