Sony Gets Streetwise for Summer Films

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Sony Pictures is promoting three new films this summer through Streetwise, a marketing agency that uses its network of teenagers and young adults to help carry out and critique online and offline campaigns.

Streetwise is offering early viewings of the movies to network members, and some will get free promotional materials to spread offline nationwide. The films are Columbia Pictures' "Monster House" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and Revolution's "Little Man." The agency also expects to promote Columbia Pictures' "Grudge 2."

"It could be argued that we were doing social networking before the phrase was coined," said Clarke De Pastino, vice president of entertainment and lifestyle at Streetwise, Los Angeles. "Streetwise started as a place where you go to find out, 'What's the hot new record?' and turned into an empowerment to tell my friends about the hot new record."

David "Beno" Benveniste founded Streetwise eight years ago to promote his band, System of a Down. Today, Streetwise has about 40 employees and a network of 70,000-plus members. It exposes the members to new and upcoming film, television shows, music and products.

Leveraging Social Networks

To maintain credibility among members, Streetwise has a "Use it or lose it" policy that lets members vote on whether they will work with a particular client. Any company that achieves less than a 70 percent approval rating from the network does not get used.

Social networking Web sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook have fostered virtual communities and grown in popularity since the first site of this kind, Classmates.com, was released in 1995.

MySpace, Beverly Hills, CA, has 75 million members. The Fox-owned site June 12 debuted MySpace Jobs, a search feature to help members access 5 million listings aggregated by the Simply Hired search engine.

"Streetwise and the people here are very familiar with online communities and managing and navigating them," said Ryan Okum, company vice president of business development. "We leverage with other social networking groups like MySpace to continue to spread the message of a particular campaign."

Mr. De Pastino agreed.

"We don't look at other social networking groups as competition," he said. "We look at them as ideal to the way the Internet works. What better way to spread news than to use these other groups and broaden who you speak to?"

The company began working with Sony in 2002. It also has worked with several other studios including MGM, DreamWorks SKG and Paramount.

Streetwise Street Smart

For each campaign Streetwise creates a national brand team or a group of members who elect to be involved and receive updates about a new film, TV show, album or brand.

"The campaign really starts online, driving traffic to their online offerings, pulling in the kids for insight into their promotional materials and finding out what would make them go see the film in theaters," Mr. De Pastino said.

From there, Streetwise determines what other promotional events and campaigns would interest network members.

"We take every campaign case by case," he said. "We try to at least see the film, read the script, try to determine what's the best approach for that piece."

The Sony campaigns also will have a retail component. Network members will place promotional materials, bumper stickers or posters in local hangouts and retail stores that normally lack mainstream media advertising.

"For us, success is really participation," Mr. De Pastino said. "We are doing a good job if they [members of the network] are giving us feedback and getting excited about the film."

Mr. Okum described the Streetwise philosophy as consumer-based.

"We are being honest and transparent about what we are doing," he said. "Young people are aware they are being marketed to. There is a B.S. factor; people don't trust advertising anymore. Companies are starting to listen to the power of word-of-mouth techniques."

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