DreamWorks Animation -- the Glendale studio that created the "Shrek" "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar" movies -- on Sunday named former J.C. Penney President Michael Francis to the newly created position of chief global brand officer.
Calling it one of his most important executive appointments, DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said in an interview that Francis will play a pivotal role in helping the studio find new ways to build its branded characters around the world and across multiple outlets, including television, video games, books and theme parks.
Francis, a widely recognized branding expert who spent nearly three decades at Target Corp., will be responsible for DreamWorks Animation's worldwide branding initiatives as well as licensing and consumer products efforts.
"He is in the last 20 years without question one of the most innovative, successful executives in the world of branding, franchise building and product development," Katzenberg said. "I consider Michael one of the most important strategic hires we've made at DreamWorks."
The appointment comes at a time when DreamWorks is seeking to diversify its business to be less reliant on animated movies and develop a new stream of licensing revenues. Although its films have generally fared well at the box office -- its most recent release, "Rise of the Guardians," was a rare misfire and is expected by analysts to lose money -- the company's stock has fallen more than 40% in the last two years.
In July, DreamWorks acquired New York-based Classic Media, which owns the rights to "Casper the Friendly Ghost," "Lassie" "The Lone Ranger" and other iconic characters, for $155 million. The new crop of film and TV characters from that library could help the studio launch its first branded television channel.
"With the acquisition of Classic Media brands, DreamWorks is ripe for even greater exposure to family audiences globally," Francis said. "I believe there is an opportunity to raise their profile further."
DreamWorks also aims to grow its business in China, where it is building an animation studio in Shanghai that could eventually employ more than 2,000 people.
"We're working very hard to expand beyond the core movie business," Katzenberg said. Francis "will be engaged in every aspect of what we do in terms of helping us build our brands and franchises and how to get the greatest value out of them."
Francis will begin at DreamWorks immediately on a part-time basis and will assume his new role full-time in February. In Francis' career in branding and marketing, he has served as chief executive and founder of Farview Associates, a global brand agency, president of Penney and more than 26 years with Target, where he was an executive vice president and chief marketing officer.