PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Drew Hodges

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Drew Hodges SpotCo, the New York City ad agency, shook up the Broadway ad business a little more than a decade ago with contemporary, eye-catching campaigns for shows like Chicago and Rent.
Drew Hodges
Drew Hodges

Last week, it made the industry sit up and take notice again by forming an international alliance with the century-plus-old, powerhouse London ad company Dewynters. As part of the process, SpotCo will be acquired by the First Artist Corporation PLC, a British company which owns Dewynters. The merger won't be a union of strangers. SpotCo CEO Drew Hodges and Anthony Pye-Jeary, managing director of Dewynters, have known each other for almost as long as SpotCo has been in business, collaborating on such shows as the many-lived Chicago. Hodges took time before a flight to London to meet the rest of the Dewynters staff to talk to Playbill.com about what is now arguably the most powerful theatre ad enterprise in the world.

Playbill.com: How long had SpotCo and Dewynters been talking about an alliance?
Drew Hodges: We had been talking about it for about nine months.

Playbill.com: Who suggested the idea first?
DH: Anthony Pye-Jeary, who is the CEO of Dewynters.

Playbill.com: Did you know the people at Dewynters?
DH: Yes, I know them very well, actually, because we've worked on Chicago for about 11 years now, and we've worked with Dewynters ten of those years because Chicago went to London pretty quickly. It really formed the base of the relationship.

Playbill.com: When they proposed the idea, what was their argument as to why it was a good idea.
DH: Anthony said to me that he thought we both brought something strong [to the partnership]. They brought a kind of venerableness and we brought a kind of youth, I guess. The other thing that came up was that both their shows and my shows are looking for a global idea. Chicago at one point had 28 companies out. Shows are quickly becoming something that can happen in many places. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is going to go from Australia to Germany to London to Canada to U.S. Dirty Dancing is going to do something like that. Dewynters has a strong internet division. We have a strong internet division. The internet really allows you to have an international presence for a show. The most obvious reason is that you can work a year making mistakes, finding your audience. And producers want that knowledge to live with the show. It's always been a bit of a challenge to figure out what rules that you think you know about a show stay exactly the same when you go to another country, and what need to adapt because the market is different. So, doing that together made sense to me. Also, Dewynters has one of the strongest merchandising divisions here in the U.S., and I've always wanted a way of participating in that because it's fun. That's another asset that this thing is going to bring to us. Playbill.com: Does this mean that in the future, if you have a big show that has the potential to play in a lot of different countries, SpotCo and Dewynters will work on the marketing together.
DH: It could. The partnership is brand new. First of all, the relationship will work however a producer wants it to work. If a producer wants to work with me but not Dewynters, or work with Dewynters and not with me, that's fine. And currently, we both have clients [we share]. We are working on Priscilla right now and it is working that way, where there's a conversation between the two of us about what we think America will need versus Canada, and what they think London will need. What is the look that is going to speak to all of them? I'm not aware of anybody doing it that way before. The producer of Priscilla said from the beginning, "I really want to think about how this is going to work both in London and San Francisco, and possibly on Broadway."

Playbill.com: What role will First Artist Corporation play? Do they hang back and let you do what you do, or are they actively involved?
DH: First Artist has owned Dewynters for several years. I think they're just happy to form the friendship between the two of us. They're not advertising people. I think "hanging back" is a good description.

Playbill.com: Is there going to be any change in the way you do business, or does SpotCo remain fairly autonomous?
DH: There isn't going to be any change, except for we both want to figure out if there's anything that the other knows that we don't know. It's a weird business in that you're never really able to say, "Hey, how do you do this?" I know we have clients who say, "I like the way Dewynters does this in London for us." I know that the same thing happens to them. We have much more of a writers' culture here than they do in London. We both have really strong art departments, so that's very similar. We're literally just starting that process.

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