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How Band Management Shaped my Approach to Comms Strategy


(Recreated from my old blog) 



“How many years agency experience have you had?”


This is the question that so many people’s entries, titles and salaries hinge on within the advertising industry. It’s also the question holding the industry back. Keeping us doing the same thing. Keeping us advertising, not marketing.

Before advertising, I used to manage bands.

Bands have two fundamental challenges facing them when it comes to promoting themselves.

1. They don’t have any cash, and
2. No one wants to hear new music unless it’s referred to them by a trusted source


These two challenges meant that I spent five years fumbling my way to an understanding on how to market from a position where attention couldn’t be bought.

The lessons I learned have since become instrumental in the way I approach communications strategy and as it turns out have become increasingly important in the era of diminishing returns on paid media.

Had I spent the same five years gaining “agency experience”, it’s likely I’d have a very different point of view.

Below are five lessons I learned whilst promoting bands that have shaped my comms beliefs today.


BAND LESSON 1


Editorial and accomplishments are more effective at promoting a band than advertising and can also be usedin advertising to make it more effective.  




There are two audiences for bands. The ‘punters’, who consume the product and the ‘gatekeepers’, like festival bookers and journalists, who help you get to the next level. Both audiences are won over by what ‘credible’ people are saying about the band and by what ‘credible’ things (festival billings, notable support acts, etc) a band has done.

We learned what we had to say about our music didn’t mean much. The best (and perhaps only) way to promote a band effectively, was by focusing our efforts on getting credible people to talk and by doing credible things. The more we got of one, the more we’d get of the other.

When it came time to promote an album, pitch a booker or promote a show, the achievements and quotes would became the basis of our promotion. We learned ‘advertising the review’, was more effective than ‘advertising the album’. It was real world proof.



Resulting Belief: Real world actions created by brands are more powerful than what a brand says.

Resulting Belief: The same real world actions can be used as the basis for advertising to make it more effective.

Resulting Belief: Brand messages are at their most powerful when they come from credible people (friends/media) not the brand.




BAND LESSON 2


If you want the media to write and the public to talk, pique their interest, then help them out with a story




Our marketing approach, get editorial then advertise the quotes, wasn’t unique. Most bands were chasing editorial. And editorial, as we discovered, was scarce.

To get journalists to write, we learned we first needed to get them to listen to our CD over the other thousand CD’s they’d been sent that week. We needed to pique their interest.

Then we learned we’d need to offer a reason over and above the music itself to help motivate the journalist to write about us and not the other 10 great bands they’d heard that week. We figured, if we could help them out with an interesting, additional angle then we’d be more of an attractive offer.

With Melbourne Band Big Scary, one of the ways we put this into action was with their debut LP release. Instead of releasing an album, we cut it into four EPs, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring each containing music written about the season. We piqued the media’s initial interest by sending personalized, hand stitched canvas press kits at the start of each season, then ‘helped them out with a story’ with our four seasons concept.



Resulting Belief: People will talk/write about any brand so long as you give them a reason to.

Resulting Belief: Seeding a good idea is just as important as a good idea. If it’s never seen, it never has the potential to gain momentum.




BAND LESSON 3

There is no blanket approach to market a show. Each town is different.  




When you need to market a national tour of 50 towns, it’s tempting to market one show and replicate for the remainder.  We found out the hard way that every town is different and requires a different approach.

If you wanted to get people to a show in Byron Bay then you needed to understand that the crowd were transient backpackers. The industry standard, “two posters and a gig guide ad two weeks out” would be money wasted. Living on $30 a day each, we couldn’t afford a single wasted ad.

We learned the best approach in Byron Bay was to pay young backpackers to hit people up with flyers on the day of the show.



Resulting Belief: There is never a blanket approach to comms planning, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard. It just needs to be thought through logically. Who are we targeting, where are they, what’s going through their head?




BAND LESSON 4

Every time your audience comes into contact with you, you have an opportunity to build the band.




When faced with little to no radio support, you learn to make every interaction you have with an audience count. No matter whether it was a show, an interview, an ad, a sale or even a conversation. If somebody came into contact with us, we wanted to make sure we had done everything we could to help that person remember who we were and everything we could to motivate and make it easy for them to get to the next show or tell a friend about us.

The discipline manifested itself in numerous simple things (especially before the social media boom).

We’d ensure our name and logo were clear at shows and at all touchpoints, we’d send out an extra CD for people to share when they’d only ordered one, we’d arm every audience member with stickers to plaster around town afterwards and we’d constantly collect email addresses by doing things like exchanging them for free downloads.



Resulting Belief: Every interaction a brand has with a consumer is an opportunity to achieve a business goal and should be carefully crafted to do so.

Resulting Belief: Real scale and efficiency in communications is achieved when comms ecosystems are designed to self propagate when people interact with touch points. Paid media (and any other point of entry) should be viewed as a fuel.

Resulting Belief: The brand should strive to be instantly recognizable in all comms




BAND LESSON 5

If the music sucks, it’s all in vain. Or worse.




Ultimately, we learned that no matter how good a band was at promotion be it with money or without, if the music didn’t resonate, then the promotion was at best wasted or at worst harmful.

With one band, De Jah Groove, despite having a terrible name, we were hitting home runs on the promotional front for our last album. We’d garnered TV appearances, Rolling Stone reviews, Triple J interviews, some great festival bills and a whole lot more ‘credible things’ we would have wished for in the past.

However, our best promotion to date generated our worst results. Little airplay, smaller crowds, lower CD sales and harmful reviews.

We had neglected the product. We’d put out an album with lots of re-recordings of old tunes and the fans (rightly) grew tired. By promoting a neglected product we’d in fact harmed our reputation.



Resulting Belief: Getting the product right is the most important thing a marketer can do.  If it’s not right, then promoting it could be at best wasteful and at worst harmful.





Shout out to Adam Ferrier, Matt Houltham, Kimberlee Wells, Dave Whittle and Julian Cole for seeing past my own lack of agency experience a few years back.