CMG Worldwide, Inc.
CMG Worldwide, Inc.
Incorporated: 1981 as Curtis Management Group
Sales: $15 million (2006 est.)
NAIC: 541611 Administrative Management and General Management Consulting Services
CMG Worldwide, Inc., operates as the exclusive business agent for more than 200 celebrities, specializing in representing the heirs and estates of deceased celebrities. CMG manages the publicity rights of its clients and it promotes the use of their image and likeness. Clients include luminaries from the entertainment world such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Ingrid Bergman; sports legends Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, and Vince Lombardi; music greats Buddy Holly, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker; and historical figures Malcolm X, General George S. Patton, Jr., and Diana, Princess of Wales. CMG also represents living celebrities such as Sophia Loren, Jim Palmer, and Ivana Trump. Through its main office in Indianapolis, Indiana, and satellite offices in Los Angeles, California, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, CMG negotiates roughly 2,000 deals annually, taking its direction from Chairman and CEO Mark Roesler, a pioneer in determining the intellectual property rights of deceased celebrities.
Mark Roesler created a lucrative niche for himself in the licensing arena, using CMG to establish legal precedent that unearthed a treasure chest worth countless millions of dollars. The Indiana native’s pioneering work in the field of celebrity endorsement deals began after he received his formal education. The son of a mailman, Roesler left Alexandria, Indiana, in 1974 to enroll at DePauw University. To help pay for his tuition, Roesler started his own roofing company, a business that would sustain him through his years at DePauw and through his years at Indiana University, where he earned a law degree and a master’s degree in business administration.Roesler left Indiana University in 1981 and joined his father-in-law’s business, Curtis Publishing Co., as an intellectual property attorney. From there, he went on to shape the field of celebrity intellectual property rights, leaving an indelible mark on entertainment law that enriched CMG and the estates of 20th-century icons.
CMG sprang from the offices of Curtis Publishing, a company founded by Cyrus H. Curtis in 1821 that held sway as one of the largest and most influential publishers in the United States during the early 20th century. Curtis Publishing earned its reputation and its fortune by publishing magazines, including arguably its best-known title, the Saturday Evening Post, which the company purchased in 1897. Under Curtis Publishing’s ownership, the Saturday Evening Post enjoyed widespread popularity, introducing millions of readers to the artwork of Norman Rockwell, who began a prolific career of producing cover illustrations for the magazine in 1916. Rockwell contributed covers and artwork to the magazine for nearly 50 years, producing a body of work that provided Roesler with his first opportunity to put his legal training to use. Rockwell died three years before Roesler joined Curtis Publishing, leaving behind more than 300 copyrighted magazine covers that became Roesler’s responsibility to license. He licensed the images, the first of thousands of deals he would negotiate, securing agreements that put Rockwell’s artwork on a variety of memorabilia, including commemorative plates and figurines. Within weeks, he decided to use his copyright licensing skills to attract additional clients, convincing Curtis Publishing’s management to allow him to set up and run a division called Curtis Management Group, the predecessor to the independent and privately owned CMG Worldwide, Inc., that would establish Roesler as the international authority on the intellectual property rights of deceased celebrities.
In setting up Curtis Management Group, Roesler formed an entity that he would guide through uncharted waters in the legal realm. In an interview published in the March–April 2007 issue of Business Horizons, Roesler described what he found as he looked to extend the services offered in licensing Rockwell’s artwork to other clients. “What I discovered along the way was that, essentially, there didn’t exist effective rights to protect the intellectual property of deceased people. Once I came to this realization, I set about finding ways to change that and more effectively protect these personalities.” Roesler continued: “The more I explored the concept of rights protection for deceased celebrities, the more evident it became to me that these people didn’t have anyone to look out for their interests and that the specific legal protections weren’t even in place to allow for this. Being based in Indiana, I didn’t really have the opportunity to represent famous living people; deceased celebrities, on the other hand, were another matter. I saw a definite opportunity there.” Copyrights were defined and protected by federal law, but as Roesler discovered during the early 1980s, publicity rights, if established at all, were governed by state laws, varying widely and providing little, if any, right to compensation to the heirs of deceased celebrities for use of a celebrity’s name or likeness.
