For four decades, this licensing agency has managed, protected, and marketed the valuable intellectual property rights of celebrity personalities. James Dean once said, “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.” Fifty-five years after his death, the celebrity of James Dean lives on with the same strength he had in life.
Part of that ability comes from actions taken behind the scenes to ensure the James Dean name carried the same merit it has from the start. In the business of managing, protecting, and marketing the valuable intellectual property right of celebrities, CMG Worldwide has spent the last 40 years ensuring that as generations discover the power behind Dean and other famous celebrities, both living and deceased, the cult of personality is not compromised.
“The most valuable asset to celebrities is the goodwill associated with their name and with them,” said Mark Roesler, chairman, founder, and CEO of CMG Worldwide. “That goodwill is an intangible asset, and it’s important to protect and manage it—not only right now, but also in the future.”
CMG Worldwide’s sports portfolio of clients includes legends such as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Lou Gehrig; retired greats like Jim Palmer, Carl Erskin, and White Ford; and current professional athletes. Its entertainment portfolio includes the families of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, and Bettie Page and current celebrities such as Pamela Anderson. In addition, the company represents musicians such as Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.
But don’t let its portfolio confuse you. Although CMG Worldwide works with celebrities, Roesler said the concept behind the company’s services is similar to protecting any other brand. “If you’re Gucci or Louis Vuitton, the way your brand is perceived, the way you protect your brand, the way you market it, and the way you position it in the marketplace is very important,” he said. “It’s the same idea for our clients.”
Now in its fourth decade, CMG Worldwide continues to differentiate itself in the licensing and marketing industry by working exclusively with celebrity personalities. To protect the rights of its clientele, the company developed a legal division to serve as a foundation for its other departments.
“We’re often involved in litigation to protect these valuable rights, and that ability distinguishes us from other people,” said Roesler. “Over the decades, we’ve been involved in significant cases that resulted in landmark decisions for different famous personalities. That’s always been a very important component of what we do.”
CMG Worldwide was a part of litigation involving Major League Baseball, which eventually granted the right for retired players to be shown in their team uniforms while endorsing a product or service. The company also went to bat for the family of James Dean when Warner Bros. attempted to claim ownership of the star’s name because he was under contract at the time of his passing.
“Whether it’s Dale Earnheardt, Michael Jackson, or any other celebrity that passes away prematurely, all of a sudden you’re faced with a whole new frontier: immortality,” Roesler said. “How do you address those issues? We have to look at future generations and address issues such as what we need to do to get the appropriate amount of protection for our clients, and we have to do these things quickly.”
CMG Worldwide also deals with legal issues pertaining to estate taxes, which Roesler said require the type of long-term experience his employees have. “There isn’t room for someone to learn as they go,” he said. “We encounter a number of issues every day, and we’re ready to handle them.”
Web of power
CMG Worldwide looks after the intellectual property rights of a variety of celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Ivana Trump, Elvira, and Bette Davis. And although Ms. Davis isn’t here to see it, her personality has evolved along with the times.
“The online presence of our various personalities is very important,” said Roesler. “The fact that they’re famous automatically fuels people with a need to have as much information as possible. We look at their official website as the vehicle through which we communicate to the public.”
Social outlets such as MySpace and Facebook provide alternative venues for fans to post information about their favorite personalities. It also gives CMG Worldwide a chance to share any new information that may have surfaced.
The company also uses the web to offer a 24/7 service to licensees interested in working with a particular brand. On each of its client’s websites, CMG Worldwide has step-by-step instructions for licensees to learn the requirements and guidelines before proceeding.
With more than 4,000 licensees working with it at any time, it appears CMG Worldwide has the right idea.
“When you consider the business we’re in with most of our clients, we need to ensure people can access these websites at any time,” Roesler said. “It’s as important to be as user friendly as we can.”
Down the road
When looking ahead, Roesler expects CMG Worldwide’s client list to continue to grow. He also expects the company’s work with copyrights to become a larger part of its business. “There are a number of collections we’re working with on the copyright front,” he said.
But overall, CMG Worldwide will keep its sites on managing valuable intellectual property rights, such as with famous landmarks like the state of New York’s program, “I Love New York.” “It isn’t like a grocery store where we’re selling something you can pick up and feel,” he said.
“Whether it’s recordings, speeches, artwork, photographs, or rights of publicity, we’re here to make sure celebrities maintain the value of their intangible assets and the ability to generate revenue.”