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Darth Vader: business contact
Companies are using screenings of 'Return of Sith' to entice new clients.
May 18, 2005: 6:55 PM EDT
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - While some companies rely on tried-and-true sales methods like taking clients out for a round of golf or dinner at an extravagant restaurant, others are looking to "Star Wars" for help.

On the eve of the release of the final installment of the "Star Wars" saga, companies are taking over local movie theaters in the hopes of drumming up business or as a way of thanking existing clients, according to National CineMedia, a joint marketing company owned by Regal Entertainment Inc. (Research) and AMC Entertainment Inc.

The marketing tactic, which is part of National CineMedia's "Meeting and a Movie" program, allows a company to rent a local theatre for a business meeting and screen the newest flick afterwards, or broadcast a company presentation nationwide. With the overwhelming anticipation of "Star Wars: Return of the Sith," companies ranging from Fortune 500s to local outfits have scheduled approximately 500 "Star Wars" screenings so far.

According to Lauren Leff, the vice-president of communications for National CineMedia, Cisco (Research), Microsoft (Research) and Monster are some of the most recognizable household names hoping to harness the power of "The Force" to boost their bottom lines.

"There's been a huge amount of interest by companies in association with the new "Star Wars" release," she said, noting that the number of private company screenings is unrivaled, except for last year's "Passion of the Christ."

And companies have been responsive to the entire program, which began several years ago in order to create uses for theaters during non-peak hours, said Leff. In 2004, Regal Entertainment hosted over 7,400 of these meetings, up 69 percent over 2003.

In most instances, she said, the allure for businesses is not only the film but the fact that companies do not have to negotiate hotel or catering rates, while the theater environment can be more attractive than a conference room.

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