Once he had identified an unexplored niche, Roesler swooped in, carving out a lasting place for himself that allied his name with the names of 20th-century icons. In 1981, he signed his first client under the auspices of Curtis Management Group, becoming the licensing agent for the Elvis Presley estate. Presley’s widow, Priscilla Presley, reportedly had seen some of the Rockwell memorabilia licensed by Roesler and hired the young attorney to represent her late husband’s estate, beginning a six-year business relationship with Curtis Management Group. Other luminaries from the past followed, cementing Roesler’s reputation in the murky waters of publicity rights for deceased celebrities. In 1983, CMG, as it was then known, acquired James Dean as a client. The following year, Roesler signed baseball legend Babe Ruth as a client after convincing Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, that she was owed money for the use of her father’s image. “Most people didn’t bother to ask me for permission to use Daddy’s name, and there wasn’t a lot I could do about it,” Stevens recalled in a February 16, 1998, interview with the Buffalo News. Before Roesler intervened, Stevens received royalty checks sporadically, usually only when companies felt guilty about using Ruth’s image. Stevens, every several years, received checks in the $100 range. By the time she gave her interview to the Buffalo News, Stevens was receiving in excess of $100,000 annually from the deals brokered by Roesler.
Much of the professional prestige and no-nonsense reputation CMG Worldwide has earned is generated through our continued success in the competitive arenas of legal protection and aggressive marketing. First and foremost, our goal is to provide ironclad protection of our clients’ intellectual property rights, including their name, image, likeness, copyrights and trademarks. CMG Worldwide is renowned as a leading advocate in the creation of intellectual property law, as many of our legal pursuits have received worldwide acclaim for their precedent-setting decisions.
Roesler became well known for prevailing in court as CMG’s stature grew. In 1988, he earned the right for retired players from Major League Baseball to wear their team uniforms while endorsing a product or service. In 1992, he won what was arguably his most important legal battle, a landmark case which a slew of celebrities and their estates would use to protect their rights. Warner Bros. claimed it retained the rights to James Dean’s image because the film star was under contract with Warner Bros. when he died, but Roesler contended that relatives of the deceased were entitled to publicity rights, a position upheld by the courts. The following year, Roesler won a case against film director Spike Lee over the use of “X” in association with Malcolm X, forcing Lee to pay Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, a licensing fee.
The second half of the 1990s marked a period of significant activity for CMG, galvanizing Roesler’s reputation. His contributions to defining the rights of celebrities led to the promulgation of Indiana’s Right of Publicity Statute in 1994, legislation heavily influenced by Roesler that was regarded as the most progressive celebrity rights law in the world. In 1995, he gained his most valuable client, securing the publicity rights for the estate of Marilyn Monroe. In 1997, his expertise was solicited in the civil trial against O. J. Simpson. Roesler, testifying for the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, was asked to determine the value of Simpson’s merchandising and publicity opportunities in an effort to calculate the former football star’s future net worth. Roesler determined Simpson’s net worth to be $25 million, the precise figure the jury awarded to the families in punitive damages. CMG generated $15 million in revenue the year Roesler was called as an expert witness, collecting a sizable share of the royalties paid to its ever growing roster of clients. Business agents of living celebrities and sports figures typically took a 10 percent cut of their clients’ earnings, but Roesler, having demonstrated his worth in numerous, high-profile cases, collected anywhere from one-third to half of the profits generated by his clients.
