ABG’s Jamie Salter On Marketing Marilyn

Jamie Salter, CEO of Authentic Brands Group (ABG), has talked about how Marilyn helped to build his business empire, in an interview with Forbes magazine.

“For Marilyn Monroe, Salter purchased 80% of the Monroe estate in 2012 for a reported $20 million to $30 million before slashing its 300 licensing deals—from T-shirts to refrigerator magnets—down to 80. Then he built the business back up, purchasing the other 20% of the estate and increasing the number of licenses to the sweet spot of 100, focusing on venerable brands that Monroe actually used in life—like Chanel No. 5.

‘You can sell X amount of Marilyn Monroe fragrance at a mass-market retailer, or you can do a deal with Chanel No. 5,’ Salter says. ‘A No. 5 deal doesn’t pay as well, but I think that’s important for the brand because it gives a halo effect. And the truth of the matter is, she wore Chanel No. 5.’

He [initially] went after the Marilyn Monroe business and received a no. But eventually Anna Strasberg, the widow of Monroe’s acting coach Lee Strasberg (to whom she’d left her estate), came back and agreed to a deal to sell 80%. (And three years after Salter bought into Monroe, Strasberg sold him the rest of the business.)

Monroe’s business became so successful in the years following Salter’s arrival that he ended up paying the same amount for the last 20% than he had for the first 80%. He wouldn’t reveal precise numbers, but industry insiders were nevertheless impressed.”

ABG Reveals Plans for Digital Marilyn

Marilyn sings - for real - to troops in Korea, 1954
Marilyn sings – for real – to troops in Korea, 1954

“That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing.” – Marilyn Monroe, 1962

After recent news of a legal battle between ABG (Authentic Brands Group, the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate) and a company known as Virtual Marilyn LLC, the Wall Street Journal reveals that ABG are planning to launch their own 3-D, digitised Marilyn. Crass hypocrisy or an exciting new venture? You decide…

“The iconic actress is getting digitally revived by Pulse Evolution, the company that brought to life Michael Jackson this past year at the Billboard Music Awards. They’ve signed a long-term deal with the rights holder to Monroe’s estate Authentic Brand Group(ABG) to develop a commercially viable digital replica of her for commercials, TV shows, films and even a live show.

The partnership was signed at the beginning of October and there’s already a four-year commercial deal in place that ABG CEO Jamie Salter says is with a Fortune 500 cosmetic company worth over $100 million dollars. The two companies plan to split profits 50/50 for revenue she generates through Pulse’s creation.

‘This is a digital asset that’s digitally distributal,’ says Pulse CEO Frank Patterson. ‘Popularly [they’re] being referred to as holograms because people don’t know how to talk about it. We’re talking about the digital likeness of humans. Digital humans are new to us as a society. There’s a lot of spaces where digital humans will become very useful.’

Patterson says these aren’t true holograms and that we’re years off from developing that technology. Instead, they’re a ‘3-D digital object.’

For Pulse and ABG, they’re proceeding with caution, while at the same time trying to monetize her with new technology. ‘There’s only one Marilyn Monroe in the world, and we’re going to be very careful with her,’ Salter says.

Still, while there may be just one Monroe, the possibilities of putting her into a live setting are much different than your typical real-life performer. ‘Unlike a typical show, Marilyn Monroe can be in more than one location at a time,’ Patterson says. ‘Why couldn’t we open a show in Vegas and Seoul at the same time?’

Pulse plans to hire a creative team of writers, directors, and costume designers to flesh out the live show Monroe would undertake. They’re already well underway in developing a show for Elvis Presley, who they secured a deal with in August.

‘We’re taking these assets and applying them to traditional business structures,’ Patterson says. ‘First having them appear in major venue installations – think of a casino appearance with a major, 52-week show commitment. Then rolling them out into touring presentations and special appearances, generating sponsorship and branded-content opportunities.’ He says that it would take about 18 months to roll out a show of this nature, including time to build Monroe’s digital persona. When asked about whether or not venues would be interested in something like that, the response was ‘overwhelmingly positive.’

For ABG, the focus seems to be more about continuing using Monroe’s image for commercial purposes, as she did in a 2011 commercial spot where her likeness was used alongside Charlize Theron for a J’Adore Dior ad. ‘We’re sticking with the best companies in that [fashion] space,’ Salter says. ‘We’ll be very careful when Marilyn Monroe takes a job from a model standpoint. We’re treating her no different than if Brad Pitt or Lady Gaga was our client.'”

