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An introduction to maximising artist partnerships

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An association between a brand and a music artist can be highly effective for a brand seeking to establish its name or product within a defined culture and its audience in a credible and recognisable way. Working for both niche and mainstream audiences such partnerships offer credibility and authenticity, and can be a valuable building block on the path to brand integration and acceptance within a community. So that’s the good news, but how is this achieved and delivered?

Artists are highly aware of both their cultural and commercial value and will enter any relationship aware that the engagement between brands and music is a delicate balance between short term financial benefit, the “filthy lucre” so delicately described by Jonny Rotten, the creative and commercial objectives of the brand and the artist’s own cultural and musical values. The challenge, and indeed opportunity is to strike a balance between these factors, stimulate the artist creatively and then engage with their teams to define the shape of the deal that will deliver for your brand while enhancing and sustaining their profile in what is becoming an ever faster cultural merry-go-round.

The music industry is increasingly welcoming to brands seeking to engage with it but it remains a complex business that proudly bats above its weight thanks to its position as a definer of cultures and its ability to influence and define social groups and their tribal allegiances. An understanding and respect of the role of the entire value chain is essential to making partnerships work. Outlined below are nine guidelines and considerations that marketeers should consider when seeking to engage an artist to represent or embody their brand in the quest to influence audiences to reinforce or change their brand allegiances and purchasing patterns.

1. Know your creative from day one

Although funding is often the ultimate decider in a search for the right artist for your brand it is the creative concept that you develop and are offering that will determine long term buy-in from any artist. An artist who is creatively stimulated and excited by the proposition will engage better not only with you as a brand but will also add authenticity by organically sharing their excitement with their business partners, and more importantly their fanbase. Furthermore a strongly define and executed creative platform will go far in establishing the brand’s role in musical culture in a credible and authentic fashion.

2. Understand the audience

This is crucial. You probably know your target audience back to front so you need to make sure that the artist’s current and future audiences dovetail as closely as possible. The decision to partner with an artist shouldn’t be based on an affinity for the artist in question but more based on the match of audiences. Profile of the artist’s immediate suitability alone is not enough. Vision Nine has developed a unique process that tracks and matches music allegiances against wider audience integration segmentation to help you understand how to match and authenticate brand and music audiences.

3. Define the Artist’s deliverables

If you have followed these guidelines and have approached your artist with the creativity clearly defined it will be a relatively simple task to extend this to define a relatively defined set of deliverables. Artists at any level have multiple calls on their time, each of which is distinct – some are directly revenue producing, some promotional, and as an artist’s career takes off internationally this time becomes more and more precious and scarce. As a brand dealing with the artist you will take a place in this pecking order – the status of which will be defined by the size, duration and creative appeal of the project.  By defining the key deliverables and diarising them at the earliest opportunity, the commitment will be defined both in the artist diary and within the structure of any agreement so encouraging buy-in and full dedication from the artist. Ultimately it is these deliverables that provide the opportunity to deliver on the ROI expectations of your investment into the artist be that use of their name and likeness in advertising, their performance at an invite only live show or their participation in content creation for use in owned, brought and earned digital channels.

4. Consider Duration and leave a legacy

Consider how long you want the artist to work with you – is there the need for a long term relationship or can your objectives be achieved through a shorter (and usually cheaper) relationship? A long relationship can deliver brilliantly on a campaign built solely around music and entertainment or one that has ATL or shopper marketing at its core but a more tactical requirement such as PR led initiative may lend itself to a shorter term engagement. Your ability to actively promote the association with the artist will terminate at the end of the term agreed but by carefully considering the content that is delivered you will be able to leave a legacy with your audience that will survive the immediate value delivered by the artist’s hands-on involvement be that a poster on a wall, a co-created song, an artist designed t-shirt or product placement in a commercial video or user generated content.

5. Understand and engage the Artist’s full value chain

The structure of the music industry is built on a seemingly unfathomable and firmly entrenched network of stakeholders who can at times seem to be somewhat contradictorily co-operative and competitive at the same time. To deliver a modern and progressive marketing campaign it’s likely that you will need to engage with multiple people within the structure. Having decided on your creative you should define your deliverables and seek guidance from someone independent of any of the stakeholders to ensure that you are engaging the right parties and that you are aware of why their agenda could be biased towards a route that may compromise or limit your plans. The initial additional work that this requires will pay dividends later when you are seeking to deliver your campaign activity.

