Business

Executive of the Week: Warner Records Executive VP Marketing Mark Flaherty

Mark Flaherty
Courtesy Photos

Mark Flaherty

"[Dua] created this incredible world and the team used every tool available to pull people into it."

Dua Lipa’s Grammy win for best new artist in 2019 heralded a star on the rise. But it was with her second album, March 2020’s Future Nostalgia, that she established herself as one of the biggest acts around, with six Hot 100-charting singles and nominations for album, record and song of the year, the latter two for lead single "Don’t Start Now."

But more than a year after the album’s release, Future Nostalgia has shown no signs of slowing down. "Levitating," the album’s fifth single, reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 in February, spurred by a remix featuring DaBaby and a strong radio push. But now, more than two months since its peak, the song has roared back to reach No. 5 once again on the Hot 100, this time reaching new heights on both Billboard’s Global 200 (No. 4) and Global 200 ex-U.S. (No. 3) to boot -- all while the album’s next single, "We’re Good," is simultaneously climbing the chart to a new peak this week at No. 38.

That continued, sustained success is part of the global rollout strategy for Dua and her team, and helps Warner Records executive vp marketing Mark Flaherty earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

Here, he discusses the lasting impact of the singles over time, how TikTok has helped the song by "driving substantial streams," and how the Warner Records staff has helped balance the sustained success of "Levitating" while searching for chart gold again with "We’re Good" at the same time. "A myopic, singles-only approach might lead to hit songs," he says, "But not to Grammy Awards, unparalleled press accolades and the kind of relevance and credibility Dua has earned."

Dua Lipa’s "Levitating" is back at its No. 5 peak on the Hot 100 for the first time since February, and reached the top five of the global charts for the first time. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

Flexibility is key. In a fractured market the best teams listen and react quickly to trends without immediately abandoning the longer-term strategy. You need to be able to do both and adjust by constantly reading the results of your efforts. We have another big single in play with “We’re Good” and we need to finish the job there while keeping an eye on the great milestones that “Levitating” continues to achieve. The decision to put resources and urgency around a special moment while staying focused on the task at hand is a simple one. We recognized and capitalized on the new trend without cannibalizing the current song. We know for sure there will be more of these instances on other tracks soon and we will continue to capitalize on them all.

How much has TikTok played a role in the song’s success, and in what ways?

TikTok’s original partnership and visibility in the music video clearly helped drive awareness on the platform from the start. Fan creates around the most recent trend continue to grow from their already huge numbers, along with continued support from TikTok, and this is driving substantial streams. The platform's explosive growth during the pandemic coincides with Dua’s rise to global superstardom, so her place in culture as the new pop icon is driving the trend as much as any single partnership ever could.

The song has been steadily climbing up the global charts to its top five peak. How has the global campaign been rolled out?

Global coordination has been a centerpiece throughout the entire project’s life. In collaboration with our talented global team and forward-thinking management, we have made tough decisions to align our efforts in a very complicated market. Surgical strategy, focused use of global resources and consistent global messaging have helped elevate Dua to the superstardom she deserves. Everyone shifted when needed in support of the larger picture, while leaving space for individual market drivers specifically designed to create growth in their respective territories. In the case of the resurgence of "Levitating," we read the data and pounced on the opportunity together, without sacrificing the path we are currently on with the latest track.

"Levitating" is reaching new highs even as "We’re Good" has been steadily climbing the Hot 100 at the same time. How have you balanced the two campaigns simultaneously?

We have spent over a year tactically applying resources based on market read, with no difference here. There have been so many simultaneous “moments” across the entire body of work to support the artist profile and we have remained agile in support of them all, regardless of the current single. A myopic, singles-only approach might lead to hit songs, but not to Grammy Awards, unparalleled press accolades and the kind of relevance and credibility Dua has earned. Our streaming and radio teams have been flexible in using every moment to help drive the current single, while allowing marketing and fan engagement to pursue every spark that flares up across the project, no matter the song.

Given the lack of touring due to the pandemic, have some album and song campaigns gone on longer than usual?

That may be the case for some campaigns, while others have been shorter because of it. The Dua campaign has lasted this long — and will continue — due to the sheer depth of her artistry, coupled with long-term planning, a concise strategy to drive cultural impact, unified global execution, surgical drops of alternative/deluxe versions, etc., all informed by deservedly ambitious goals that were set from the start. Beyond the multiple hits, we have consistently messaged the strength of the album in its entirety, focusing resources on the many times that her unmatched talent and artistic bravery have piqued public curiosity. She created this incredible world and the team used every tool available to pull people into it. All of this without a single tour date, and with every dance club in the world shut down. Everyone involved met the moment in a way I have never seen, just incredible, and we’re not done yet.

How has marketing changed in the pandemic, and how might that impact things after we return to "normal"?

It has been extremely difficult for artists to lose the ability to perform live and promote their art to fans and partners around the world, in person. Building these direct relationships is key to spawning careers, beyond hit songs, and that rug was abruptly pulled out from under everyone, sadly. However, great music, innovative artists and managers, and aggressive labels like Warner Records have pivoted — no one better than Team Dua. With everyone stuck at home and living on screens, we have had to meet people where they are... on TikTok, with strategic influencer marketing campaigns, strong brand partnerships, consistent and persistent press and television coverage, all while creating more and better content than ever before to feed hungry fans.

I don’t believe there is a return to what was. This is the new “normal” and it won’t go all the way back, nor should it. We will all be very excited to add back the very important elements that allow artists to move audiences and partners with their talent in person. There is still nothing like a venue full of people sharing a collective live experience and all the emotion that goes with it. Looking forward, we will just have more ways to bring great artists and music to fans, and that’s a very good thing.