Troy Carter and Havas Launch Smashd Group at Cannes Lions, Carter Says Corporations 'Suck' at Authenticity

Troy Carter at SXSW 2015
Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW

Troy Carter during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 14, 2015 in Austin, Texas.

Troy Carter has one theory on why many of the biggest brands don't have the same following of artists like Lady Gaga (60.5 million Twitter followers), John Legend (7.87 million) and Meghan Trainor (2.06 million) -- all careers he's helped shepherd over the years. When it comes to authenticity, "For the most part, they suck at it."

In a talk at the 73rd annual Cannes Lions Festival of Innovation on June 21, Carter spoke with Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Creative Group, about what brands can learn from artists and entrepreneurs -- and vice versa. For one thing, when it comes to building a fan community online, it's much harder for corporations to reach their target audiences than it is for artists.

"With an artist, we don't touch our artists' Twitter or Instagram accounts," said Carter, who recently exited his management business at Atom Factory to take on a new role leading artist relations for Spotify. "When you have multiple people running a digital department, it's very difficult for that voice to translate throughout the organization into the community."

That exact challenge is what inspired Carter in part to team with Havas for the development of The Smashd Group, an extension of his online news vertical Smashd.co, established last March, as well as tech accelerator program Smashd Labs, which rolled out last July. Through the new venture, Carter's team of 20 Smashd employees at Atom Factory will assist Havas Worldwide's global network of corporate clients on brand consultancy, technology strategy and other innovations. WeTransfer is the group's first confirmed brand client, with a "major telco company" expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, Benett tells Billboard.

The idea originated in part from Carter's work pairing big brands with startups, and recognizing their shared needs. "If you're Coca-Cola, General Mills, one of these big companies, they're a big inspiration to most of these startups. They might have [a few] great customers, but the dream is to be Coca-Cola or General Mills. So when you can marry that thirst for innovation within the biggest companies and the thirst for business development from these young entrepreneurs, we think it's a perfect match, The idea of being able to do [Smashd] Labs on the tech side, and brand innovation, we can bring these two worlds together."

The Smashd Group, newly appointed CEO James Andrews tells Billboard, will become a "gumbo pot" of the Smashd portfolio and community, which includes 200,000 subscribers to Smashd.co and its newsletters, "helping brands launch new ideas and concepts that we can leverage within the Havas Network. It'll have a lot more cohesion between the shift in media property -- we've developing a voice, and we're just getting into the second season of our accelerator program."

Carter, in his shifting roles, will continue to work for Spotify from Atom Factory's office in Culver City, which will share office space with the Smashd team. Spotify also has a global headquarters in Stockholm, and a large U.S. office in New York. He'll also continue to oversee Atom Factory's AF Ventures portfolio, which includes more than 40 early-stage investments in companies like Uber, Lyft, Dropbox and Warby Parker.

And with millennials and their younger counterparts already creating major shake-ups to the taxi, hospitality and even eyewear industries, what does Carter foresee as the next industry due for an interruption?

"Banks are dead," he said in his Lionis talk. "I met with the founder two weeks ago who's building a platform for music artists, from STEM, and basically they were gonna handle collections for music artists to collect royalties from YouTube and all these other platforms." After the founder showed him an artist's PayPal account, which contained $250,000, she said, "None of the creators are gonna have bank accounts. For these kids, everything is happening on mobile."

That trend away from traditional banking systems will likely only continue, Carter said. "This group aren't buying cars, so they're not paying loans. They're renting and not buying houses, they're waiting to get married til their mid-to-late 30s. These kids aren't going to college soon because they don't want the student debt. So I think banks are ripe for disruption."

Andrew Hampp is a vice president at music experiential and sponsorship agency MAC Presents.

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