6. Understand and predict usage terms

Campaigns that include the creation of or use of content will come with restriction about how that content is used, how long, which channels, which territories etc. In the absence of the ability to achieve an in perpetuity or global buy out (good luck with that one!) consider every conceivable use you may have and either acquire these to the outset or in circumstances where the cost is prohibitive against unconfirmed or emerging plans build in options for automatic renewals and extensions so that costs are clearly known upfront. The other distinct advantage of this is that it provides an opportunity from the outset to engage with more stakeholders in the value chain. There has been much debate around the role of brands as IP owners, personally I don’t believe that the ownership of content in the context of campaign based relationships is a core issue compared to due consideration of the ability to use the content as desired within the campaign.

7. Build-in and define value exchange

Artists and their stakeholders are in effect stand-alone businesses who grapple with the same cash-flow and funding issues that face any business for example promotional budgets for record releases are never sufficient and touring costs are a major consideration at all levels. As a brand it is possible to open up funding and marketing reach way beyond the immediate cash fee that can be of huge benefit and value to the artist or their stakeholders. It may be that co-operative participation in ATL or other content channels, for example an album promotion, along-side your brand message can offer considerable leverage to a deal. This can be considered in the context additional media and profile and also how your involvement can offset costs – for example can your brand fund a portion of the next music video in exchange for product placement. It’s important to be aware that the standard media value for the brand will have a very different profile to that required by the artist so care should be taken with how this is offered and positioned. As ever, direct communication with the distinct parts of the value chain can help maximise this opportunity to drive value back to the brand. A word of warning – value exchange is rarely a 100% substitute for a cash fee for established artists and their value chain at any level.

8. Timing is everything

Even in a digital landscape that has gone some way to breaking down the traditional release and touring cycles, artists still work to a largely formulaic cycle. For longer term artist deals knowledge of this plan will give a distinct advantage when choosing your artist and planning the collective activity. This is a two stage process of avoiding clashing or competitive activity which can dilute effectiveness for all as well as working around gaps where the artist is out of the public eye and in need of sustaining profile beyond his traditional exposure opportunities. For example an intimate brand gig would be of less value in the middle of a tour compared to one scheduled at the start or end of a cycle.

9. Make the artist and their value chain feel special

Remember that Artists, and their stakeholders, are people as well as assets, so while indulgence and ostentation should be moderated, the development of a personal relationship with any members of the value chain should be a priority so you can understand the challenges they are facing on a day-to-day basis. The giving of additional value outside the main deal framework can go a long way to not only making the artist more closely aligned with the brand but also more receptive to a request  for delivery of additional value if opportunities are identified after the deal has been secured. Never underestimate the benefit of investment in making the time the artist spends with you as pleasant an experience as possible – a life spent hopping from hotel to hotel, from plane to plane can be exhausting and soul destroying so consider if the 5am taxi can be replaced by a 10am pick up at a hotel close to where your activity is taking place or if it’s better to appoint a single artist liaison person rather than multiple people each demanding an audience with the artist.

Following these guidelines will enable you to engage with and secure artist partners who can enhance your campaign and achieve your brand objectives. Based on an understanding of your brand and your target audience Vision Nine can help you define, access and deliver these artist and other asset relationships that support and enhance your strategic and creative activity. Reach out if you’d like to see how we do this.

This article has been written by Jeremy Paterson, Managing Director of Vision Nine. Growing up surrounded by music, he worked in the music industry for ten years before entering the marketing sector in 2004. He has led a wide variety of 360 degree partnerships between brands and artists including Jessie J (Vitamin Water), Dizzee Rascal, The Wanted, Emile Sande & Rizzle Kicks (Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Relay) and Professor Green (Relentless) as well as numerous live and festival partnerships that have been leveraged beyond the show days of the events.   You can contact him at Jeremy.paterson@visionninehq.com

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