Disney Studios hires outsider M.T. Carney to head marketing

Walt Disney Studios chief Rich Ross said he intended to look beyond the usual suspects to find a new head of marketing for the Burbank movie studio.

He was good to his word.

On Wednesday, Disney confirmed that it had hired M.T. Carney, a fast-rising New York-based brand strategist who has no background in movie marketing but lots of new-media credentials, to lead the studio’s worldwide marketing efforts.

Carney, a co-founder of communications planning firm Naked Communications, helped create global strategies for some of the world’s biggest brands, among them Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Google, Microsoft and Nokia. Before helping launch Naked’s New York office in 2006, Carney was worldwide planning director at Ogilvy & Mather, overseeing such accounts as American Express.

The question is whether she can apply lessons learned from helping promote sugary soft drinks and cellphones to selling celluloid. Unlike a can of Coke, each movie is unique.

Ross and Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger have made it clear that Disney, in its latest incarnation, is a steward for powerful Hollywood brands Disney, Marvel Entertainment and Pixar Animation Studios, whose movies can be exploited beyond the cinema into television shows, theme park attractions, video games, online virtual worlds and clothing lines.

Carney, a native of Scotland, prides herself on bringing a global view to brand management and possessing a deftness for harnessing new technologies such as social networks to promote products. Carney in fact chronicled her job interview process with Disney in her Twitter feed, beginning with her March 16 flight to Los Angeles and her observations on L.A. culture and Hollywood’s excesses.

“In L.A., you are no one if you don’t have 2 assistants minimum,” she wrote. “If you were God and also Mars and liked art, this is what your office would be like, except yours would probably be smaller.”

Hollywood has had very mixed results recruiting outsiders with no movie marketing experience or close relationships with influential directors and producers, who have strong input about how their movies are promoted and are steeped in time-honored traditions.

Ross and Iger have been shaking up the status quo, believing the “best ideas don’t always come from the obvious place,” according to an executive at the Burbank studio who was not authorized to talk on the record.

In an e-mail to his staff, Ross said, “the film business is changing before our very eyes, and we must all rise to the occasion to meet our consumers’ changing needs.”

After interviewing a series of rival studio and non-Hollywood candidates, Ross selected a candidate who is of like mind with regard to curbing marketing costs. A profile of Carney in the trade publication Advertising Age noted that Naked was known for “the notion that communications need not involve an ad buy.”

Disney declined to make Carney available for an interview.