by Thomas Wailgum

How Hollywood Talent Agency CAA Stays In Touch with its Celeb Clients

Jan 15, 20073 mins
CRM SystemsMobileSmall and Medium Business

Think you’ve got prima donna users and high-touch customers? At Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the powerful Hollywood talent agency that serves larger-than-life celebrities including Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, customer relationship management takes on a whole new meaning—and importance. And whereas lunch at Spago and tons of phone calls used to be how business got done, CAA now views back-end IT systems as key to its future. For the agency’s 200 or so high-flying agents who manage relations with clients (and shmooze prospects), a smart mix of applications, mobile devices and data feeds is paramount. “It’s about surfacing opportunities” for clients, says David Freedman, an executive within the IT department. (Like Google, CAA doesn’t believe in titles.)

Finding those opportunities hasn’t been simple. During the past several years, a titanic shift occurred within the entertainment industry as clients’ talents and ambitions began spanning across CAA’s traditional service lines—movies, TV and music. (For example, some stars work in music, movies and fashion.) This change fueled a desire for more integrated streams of information, Freedman says, and highlighted the technological disconnects between the divisions.

Compounding the issue, CAA decided to enter new service lines, such as sports, marketing and theater, and quickly ramp up operations. “As we scale out more, as we’ve opened up additional offices, there’s a need for data transformation,” Freedman says. “We realized that it can’t all happen in hallway conversations anymore.”

How did IT address those problems? Since early 2004, IT has developed a combination of CRM, business intelligence, knowledge management and enterprise search tools, and deployed Windows-based mobile applications. It’s now integrating siloed systems.

This almost 100 percent Microsoft shop uses a multitude of customized .Net applications and Microsoft CRM 3.0. CAA’s IT team also adheres to an integration strategy built on an enterprise service bus—a core piece of a service-oriented infrastructure that can offer more flexibility and speed whenever CAA adds a new business.

That’s critical: In the past it could take six to 18 months to get a new operation going, Freedman says, and now the business’s expectation has dwindled to within three months. “We work the way that our agents work, as opposed to some top-down companies where you can impose a certain technology-driven workflow,” he says.

IT has also pushed to standardize data management principles so that client data can flow between CAA’s divisions. For example, while Tom Cruise may not be interested in acting in a particular movie, he may want his production company to produce it. Much of that information, Freedman says, also flows to agents’ handhelds. “We think all of the [internal] applications will eventually have a ’light’ version on the Windows mobile applications,” he says.