NEW YORK, N.Y. (Jan. 3, 2011) – Two veteran New York marketing executives are joining forces to open a new full-service advertising and marketing firm, Bonfire Agency, LLC, specializing in helping brands target highly influential but difficult to engage pop culture consumers. This demo, labelled by some as geek or comic culture, is comprised of incredibly passionate and highly influential fans of everything from comic books, video games and action films to underground music, sci-fi inspired television and cutting edge adult comedy.
We’re calling them “firestarters,” said Steve Rotterdam, former Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for TimeWarner’s DC Comics and co-founder of Bonfire Agency. “These are hyper-networked consumers that film studios strive to connect with through events like the San Diego Comic-Con because their endorsement of a project, especially in its early stages, can generate serious heat that can propel a film to box office success or greenlight a second season for a TV series on the bubble.”
“They’re evangelists for everything ‘awesome,’” said co-founder Ed Catto, former Senior Vice President at Reed Exhibitions and a specialist in uniting brands with pop culture icons. “They’re the first in line and the first to pass judgment as to whether something is authentic or not – and because of their intense, passionate engagement, they’ll go to incredible extremes to let others know exactly what they think.”
“These are the guys that, in 2009, made ‘Paranormal Activity” a surprise hit and sank ‘Brüno,” added Rotterdam.
Industry figures indicate that this core group spends $400 annually on comics, graphic novels, toys and other pop culture collectibles. “But the degree to which they influence movies, television, gaming, music, fashion, even food, is immeasurable,” noted Rotterdam.
Citing the lack of success many brands and companies have had in the past trying to engage with this critical demographic – often resulting in negative reaction from the very consumers they were seeking to connect with – Catto stated “Bonfire Agency will provide strategic and executional marketing services, helping brands and companies engage with this audience in relevant ways and in an authentic voice. Not only does Bonfire Agency intimately understand this demographic, but we also have a track record of success beyond its borders, having developed marketing strategies and initiatives for classic brands ranging from Oreo to Miller Lite.”
Named for the burning passion shared by members of this demo, Bonfire Agency is also developing an integrated ad network among independent comics publishers, a network of comic shops and pop culture specialty stores in key markets that will participate in brand sponsored promotions and events, and a core consumer research panel to serve the interests of brands, publishers, organizers and advocates.
Rotterdam and Catto, fellow alumni of Cornell University, have crossed paths before, most recently at Eastwest Marketing Group, where Rotterdam was Chief Creative Officer and Catto was VP-Account Director. Eastwest has taken an equity stake in the new agency, furnishing offices and administrative support, as well as a deep bench of award-winning creative, account, production, web development and social media specialists.
Rotterdam is known as a creative brand strategist. During his tenure at DC Comics, Rotterdam led the development and execution of marketing strategies for one of the crown jewels of pop culture, helping to implement the company’s first digital communications strategy, securing DC’s position as the number one publisher of graphic novels and overhauling DC’s advertising sales and custom solutions department. Prior to his partnership in Eastwest, he founded and led Griffin Bacal Promotions, where he created the first iteration of Hasbro’s Family Game Night, an initiative that continues to this day to bring families together. Early in his career, he established the West Coast office and entertainment marketing practice for The Guild Group and served as vice president and creative director at the promotionl division of Saatchi & Saatchi. He resides in New York City with his wife and two children. His toy and comic book collection resides in a storage facility in New Jersey.
Catto calls himself a self-styled “retropreneur” and is always on the hunt to resurrect once forgotten brands and introduce them to contemporary audiences. Most recently, Catto and a partner engineered the rebirth of the first superhero action figure, Caption Action, via comics, collectibles and a national toy line launching in the fall of 2011 at major retailers including Toys R Us. At Reed Exhibition, Catto was also instrumental in developing and marketing the New York Comic Con. In addition to Eastwest, Catto has worked at advertising and promotion firms such as Ogilvy’s 141 Worldwide, CSC Weston Group and Do Good Marketing, as well as in brand management at classic companies such as Unilever and Nabisco. He also served as a vice president of marketing at Bigstar Entertainment. Catto resides in Ridgewood, N.J. with his wife and four children.