Jamie Salter on Marilyn, ABG

If, like me, you’re perpetually worried about the direction of Marilyn’s estate, this interview with ABG head Jamie Salter (and accompanying photo) probably won’t offer much consolation…

‘“It’s very sad, but Marilyn died at a very young age,” says Jamie Salter. “She’s gonna be 36 forever.”

Salter won’t disclose what he paid for the Monroe estate. He smiles at some of the estimates he’s seen in news stories. “Some people say I paid $20 million. Some say $50 million.”

What did Salter get? That’s still somewhat up in the air. The original dispute between CMG and the Monroe estate remains unresolved, but Salter moved quickly to neutralize the photographers’ claims. Last June, Authentic announced licensing deals with heirs of three of the four: Greene, Kelley and Bernard. In April, it came to an agreement with Shaw’s heirs. Authentic will give the heirs a percentage of perhaps millions in revenue over the next several years. “Now, when you come to the estate, it’s one-stop shop,” says Salter. “You pay x% to the estate for name and likeness, and y% to the photographer for the image.”

Roesler’s CMG is now lined up against the estate and Authentic in court. In March, CMG filed a lawsuit in New York, arguing that at the time of her death Monroe was a resident of New York, where the estate has no right of publicity after death—the right that CMG’s chairman has done so much to establish. But although CMG represents far more celebrities than Authentic, it doesn’t buy their rights or estates; it just manages them.

Contesting Monroe’s right of publicity makes business sense. “We continue to represent various photographers and copyrights associated with Marilyn, and still work with the many licensees that use those copyrighted images,” says Roesler.

Salter is perplexed and frustrated. His message to Roesler: “You could have bought Marilyn Monroe, but you didn’t write the cheque. You had 20 years. You lost.”’ – The Globe and Mail, Canada

Merchandising and ‘Mister President’ Movie Plans

The New York Times reports this week on ABG’s plans to broaden Marilyn’s appeal after acquiring licensing rights from her estate earlier this year.  “This summer, the group consolidated those rights with several photographic portfolios, including Bruno Bernard’s, along with rights to products like a Marilyn Monroe line of Nova Wines, lingerie by Dreamwear and merchandise by the skateboard company Alien Workshop.”

MM fans may recall (with mixed emotions) that ABG head Jamie Salter spoke earlier this year of plans to ‘reanimate’ Marilyn’s image onscreen. I was reminded of his comment when I read this (slightly alarming) snippet on IndieWire:

Roland Emmerich, whose Shakespeare-subverting drama Anonymous will hit theaters October 28, is planning another trip down history lane, but this time not as far back and not any time soon. The director is planning to make Happy Birthday Mr. President – “The title will tell you everything” – but says digital technology is not yet where it needs to be for him to make it the way he wants, i.e. with digitally manipulated and aged actors. Does this mean Marilyn Monroe will actually be the one singing the famous song to John F. Kennedy on his birthday? We’ll have to wait and see; “I think we have to wait another five years,” says Emmerich. For now, we can watch the real deal, or enjoy Michelle Williams channeling Monroe.’

Of course, I’m just speculating here and Emmerich’s movie plans may have nothing to do with Marilyn, or the ‘reanimation’ rumours. But the title seems to imply that they might, not to mention the need to wait (for improved technology?)

Given that the Monroe-Kennedy association is so contentious, I can only hope that any film on the subject would be done with respect for the truth.

CMG Sue After MM Rights Sold

Photo by John Florea, 1953

CMG Worldwide, who held the licensing rights to Marilyn’s estate for 20 years, have filed suit in Indianapolis after Lee Strasberg’s widow, Anna, dropped them recently in favour of ABG (Authentic Brands Group.)

‘CMG is asking in the suit for unspecified fees believed to be in the millions of dollars from royalties and other expenses the agency says were agreed upon during the split.

Strasberg reportedly received more than $20 million for the Monroe materials from Authentic Brands, a Canadian company with offices in New York.

CMG’s website continues to show Monroe, along with James Dean and dozens of other dead celebrities, among major clients. Authentic Brands claims to represent her, too.

“We’re still in the Marilyn business,” said Mark Roesler, chairman and chief executive of CMG.

The company negotiated nearly 2,000 product licensing agreements worth millions for her estate and still represents photographers and others who have Monroe pictures or other items.

“Parties change, and the Strasberg group sold to the group from Canada. CMG remains in the intellectual property business, representing the estates of our clients, just not the Strasbergs anymore,” Roesler said.

