Ron Howard and Brian Grazer take on advertising

  @FortuneMagazine February 26, 2013: 7:48 AM ET
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Ron Howard (left) and Brian Grazer in Grazer's office

(Fortune)

You never know what you're going to get from the creative collaborations of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Their complimentary skills -- Howard is the cool, methodical half of the duo, Grazer the hyperactive ideas guy -- have led to an eclectic string of hits from Splash to Apollo 13 to 8 Mile to television's 24 and Arrested Development.

Just as they are prepping another big movie -- Rush, about Formula 1 racing -- for release next fall, Grazer and Howard are hankering to extend their creative force in another direction: They want to set up a marketing consultancy and digital studio to help companies market their brands.

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For Howard, 58, this ambition is a long time coming. "Early on in my life, my wife Cheryl said, 'OK, I married an actor who wanted to be a director, and then this director wanted to be a mogul." As he directed more than 20 films, including the Da Vinci Code and A Beautiful Mind, he got offers to do music videos and TV commercials. But Cheryl told him: "If you have time to do that, use your time to hang out with me and the kids."

Now, the timing is right because Howard is feeling new freedom. "The kids are grown," says the father of four children, ages 25 to 31. (TV's former Richie Cunningham also has three grandkids.) Meanwhile, Howard says, "Everyone is trying to figure out what advertising is." He likes that marketers are using not only the Internet but also "long form, short form, live events. They're wide open."

Yet advertising will always be about storytelling -- a particular expertise of Howard's. He admits he loves the research phase of making a movie such as Apollo 13, and he imagines it would be fun to research brands too. "Going to a factory and learning what make Coca-Cola (KO, Fortune 500) unique and remarkable," he says, "is a little like going to NASA and finding out how to go to the moon."

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In case you're wondering, this Hollywood duo is not scheming to shake up a moribund ad industry -- as Creative Artists Agency famously did 20 years ago when it stole the Coke account from giant McCann Erickson (IPG, Fortune 500). (CAA, in fact, created Coke's "Always" campaign with those iconic polar bears.) Asked if today's ad business could use such a shot of creativity, Grazer, 61, replies, "Oh my God, I so don't think that. I see the coolest shit in the ad industry."

Grazer and Howard haven't signed any clients yet, but they are on the hunt. And they are taking notes on the art of brand-building from Jay-Z, the hip-hop mogul who is starring in their upcoming biopic, Made in America. Imagining their new direction, Howard says, "We could bring in an Academy Award-winning screenwriter to work on a brand." Hollywood, meet Madison Avenue.

--Our Face to Face series examines successful business partnerships that offer lessons on collaboration and compromise.

A shorter version of this story appeared in the January 14, 2013 issue of Fortune. To top of page



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