The new agency will launch with several clients, including Bonomo Turkish Taffy, a classic candy brand being resurrected and relaunched after 25 years; the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Reed Exhibition’s ReedPop group; and several projects for Diamond Comic Distributors. Bonfire will work with clients in the automotive, snack, beverage, HBA, fashion, entertainment and technology sectors.
Bonfire Agency is located at 401 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor, New York, N.Y., 10016 in the offices of Eastwest Marketing Group, and, through its alignment with Eastwest, will also have offices in Chicago and Los Angeles. For more information, call 917.595.4106 or visit www.BonfireAgency.com.
Marketing Mastermind • Senior Strategist • Creative Catalyst • Brand Advocate
A graduate of Cornell University, Steve began his career with stints in magazine publishing and toy and game development, two fields for which his studies to be a veterinarian proved of no use whatsoever.
Today, Steve is a highly accomplished, well-regarded brand strategist with 30 years of experience in creative leadership and expertise in concept development, strategic planning and program implementation. As Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for DC Comics, Steve was struck by the degree to which most national brands “get it wrong” when attempting to relate to and connect with incredibly passionate, highly influential entertainment and pop culture enthusiasts. This perspective served as the spark that ignited the formation of Bonfire Agency.
At DC, Steve led the development and execution of marketing strategies for one of the crown jewels of popular culture. Shortly after joining the executive ranks of this division of Warner Bros. Entertainment in the fall of 2007, Steve set in motion the company’s first digital communications strategy, helped leverage the might of distribution partner Random House to secure DC’s position as #1 publisher of graphic novels, crafted the industry-lauded and often imitated “After Watchmen, What’s Next?” campaign, and completely overhauled DC’s advertising sales and custom solutions departments to compete more effectively and drive increased revenues through what continues to be one of the most challenging periods in the history of modern media.
For the eight years prior to joining DC, Steve was Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Eastwest Marketing Group, where his affinity for popular culture, youth and entertainment fueled the agency’s actionable insights into consumer trends and relevant brand alliances. Steve was also instrumental in Eastwest’s evolution from design shop to full service integrated advertising and promotional marketing firm, leading to greater recognition of the agency within the broader marketing community, as exemplified by the winning of five Entertainment Marketing Awards and a PRO Award in the space of three years. It was at Eastwest that Steve first teamed with Bonfire partner Ed Catto, an accomplished brand marketer with similar vested interests in comics and comic culture. Their lunchtime conversations and debates were known to often frighten their colleagues.
Prior to joining Eastwest, Steve spent two years as VP, Group Creative Director at The Guild Group, establishing that agency’s West Coast office and entertainment marketing practice.
In 1992, Steve founded GB!/The Chelsea Group, a promotional marketing division of Griffin Bacal/DDB Worldwide with an expertise in youth and families. During his 5-year tenure as Senior Vice-President and Creative Director, he put his talents as creative conceptualist, copywriter and producer to work for Nestlé, Stride Rite, Celestial Seasonings, Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, Disney Publishing, Hasbro, Showtime, Sharp, Topps and Warner Bros., among others. His greatest accomplishment there, he feels, was the creation of Family Game Night, an initiative of Milton Bradley and Parker Bros. (now Hasbro Games) that continues to this day, bringing families closer together on a regular basis to enjoy a game, but more importantly, to enjoy each other. The concept also serves as the basis of a live action game show that recently debuted as part of the launch of The Hub cable network.
Earlier in his career, he served as VP, Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi’s Howard Marlboro Group, developing creative promotions for brands including Miller Brewing, Hardee’s, Kellogg’s, Beefeater and Cutty Sark. He also spent five years in various creative capacities at CBS, starting as a copywriter with the network’s toy division and ending as Manager of Editorial Services for their CBS Software publishing venture. In between, he managed to promote a few albums and artists for CBS Records.
After graduating from Cornell, Steve began his career in marketing and promotion at Games Magazine, serving as assistant to the Promotion Director and as the magazine’s specialist in college marketing.
