Karen Sortito dies at 49; marketing exec negotiated product tie-ins to Bond movies

Karen Sortito, a movie-marketing executive best known for groundbreaking product tie-ins to James Bond films in the 1990s, has died. She was 49.

Sortito died Monday of cancer at her New York City home, said her friend Terry Curtin, co-president of Cimarron Entertainment.

“She was a true pioneer in the world of branding,” Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said in a statement. Sortito had worked for him at 20th Century Fox and Revolution Studios.

As head of worldwide promotions for MGM/UA, Sortito blended the Bond character into television ads and made a conspicuous BMW product placement in the 1995 film “GoldenEye” when Pierce Brosnan debuted as Bond — and drove a brand new BMW Z3.


It marked the first time a car manufacturer had a full-fledged promotional tie-in with a theatrical feature, the Hollywood Reporter said in 1998.

Brosnan’s second go-round as Agent 007 in 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” was largely marketed through the film’s promotional partners, which included BMW and others.

One Visa ad showed Brosnan as Bond struggling to write a check without the proper ID. Another commercial, for Heineken, featured several regular Joes all named James Bond.

“It’s seamless,” Sortito said in 2003 in Advertising Age of the cross-promotional efforts she called “clutter busters.”

Promotion-industry executives applauded the TV ads as sophisticated and noted that the spots made it appear that the studio had spent extravagantly on marketing. Other executives criticized the film’s promotions as too commercial, the Hollywood Reporter said in 1998.

Brandweek magazine named Sortito entertainment marketer of the year in 1998.

Born Sept. 8, 1961, in New Haven, Conn., Sortito was the youngest of three sisters.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism in the early 1980s from what is now Southern Connecticut University, she joined MTV and “helped define the brand during its formative years,” Curtin said.


Sortito also held executive marketing positions at Paramount Pictures, Morgan Creek Productions and Spyglass Entertainment.

In 1989, she moved to Los Angeles from New York City but returned east three years ago and eventually joined NYC & Co., the city’s marketing agency.

“She was somehow able to be both the consummate professional and the most outrageous person in the room at the same time,” Sherak said.

Her outsize sense of humor was on display during chemotherapy treatments she received at the hospital while wearing a robe purchased for the occasion. She called the silk wrap her “chemo-no.”


She is survived by her mother, Phyllis Sortito, and sisters, Mary Sortito and Diane Ritucci.

A memorial in Los Angeles is being planned.