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Julie DeSantis uses nimble policies to meet creative visions

Julie DeSantis uses nimble policies to meet creative visions

Managing Sony Corp. of America's entertainment exposures poses unique and interesting challenges for Julie DeSantis, vp, risk management.

Sony Music Entertainment, the company's recorded music operations and artist development unit, holds a variety of promotional events, concerts and filming of music videos that raise numerous exposures needing quick attention.

When Ms. DeSantis arrived at Sony in 2003, the risk management department was struggling to keep up with the insurance demands of its record labels for numerous media events. Under the SME banner, there are 26 record labels with approximately 150 artists under each label. At some level, SME is promoting each one of these artists with events that may call for unusual insurance coverage for fireworks, live ammunition and animals, among other things.

Requests for specific coverages or certificates of insurance can come at a moment's notice, Ms. DeSantis said. To address these and other risks—including promotional events at music stores, radio stations or other public settings, along with high-value jewelry and clothing—she and her team established a process through which they can issue the appropriate insurance without disrupting the event.

The opportunity to work with a business unit that employs musicians and artists who aren't insurance- and risk management-focused attracted Ms. DeSantis to Sony. With “entertainment people, insurance is not going to be their interest,” Ms. DeSantis said. “So I thought that would challenge me as an individual to change my thinking, to think of how another person would want something presented to them, and how (it) could get risk management on their radar.”

Ms. DeSantis and her team met with senior management and creative groups and learned that, typically, a lead time of two to three weeks is needed prior to an event. Ms. DeSantis developed a questionnaire tracking pertinent information for risk management, security and legal departments, and developed a decision tree to identify the applicable insurance policy based on certain criteria.

“That process works to this day like you wouldn't believe,” she said.

Sony works with London-based Aon P.L.C. and New York-based DeWitt Stern Group Inc. as brokers for its niche concert liability program and film wrap-up insurance program.

“Julie had to corral the entertainment music people to understand that there is risk to the things they do,” said LeConte Moore, managing director at Dewitt Stern in New York. For example, an artist may decide while filming a music video to include three helicopters that were not in the original contract and, therefore, not insured.

“It doesn't happen overnight. It takes a determined risk manager to push that through without harming the creativity. That's the art of it,” Mr. Moore said.

Generally, filming activities are excluded from core policies, Ms. DeSantis said. With DeWitt Stern, she created a film wrap-up insurance program that includes all the insurance coverage needed for an artist or a video shoot.

“Artists today—if you've seen any music videos recently—love to bring their bling, their cars, their lions and tigers, everything that's exciting, into a music video,” Mr. Moore said. “While some people call it the fun side of the business, I call it the last-minute, artistic-people-making-changes-please-get-it-covered-and-you've-got-15-minutes-to-do-it business.”

Working with Ms. DeSantis and her team, DeWitt Stern can make quick insurance placements for very unusual risks, Mr. Moore said.

“Julie doesn't stifle the creativity. If you're not careful, insurance can bring things to a grinding halt. Julie knows how to get the insurance, get it done right, and that the show must go on,” he said.

The film wrap-up insurance also is used by Sony Computer Entertainment America L.L.C., which markets the PlayStation gaming systems. PlayStation films live actors or athletes performing various movements to be transferred onto the game using motion capture technology.

“We can plug and play anyone, because when we approach something we don't just say this is unique to Sony Music or PlayStation,” Ms. DeSantis said. “We try to make it the broadest-name insured so that when it comes time, we can have a quick call with the underwriter and say we have this new business opportunity.”

One of the biggest projects Ms. DeSantis is working on is with the music group Big Time Rush, which tours around the world performing large concerts. While Sony has a concert liability program in place, “they actually didn't fit into that,” she said. “These are a mainstream artist concert, so that requires a lot more limits.”

Working with Aon, Ms. DeSantis and her team piggybacked off the concert liability program to build a wrap-up program with six insurers to reach the scale they needed.

“Entertainment definitely keeps your eyes wide open because there are just things you never imagined that go on that are important in that industry,” Ms. DeSantis said.

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