Steve is a lifelong New Yorker and lives in Manhattan with his wife, Diana, a clinical psychologist, their daughters, Natasha and Aleksandra, their cat, Rajah, and well over 2,000 movies. His toy and comic book collection resides a storage facility in New Jersey.
Retropreneur • Senior Strategist • Brand Builder • Marketing Innovator
Ed loves building brands and helping them find their true potential. With 20+ years total spanning the agency/consulting side, solid, classic CPG grounding and an entrepreneurial stint, Ed possesses a unique, proven blend of marketing, strategy, and business leadership skills. Throughout his career, Ed has always steered his activities to the “fun stuff” – including kids marketing and entertainment, in both the B2C and B2B arenas.
Part of being a brand builder is finding new life for old brands. As a self-styled “retropreneur”, Ed brings back old toy and entertainment brands for today’s audiences. Most recently, Ed’s shepherded the rebirth of Captain Action, the original super-hero action figure in comics, collectibles and even a national toy line launching in fall of 2011 at major retailers such as Toys R Us.
As a change leader at Reed Elsevier’s Expo Division, Ed introduced strategic marketing to a traditionally sales-focused organization. Leveraging his passion for “conversational” marketing and entertainment, Ed was especially focused on entertainment marketing for the New York Comic Con (focusing on comics, movies and genre) and helped launched the New York Anime Festival. As part of this assignment, Ed developed, managed and spearheaded the re-structuring of the Marketing Department as a matrixed organization.
At advertising/promotion firms Ogilvy’s 141 Worldwide, EastWest Creative, and CSC Weston Group, Ed led teams in developing strategies and creative programming for a myriad of clients, including Kraft/Nabisco, Warner Bros. Home Video and Time Warner’s DC Comics. Ed was instrumental in business development planning, executing and closing. Over the past two years, Ed has built brands for both not-for-profits and mid-size organizations through Do Good Marketing.
In an entrepreneurial role, VP Marketing at Bigstar Entertainment, Ed focused the fledgling dot.com company by developing creative marketing campaigns (featured in the NYTimes and WSJ). Bigstar, collaborating with Warner Bros, Universal and Sony, was featured as one of the best new startups of 1999. Today, Ed can’t look at a Netflix envelope without gritting his teeth and growling.
He developed his foundation of classical marketing in product management at Nabisco (Oreo, Chips Ahoy!) and Lever Brothers (Snuggle, Lever 2000). In addition to new product introductions, developing traditional advertising and collaborating with the sales teams, Ed managed several promotional programs with partners such as Disney, Marvel Comics and Fox Entertainment.
Ed was graduated by Cornell University with a BA in Economics, and is active in alumni affairs. As President of Pi Kappa Alpha’s Alumni Corporation, Ed is leading a complete overhaul of the 100 year-old fraternity organization. He earned his MBA from the Kenan Flagler School at the University of North Carolina, and has served as chair of the school’s New York chapter.
Ed and his wife Kathe live in Ridgewood, NJ with their 4 children. He is probably too actively involved with community affairs, including the Jamboree Educational Scholarship Foundation and the Dads’ Night Fundraising Group. Ed continues to work very hard to whittle down the pile books on his nightstand.
Martha Donato is a professional event planner who has been producing large scale events for over fourteen years. Donato is the founder of MAD Event Management L.L.C., which is a full service event management company located in the tri-state area. MAD operates Long Beach Comic Con and Long Beach Comic Expo, two pop culture events in the Southern California marketplace. Her past experience has included the development and production of annual large-scale consumer conventions, including those in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas as the Sr. Vice President of Wizard Conventions, Inc., a New York based entertainment and convention Production Company. In her role as Group Director at IQPC, a world-wide conference production company, she produced business conferences around the country.
Donato is a graduate of Marist College and is the proud parent of three daughters. She also performs volunteer work for charitable events in the Warwick Valley.
NOTE: High res jpegs available of Bonfire Agency principals. Photo credit: Seth Litroff. Location of photo shoot: Midtown Comics in Times Square, 200 W. 40th St., New York, NY; 212.302.8192.