Hollywood’s Leading Lady

Guy Laurence is swapping his role as James Bond’s emissary to work for Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis – and spearhead Planet Hollywood’s European expansion. Roger Baird finds out why.

No one should feel guilty about being jealous of Guy Laurence. He is very fair game.

Last week, he announced that at the end of the year he will leave the US film studio MGM/UA, where he has spent two years co-ordinating 50m worth of marketing deals for the latest James Bond movie everywhere on the planet except the US. He is giving up his role as MGM’s vice-president of international distribution and marketing to join restaurant chain Planet Hollywood with the equally long-winded title – executive vice-president of marketing for Europe.

A move some may see as bizarre – swapping Hollywood for a burger joint. The only obvious connection being the restaurant’s famous shareholders Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis. But the 35-year-old, originally from Manchester, although he now has an accent that sounds more mid-Atlantic then West Lancashire, has had an apprenticeship that took in GrandMet and a brewer.

Before leaving MGM, Laurence will oversee the opening of the 18th Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, released at Christmas. That means co-ordinating the marketing plans of almost 30 companies, including BMW, watchmaker Omega, Bollinger champagne and Smirnoff vodka, with national, regional, and global tie-ins to the film. Apart from a lot of travelling – he flew to Singapore the day after this interview – Laurence needs the planning skills of a general.

He is also the oldest-looking wunderkind alive. The film is still very much at the front of his mind.

“I saw the rough cut of the Bond film last night,” he says. “The sound has not been added yet but it looks good. We’ve got a real winner on our hands and that gives everyone connected with it a chance to get enthused about the project all over again.”

To illustrate his commitment, his wristwatch has a Bond motif on the face and a digital display at the bottom counting down the number of days until the film is released. When the clock runs out, at the end of the year, Laurence will take up his new role at Planet Hollywood.

Laurence says that he was approached by the chain’s founder Robert Earl several months ago to lead the company’s European expansion. It plans to open eight new restaurants across the continent before the end of the year, bringing the number of outlets in Europe to 26. And there are further plans taking shape in the US to bring other new ventures into Europe next year.

Planet Hollywood has formed a partnership with US cinema group AMC Entertainment to build restaurants in new cinema complexes both in and outside the US. The chain has also struck a deal with Dreyer Grand Ice Cream to produce a new range, called Cool Planet Ice Cream, which will initially be sold only through Planet Hollywood restaurants. It also has plans for a sports themed restaurant, called the All Star Cafe, and a music-themed restaurant.

A number of things tempted him away. “There was a chance to get in on the ground floor of a brand that is growing and have a real effect on the direction that it takes. It’s not often you get a chance to do that. I also liked the idea of working with Robert Earl. The work he has done with the Hard Rock Café and now Planet Hollywood is phenomenal.

“And finally Planet Hollywood gives me the chance to do something that I have lost a little in the past few years, and that is to get close to my public. It’s vital to talk to people to find out what they want and expect from the services you provide. I travel around doing the

Bond films but I don’t get to talk to members of the public as often as I like.”

Quite how he is going to “get closer to his public” remains unclear. But his current boss Larry Gleason, the US-based MGM president of worldwide theatrical distribution, says Laurence wants to get back to deal-making, which is what he made his name in when he was at United Cinemas International (UCI).

“Most of the Bond deals are signed in America,” says Gleason. “Guy’s role was to shepherd them through in all the territories they operated in. He has great inter personal skills and he needs them dealing with so many people. He is equally at home having dinner with Pierce Brosnan and Richard Gere or talking to the usher at his local UCI.”

Colleagues agree that Laurence was eager to begin cutting deals rather than seeing through other people’s. The Planet Hollywood position gives him that opportunity.

Apart from managing the European growth of the restaurant chain, in its various forms, Laurence claims there are numerous brands queuing up to deal. No one in the European organisation has experience of this, so Laurence is charged with building this business.

“What I do is high impact brand marketing,” he explains. “You are never going to see me market ing toothpaste. I like fun brands. And what I have with Planet Hollywood is a family-based entertainment brand. This is not a burger restaurant.”

In 1992, Laurence was hired by UCI as marketing director, with a brief to develop the chain as a UK brand. One of the first people he hired was Paul Biggins. When

Laurence left UCI for MGM is 1995, Biggins took over as head of marketing.

Biggins says much of the work Laurence did was new to the cinema industry at the time. He signed discount deals with Virgin Atlantic and HMV. But perhaps the best thing he did was to introduce children’s birthday parties in UCI, setting up a comic, kids meals deals and helping children overcome the intimidation his research showed they felt in cinemas.

“He is ceaselessly enthusiastic, which can be a pain in the arse sometimes,” says Biggins. “He pays a great deal of attention to detail. Guy’s first marketing budget was only 300 but he treats every budget in the same light. He keeps his purse strings tight.”

Gleason, who has known Laurence for nine years, adds: “He can be stubborn. Guy found a warehouse near the South Bank to hold the Bond premiere party. Most people thought it was a great idea, but the producers didn’t. Guy argued with them for two weeks before finally losing that battle. The party will now be held at a club in Bedford Square.”

Laurence has worked in a variety of marketing roles for dry cleaners Master Services Group, through to UCI, the Burtonwood Brewery and GrandMet.

Significantly, Gleason adds that he does not think the movies are out of Laurence’s system. At one point Laurence thought about moving to the US before he married his wife and became a father of two. Gleason says: “I think he would still like to work in a studio here [the US]. And I believe he is one of the few Europeans who could come here at a senior level.”

Laurence’s Planet Hollywood move leaves him in a position to cut deals again. But you can bet that he will keep an eye on the real Hollywood.

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