The latest suit was filed in April in Hamilton Superior Court and then moved last week to the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana in Indianapolis.

CMG is suing Authentic Brands Group, the Anna Freud Center, Anna Strasberg and her son David, and book editor Stanley Buchthal, plus two limited liability companies created by the defendants.

Roesler and New York attorney Terri Dipaolo, representing Authentic Brands, said the two companies have reached a private agreement, so Authentic Brands may be dropped from the suit. CMG claimed in the suit that at least $1.6 million was owed by Authentic Brands.

The Strasbergs, Buchthal and the Freud Center in London, founded by one of Monroe’s psychiatrists who was named an heir in her will, are accused of fraud and breach of contract in the breakup of CMG’s long-running representation of the estate. Their attorneys could not be reached for comment.’

More at Indystar

 

Irreplaceable Marilyn

‘Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul,’ Marilyn Monroe once said. ‘I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.’

Since Canadian businessman Jamie Salter acquired the rights to license Marilyn Monroe’s image for $50 million from Anna Strasberg last week, there has been talk of Marilyn being ‘reanimated’ in future advertising and even movies.

This is not an entirely new idea – footage from Some Like it Hot was used in a Holsten Pils lager commercial back in 1987, replacing Tony Curtis with Griff Rhys-Jones. But Marilyn’s dialogue remained unaltered.

In a 2010 commercial for Citroen DS3, ‘Anti-Retro’, vintage news footage of Monroe was over-dubbed with promotional dialogue. Some journalists  mistakenly reported that the lines were Marilyn’s, although the original interview is well-known to fans and has appeared in several documentaries.

In December 2010, comedian and writer Mel Smith spoke of the Hollywood director George Lucas‘s plans to reanimate stars of yesteryear in new movies. ‘He’s been buying up the film rights to dead movie stars,’ said Smith of Lucas, ‘in the hope of using computer trickery to put them all together in a movie, so you’d have Orson Welles and Barbara Stanwyck appear alongside today’s stars.’

A Lucasfilm spokesperson denied the rumour as ‘completely false.’ However, Mark Roesler of CMG, the company that licenses the estates of many past celebrities, including – until recently – Marilyn Monroe, confirmed that he had been approached by Lucas.

MM will now be represented by Authentic Brands Group. ‘I had Marilyn Monroe locked up before he told the world he’d like to do a Marilyn Monroe movie,’ chairman Jamie Salter boasted last week, adding, ‘I’ll make him a better deal then he’d get with Angelina Jolie.’

Salter predicts that the first full-length film featuring a dead celebrity could be released within just two years. He insists that he will protect Monroe’s legacy: ‘When she’s on the set, we’ll manage her. She’s not taking off her clothes, I can tell you that!’

What concerns me most about this development is the distinct possibility that Marilyn’s image will be used in ways that she may not have approved had she still been alive. ‘These celebrities don’t talk back,’ Salter told reporters last week. ‘They don’t go out on the town late. They are ready to film every day.’

In 1962, shortly before her death, Marilyn said, ‘An actor is not a machine, no matter how much they want to say you are…everybody is always tugging at you. They’d all like sort of a chunk of you.’ Her words seem as relevant today as they did nearly fifty years ago.

Anna Strasberg Sells MM License

“In light of my caring for the preservation of Marilyn Monroe’s image over the years, and my personal and professional commitments to my husband, Lee Strasberg’s, work, teaching, lecturing, and directing The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institutes, and to my family, which now includes my grandchildren, I am pleased to let you know that I have entered into a partnership with Jamie Salter and ABG, who impressed me with their bold, imaginative ideas. I will remain involved, and I enthusiastically look forward to their innovative ideas and continuing to carry out with integrity Marilyn’s great and timeless legacy.”

Anna Strasberg

“Why does Lindsay Lohan aspire to be Marilyn Monroe? Why does Lady Gaga aspire to be Marilyn Monroe? The reason is that she is an iconic personality, she has great style, she is just simply elegant. She stands for glamour, and sex appeal, and – remember this – she proves that size doesn’t matter. She is voluptuous, a real woman. The younger generation will fall in love with her the way we fell in love.”

Jamie Salter

I can only hope that Mr Salter will respect Marilyn’s memory, and not just the brand. Certainly I hope that some of his more bizarre ideas – such as a reality TV show looking for the ‘next MM’ – will be reconsidered, as surely he must appreciate that Ms Monroe was irreplaceable.

More details at The Independent