Is the Activion Blizzard's "Guitar Hero" video game franchise a gateway drug to becoming a rock star? The answer may be yes, and one local musical instrument manufacturer wants to cash in.

Guitar Center Inc. has turned a report on consumer behavior into a new marketing campaign, and just in time for the holidays.

Last month the privately owned music equipment retailer, based in Westlake Village, received the results of a national survey that found a link between its customers and two popular video games, "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band." The data indicated that a majority of people who play these "pretend rock star" games also want to strum a real guitar.

Of the music gamers who do not currently play a musical instrument, 67 percent said they are likely to start playing a real instrument in the next two years, the survey found. And among people who already play an instrument, 72 percent said they are spending more time with their music since they got involved with the video games.

To encourage the transition from gamer to musician, Guitar Center has created the "Real Guitar" Web site. It offers a selection of e-mail holiday messages that gamers can send to their loved ones, reminding them that a guitar would make a great holiday gift. (Eighty-one percent of the gamers in the survey who feel inspired to play a real instrument would like to receive that instrument for Christmas.)

"This spike of interest in playing actual instruments stemming from a video game is an unprecedented phenomenon," explained Norman Hajjar, Guitar Center's chief marketing officer. "Most video games sell fantasy, but 'Guitar Hero' and 'Rock Band' are selling a dream that can be realized. These games plant an achievable goal in the heart of the player and that, in turn, drives our business."

New B2B Agency

Tracy Olmstead Williams, an expert in business-to-business public relations, has started her own L.A. agency called Olmstead Williams Communications in Westwood.

Previously, Williams was a partner and president of Casey Sayre & Williams in Santa Monica. The agency has since renamed itself Casey & Sayre.

Olmstead Williams put up her shingle in September and has 14 clients, including medical device manufacturer Advanced Bionics, telephone translator Language Line, credit card machine maker Hypercom, and a number of accounting and law firms.

The new agency specializes in clients with technology, health science and business service companies. The agency will work with B2B media, speaking engagements, board and non-profit involvement, crisis communication and strategic planning.

"In the reporting of technology and biotech, there are so many reporters that cover those industries here that if you tell your story in California, you've hit a significant share of the market," said Olmstead Williams.

PRSA-LA Awards

The Public Relations Society of America, Los Angeles Chapter has handed out its annual PRism Awards, with "Best of Show" going to PainePR for its work on Pampers "One Pack One Vaccine" campaign benefiting UNICEF.

In addition to the top prize, PainePR won four other PRism trophies.

Other agencies that won multiple awards include Golin Harris, Hill & Knowlton, Ketchum, Rogers & Cowan, Edelman, Rogers Group, CarryOn Communications, Webber Shandwick and Consensus Planning Group.

Agencies & Accounts

Valencia Perez & Echeveste, a Hispanic-focused PR agency in South Pasadena, has changed its name to VPE Public Relations. "The VPE PR name is already a well-known trademark throughout the industry and we decided to formalize the change to give us a new, more contemporary identity," said partner John Echeveste. The L.A. City Council has given another approval to an inventory of billboards throughout the city. Billboard owners will be assessed a fee in conjunction with the inventory. The council passed a similar measure in 2002, but implementation was blocked by a lawsuit. Entertainment Fusion Group in Los Angeles has signed three new clients: Apple Lounge, a bar downstairs from the Apple Restaurant in West Hollywood; Zaya Rum, bottled in Trinidad; and Fake Bake self-tanning products. ThinkLA, an advertising trade organization, has named Zachary Rosenberg as 2008 Advertising Leader of the Year. Rosenberg, currently general manager for the western region at Horizon Media, previously worked at JWT, DDB and TBWA\Chiat\Day. Elaine Coleman is the new vice president of Strategy and Analysis at Interpret LLC, an L.A. company that develops technology to measure advertising effectiveness. She will focus on market research for the handheld device sector. Saatchi & Saatchi LA has hired Jerry Berowne as brand planning director on the Toyota account. Berowne comes to the agency from Galaxy Research & Planning in Australia, a company he co-founded. He had worked at Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney nine years ago. L.A.-based Farmers Insurance Group of Cos. has hired Richards Group in Dallas as its agency of record.

Staff reporter Joel Russell can be reached at jrussell@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 237.

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