By the beginning of the 21st century, CMG was a 20-year-old firm with a remarkable stable of personas under its control. The company, which added offices in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro in 2000, represented a diverse array of celebrities, earning the trust of heirs charged with overseeing the estates of the most memorable figures in modern culture. The company also took on managing the business of living celebrities, which broadened CMG’s client list considerably, stretching it from 19th-century author Mark Twain to former teen idol Scott Baio. CMG’s clients gained fame in the entertainment industry, in sports, literature, science, aviation, photography, architecture, and the military. The company represented film stars Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Errol Flynn, and more than 50 other Hollywood celebrities. It controlled the publicity rights to Buddy Holly, Ella Fitzgerald, Tammy Wynette, and more than a dozen other prominent figures from jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and country music. In sports, CMG represented golf’s Sam Snead, tennis’s Arthur Ashe, soccer’s Hristo Stoitchkov, and Olympic athletes Jesse Owens, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Jim Hines. The company counted more than 50 baseball greats as clients, ranging from Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown to more modern stars such as Jim Palmer. CMG represented auto racers Emerson Fittipaldi and Bill Elliot, boxers “Sugar” Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, and basketball legends Bob Cousy and George Mikan. The company’s roster of football stars extended to two dozen of the game’s greatest players, including Knute Rockne, Johnny Unitas, and Bart Starr. Historical and literary personas rounded out CMG’s client list, giving Roesler licensing rights to Oscar Wilde, General George S. Patton, Jr., and Jack Kerouac, among others.
- Mark Roesler establishes Curtis Management Group (CMG) as a division within Curtis Publishing Co. and signs his first client, the Elvis Presley Estate, before the end of the year.
- Roesler signs James Dean as a client.
- In a legal fight with Major League Baseball, Roesler wins the right of retired players to wear their team uniforms while endorsing a product or service.
- Roesler successfully argues that James Dean’s relatives are entitled to the star’s publicity rights, prevailing against Warner Bros.
- Roesler signs his most lucrative client, the estate of Marilyn Monroe.
- CMG opens offices in Los Angeles, California, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- New clients include Scott Baio, Marlon Brando, and Ava Gardner.
As CMG entered its third decade of business, the company represented more than 200 clients, acting for each as a manager and marketer. The company’s lawyers, who numbered more than 30, and support staff used a computer tracking system to identify unauthorized uses of a CMG’s client’s name or likeness, scouring through the myriad T-shirts, key chains, baseball caps, calendars, and other memorabilia for sale. Equally as important, the company made sure the authorized collection of memorabilia commemorating a client was expanding continually. CMG assumed an active role in promoting its clients, negotiating deals that put Marilyn Monroe’s likeness on wine bottles, James Dean’s visage on slot machines, and Jackie Robinson’s picture on boxes of Wheaties cereal. In 1995, Roesler launched an aggressive campaign to mark Babe Ruth’s 100th birthday, ensuring that the media took notice and that a copious supply of beer steins, coins, watches, and other memorabilia adorned with Babe Ruth’s likeness was available to the public. In another instance, Roesler convinced Thomasville Furniture Industries, Inc., a North Carolina-based furniture manufacture, to design a collection of furniture to commemorate Humphrey Bogart, which became the furniture company’s biggest seller.
As CMG prepared for the future, it plotted its course from a position of strength. The company, thanks to the landmark achievements of Roesler, had asserted itself as the preeminent competitor in its field. In the years ahead, as the work of protecting and promoting the publicity rights of celebrities continued, CMG figured to be the company heirs and estates hired to optimize the value, marketability, and enduring fame of the gone but not forgotten.
Jeffrey L. Covell
Omnicom Group Inc.; Publicis Groupe S.A.; WPP Group PLC.
Banguis, Chris, “CMG Worldwide Wins Duel over ‘Diana’ Domain Names,” Indianapolis Business Journal, January 8, 2001, p. 10A.
Hass, Nancy, “I Seek Dead People,” New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003, p. 38.
Houpt, Simon, “They’re Dead, They’re Back, and They’re Bigger Than Ever,” Globe & Mail, October 4, 2003, p. R9.
Keough, Christopher, “Marilyn on the Strip,” Los Angeles Business Journal, January 29, 2001, p. 58.