Seven years ago, following successful runs heading marketing and communications for Spin Master (twice) and MEGA Brands, Harold Chizick made the decision to take his knowledge of marketing toy and entertainment brands and set up shop on his own.
On April 12, 2013, Chizick and his wife Jennifer opened ChizComm Ltd. as a full-service marketing and communications agency geared toward launching, marketing, and promoting toys, consumer products, and entertainment for kids. With one client, Tech4Kids, ChizComm began operating from a single office in Toronto. Following rapid expansion and the acquisition of Beacon Media nearly two years ago, ChizComm now operates offices with flags planted firmly in Toronto, New Jersey, and Los Angeles. Now, as of today, the company begins a new chapter, with ChizComm Ltd. and ChizComm Beacon Media becoming independently operating subsidiaries of Genius Brands International.
In a deal that culminated this past weekend following seven weeks of negotiations and planning, Genius Brands — the global brand management and multimedia licensing powerhouse behind the recently launched Kartoon Channel!, Rainbow Rangers, and Llama Llama — acquired North American marketing and media agency capabilities through ChizComm Ltd. and becomes the largest kids’ media buyer in the U.S. through ChizComm Beacon Media. The acquisition signals remarkable synergy for all parties as ChizComm currently represents more than 30 major toy companies along with several iconic brands.
“To go from toy company to agency to all of this is incredible,” Harold Chizick tells the Toy Book exclusively. “The pairing of our companies completes the ecosystem to reach the consumer in every way — it’s the ultimate machine.”
Speaking to the Toy Book, Genius Brands’ Chairman and CEO Andy Heyward says that the acquisition of ChizComm is the next step in the growth of Genius Brands in an era during which consumption of media is changing.
“I was aware of ChizComm through its acquisition of Beacon Media, which I was very familiar with from knowing [Beacon founder and former CEO] Shelly Hirsch,” says Heyward.
Over the past two years, ChizComm Beacon Media has moved into a position to consistently chart as the largest media buyer targeting kids ages 2-11, but it can offer clients a competitive advantage with access to audiences of all ages. The company’s purchasing power and media relationships span traditional and digital media, including ViacomCBS, The Walt Disney Co., WarnerMedia, YouTube, and numerous over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms.
“Harold is very much on top of it when it comes to how the consumption of media is changing,” says Heyward. “We will take guidance from him on that front and are very fortunate to be in a position in which we have a tight balance sheet and zero debt. This will allow us to help ChizComm with the capital they need to achieve all of their ambitions.”
During the same two-year timespan that ChizComm had been growing Beacon Media, Heyward was building out Genius Brands on multiple fronts with executive appointments and new hires to round out the company’s distribution, marketing, licensing, and merchandising capabilities. Additionally, the company was inking content deals with the likes of Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Shaquille O’Neal. This year, Genius Brands merged several of its existing OTT channels into one entity and launched its Kartoon Channel! as a digital network for kids ages 2-11, featuring more than 4,000 episodes of entertaining and educational content.
Under the leadership of Executive Chairman Margaret Loesch — former CEO of Fox Kids Networks Worldwide, where she launched Mighty Morphin Power Rangers — and Chief Creative Officer David Neuman — former president of Walt Disney Television — Kartoon Channel! rolled out across OTT and AVOD networks this summer, quickly rocketing into the Top 10 Free Apps for iOS.
The immediate success of Kartoon Channel! was followed by news that Genius Brands tapped famed Batman producer Michael Uslan to lead the development of Stan Lee Universe; the appointment of Jon Ollwerther as general manager and executive vice president of global business development for Kartoon Channel! and Kartoon Classroom!; and the hiring of former Hasbro exec Marc Rosenberg as its president of global brands and chief marketing officer.
Both Heyward and Chizick credit their mutual friend Rosenberg for sparking the flame for the new deal to get done.
“I read about Marc’s hiring on the Toy Book on a Tuesday, and on Thursday we were on the phone,” says Chizick. “He said, ‘I think we should buy you,’ and I told him that I didn’t know we were for sale! In discussing it, I felt immediate comfort in a shared vision between Genius Brands and ChizComm has to how we can tie together toys and entertainment and how to bring them to market.”
According to Heyward, his outlook on how to operate the businesses is tied to the method used by his friend and collaborator, Warren Buffett.
“ChizComm will operate 100% autonomously, but we’ll work closely,” Heyward says. “When Warren buys a company he doesn’t meddle.”
That approach helped to seal the deal with Chizick.
“We’re focused on one thing, and that’s our clients,” Chizick says. “What made the whole deal very attractive is that we’re independent and we get to do what we do. We work hard across PR and earned media paired with paid media strategies. With Genius, we have the ability to find more opportunistic moments that will help clients connect with kids and families in new ways, including content development, production, and licensing.”
Under the new deal, Harold Chizick will remain CEO of ChizComm Ltd. and ChizComm Beacon Media, with Jennifer Chizick serving as chief operating officer, and Donna MacNeil as president. Kathleen Campisano remains global chief marketing officer of ChizComm and general manager of ChizComm Beacon Media.