'We Have Music In Our DNA': Pepsi's Music Director On Growing Sports Sponsorships & Helping Break Acts Globally

Courtesy of Pepsi
Ellen Healy

Ellen Healy on the changing face of brand and music partnerships.

Responsible for Pepsi's global music strategy, Ellen Healy has led marketing campaigns featuring some of the biggest music, sport and entertainment stars on the planet. Beyonc√©, Adam Levine, Calvin Harris, Shakira, Britney Spears, Pink, David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Eva Longoria are just a few of the A-list names she's worked with in her role as senior director, global entertainment and music partnerships at PepsiCo. 

In 2016, Pepsi brought music to the UEFA Champions League Final -- the most watched annual sporting event in the world -- for the first time when Alicia Keys performed at the inaugural "UEFA Champions League Final Opening Ceremony." Since then, The Black Eyed Peas and Dua Lipa have performed at the pre-game show, which was this year headlined by Imagine Dragons and watched by a global audience of over 85 million across all platforms.

In addition to leading Pepsi's partnership with UEFA, New York-based Healy -- who started working for the drinks and food giant part-time while she was a college student -- was also an executive producer on the 2017 documentary film Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba, distributed by Apple Music. 

"That's a great example of how brands can work with music artists without it always being brand forward-facing," she tells Billboard in an exclusive interview about the changing face of brand and music partnerships. 

Billboard: Pepsi's association with music stretches back many decades. How has that partnership evolved to meet the demands of today's multi-platform digital era? 

Ellen Healy: Pepsi has always worked with music artists and traditionally they have been the more established artists. Today, we still work with iconic artists, but we also work with emerging artists to be authentic and to support the music community. Different countries have different programming around that. Now United are a good example of one of the global music groups that we support at the emerging artist level, helping them grow their fan base, spreading brand love and involving them in our ecosystem. That's a pretty major shift. We also provide unique fan experiences, whether that's through partnerships with Tomorrowland, Live Nation or different festivals that we do in Latin America, including Lollapalooza, we have that multi-layered strategy. We really want to be providing fans with unique access [to artists], but we have to think about it differently than we did many years ago and social media and experiences are a big part of that.  

Has the amount of money Pepsi spends on music sponsorship risen in line with the change in strategy?

From a financial stand point, it varies year to year. Of course, when you're looking at the Super Bowl halftime show and the UEFA opening ceremony they are large investments in music, so I would say that over time, because of those large platforms, it has grown. We also have countries doing a lot more local music programs versus in the past -- 10/15 years ago -- they were more reliant on global music artists. China is a good example and localization of music in China is so important. We have a very strong music program in South Korea and partnerships with many K-pop artists. In India we have a big music program in place right now. Local music artists in those regions are really important to our music strategy. 

Your most recent major music promotion was May's UEFA Champions League Final Opening Ceremony featuring Imagine Dragons. Were you pleased with how that went?

We were ecstatic. [Viewer] sentiment and engagement continues to grow and we feel that Imagine Dragons took the performance to the next level, as did UEFA. Views of the performance on UEFA's Facebook channel is more than 85 million views. 98% sentiment of comments were positive. In the first days alone we had 45,000 comments. We've heard amazing feedback from music labels as well.

Pre-game and halftime music shows in sporting events are a relatively rare phenomenon in Europe. Do you see this as an area of potential growth?

When we first invested in the partnership with UEFA we really wanted to bring music and sport together and help grow the intersection, especially in Europe where it isn't as common as it is in the U.S. We're going to continue to focus on UEFA and, yes, I can see this extending into other sports and music platforms. The success of the UEFA opening ceremony can definitely lead into us doing more of this across the different sports and even localizing how that's done in different regions.  

Can you envisage a music event on the scale of the Super Bowl halftime show ever becoming established in Europe?

The pre-game opening ceremony with UEFA is very intentional. In soccer you have a much shorter amount of time in half time [compared to American football]. Our opening ceremony is 12 minutes in total of which the artist performance is 6 minutes. You have to get everything on and off the field in that time, so logistically it only works as an opening ceremony. In addition, there's a lot of commentary that has to happen in the editorial space during that 15 minute football halftime. It doesn't lend itself to a halftime show for music.

How do you identify artists for partnerships and specific events?

With Imagine Dragons we wanted music that would excite the stadium; something with more of a male focus, a little bit more of an edgier, grittier performance and we were looking at the rock base. Once we get the strategic framework we look at the artists that fit into that universe. We have conversations with the labels, we look at who's on tour, who has new music coming, who are the priorities and we start to have conversations with artist management. We share and work collaboratively through each step of the process with UEFA, but what's different with UEFA versus NFL is that it's Pepsi and our agencies that lead that process. 

How has the #MeToo movement impacted the artist vetting process and have music artist contracts changed accordingly?

The artist vetting process has always considered artists that are aligned with our brand values. We have a very specialized process of looking at artists and we will always be very protective of our brand values. In respect to the second part of that question, we've always had that kind of language in our contracts. We may have tweaked it or tightened it up over the years, but I wouldn't say we have significantly shifted how and what we require of artists contractually.

At the start of the year Pepsi signed a global sponsorship deal with the international pop group Now United, formed by Spice Girls manager and American Idol creator Simon Fuller. What can they offer Pepsi that, say, a more established pop act can't?

Because Now United have 15 members from 15 different countries they are one of the first global groups that's really truly global. And then you have Simon Fuller, who we've had a relationship with before, he knows our brand and we have a real understanding of what their strategic vision is. The fact that Now United have over 1 million subscribers on YouTube and most of those subscribers have come in the last 9 months is absolutely significant. We think it's a great way to engage young people through content and conversation and an extraordinary relationship that's going to continue to grow.

We often hear about what music can do for brands. What can Pepsi do for artists, musicians, labels and rights holders? 

We want to be part of the music ecosystem supporting labels. We are doing a lot more with lesser-known music artists in the brand sync space. Pepsi has a long history with music. It's in our DNA and the music that we select is a statement that we can contribute to supporting labels and artists through brand syncs. In terms of emerging artist support, if you look at what we've done with Now United, we're really helping elevate artists and giving them the opportunities to be part of bigger brand programming. There's a lot of brands in the music space doing it well, but Pepsi is supporting the industry at multiple levels. Where you now see so many artists crossing borders because of streaming, there's a lot more that we can to do to help bring regional artists into the international market.


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