Poster King Who Gets Top Billing in the West End and on Broadway; Lawyer Turned Advertising Chief Whose Agencies Dominate Theatreland

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Poster King Who Gets Top Billing in the West End and on Broadway; Lawyer Turned Advertising Chief Whose Agencies Dominate Theatreland


Byline: Chris Blackhurst City Editor

IT'S a fair assumption that few Londoners have heard of David Stoller. Few New Yorkers, for that matter. Yet everyone in those two great cities is familiar with his products. He's boss of the firm that dominates West End and Broadway theatre advertising and marketing. Those posters on the side of buses? Chances are, Stoller's company has designed them. The ads on the escalators on the Tube? Stoller's. The giant hoardings along the main roads? His work. The huge panels outside the theatres themselves? His again.

Pick a show. The Book of Mormon, Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables, Lion King, Singin' in the Rain, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory their ads were conceived by Dewynters, the specialist advertising agency that is part of reach4entertainment, which Stoller heads. In London, r4e -- as it's known -- owns Newman Displays, the company that builds sets for premieres in Leicester Square. In New York, r4e has SpotCo, the agency that does for Broadway what Dewynters does for the West End.

Between them, Dewynters and SpotCo have got the two biggest theatre markets in the world sewn up. Last year, London-listed r4e enjoyed revenues of PS75.8 million, up from PS69.3 million in 2012. This week, it reported an 18% rise in revenues for the first six months of this year, from PS35 million to PS41.5 million.

Stoller, a New Yorker, looks fit for his 64 years, as befits a former top-class varsity tennis player -- "I still play a bit." He grew up on Long Island, one of three children. His father was a chemical engineer. He studied law at the University of Pennsylvania, and became a partner and co-head of global finance for Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, one of the world's most prestigious law firms, based in Manhattan.

Stoller built its project financing division to become a world leader. But he'd always had an itch: "As happens to many lawyers, I was an entrepreneur at heart. I had a succession of jobs through school and college -- doing a paper round, shovelling snow off drives."

He spotted an opening, told one of the head honchos at a private equity house, and the next thing he was presenting to the private equity partners, and quitting his law firm. It was 1992, and his proposal was to put together waste disposal operators -- until then run as small, family concerns. "Increased regulation was going to force consolidation of mom and pop landfill and garbage facilities. The waste disposal industry was heavily fragmented and was ripe for consolidating."

He joined Charterhouse private equity and launched American Disposal Services, making more than 90 acquisitions before selling it for $1.1 billion in 1998.

Doing something in entertainment had always appealed to him. "When we were children, our mother was always singing and dancing, as well as cooking. We were an arts family, going to museums, concerts, musicals, plays." His wife, Barbara, trained as a lawyer but became an actress. They have three daughters; one is a theatrical agent and another an actress. The Stollers live in Phillips Mill, Bucks County, an hour or so's drive from New York, where they also have an apartment. Once a month, Stoller comes to the r4e offices in The Strand. "I try to see as much theatre as I can when I'm here. Tonight, I'm going to see King Charles III."

As a student, he toyed with producing his own material. "A bunch of us roommates tried to make our own musical. It was called Largo and was inspired by the life of Dvorak in the US. It was a brilliant piece of work -- Pete Townshend of The Who was even interested in it. He saw it like another Tommy. It was the time bands were into telling a story like an opera -- but that came to nothing."

Stoller got to know SpotCo, part of AIM-listed Pivot Entertainment, along with Dewynters in London. …

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