Last week, on May 4, Live Nation Entertainment finalized a deal to acquire 51 percent of GreenLight Media & Marketing, the agency behind the visually stunning Grammy performance in which Lady Gaga morphed into David Bowie (a collaboration with GreenLight client Intel). Founded in 2008 by music and entertainment exec Dominic Sandifer, Red Light Management owner Coran Capshaw, and partner Bruce Flohr as a division of Red Light with Capshaw and GreenLight’s Sandifer, Flohr, and partners Steve Bender and Nick Davidge owning the remaining 49%. GreenLight's clients have included Hyundai, Intel, Logitech and Under Armour, among others. The branding agency and producer of original content and marketing programs will remain based in West Hollywood, Calif., with Sandifer, along with additional founders Steve Bender and Nick Davidge, at the helm. Flohr remains an active shareholder in the business.
Shortly after the deal was consummated, Sandifer shared his vision as to how GreenLight will move forward as part of Live Nation, which will back the agency with an enviable tool box in terms of scale, resources, and such assets as thousands of concerts, millions of fans, global venues and festivals, and a staggering amount of data (including Ticketmaster’s). GreenLight and its content studio now face a new chapter in Sandifer’s quest to build the “content to commerce continuum.”
Billboard: So how did GreenLight Media & Marketing end up as under the Live Nation umbrella?
Dominic Sandifer: It’s a path that we wanted to choose, as opposed to going down a more traditional agency world path. We really consider ourselves to be much more of a content studio [and] media company than a traditional agency. That’s one of the things that [CEO] Michael [Rapino] and [Chief Strategy Officer] Jordan [Zachary] and [Media and Sponsorships President] Russell [Wallach] over at Live Nation liked about us, that we were creating both original and premium brand content. Considering where they’re going as a full-fledged media company now, with Live Nation TV and beyond, taking that live experience and creating great original content around it, it felt right for us.
How long has this deal been in the works?
Jordan Zachary and I started chatting probably last May about this, and it just so happened that, at the time, we had started to get a lot of inbound interest about our business, from a variety of other people that were interested in acquiring us, primarily the big advertising agency holding companies.
GreenLight has been doing well, so why sell in the first place? Is it about scale, assets, resources, the bigger stage?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I think we actually get the best of both worlds in this scenario. As I mentioned, we had a number of interested suitors who wanted to kind of swallow us all up and makes us part of their big advertising agency holding network. In this scenario, we get to remain within the Live Nation family of companies and operate independently, but with access and resources beyond what anybody else has, frankly, in the entertainment space. Where they’re going with digital video is a primary skill set for us: making digital video and content, content marketing and distribution, certainly for brands.
It just made a ton of sense, because it’s gotten incredibly competitive in the marketplace, both for agencies as well as media networks. And you’re seeing a lot of digital video networks now, from Buzzfeed to FullScreen to Time, Inc., that are literally building and developing their own “in-house agency capability.” We built that capability a long time ago, with real brand strategy and real creative, and our business is driven by that.
Also, data has become so important in the marketing universe now, and the kind of data Live Nation has access to on their consumers is unparalleled. For the 70 million people that go to their shows and the 112 million people they have consumer profiles on -- they know what they’re buying, they know where they’re going, they know the kind of music and entertainment they like. There’s this opportunity to build what I call a “content to commerce continuum”: to create and distribute content and unique experiences, and then all the way down to the point of purchase. That’s really interesting, and it’s certainly interesting to the brand marketers who are our clients.
Give me a definitive campaign that exemplifies what GreenLight can do when the planets align.
The Intel Grammy and Lady Gaga collaboration on the Grammy stage is probably the best and most recent example of what we can do. It came from insight I had from many years of working really closely with the Grammys and talking to them about the opportunities that existed within the Grammy universe.
Myself and [Recording Academy CMO] Evan Greene came up with the concept for the next generation of Grammy moments, to utilize brand new technology and innovation to make a performance even better. We took over a sound stage at Universal Studios and we filled it with Intel’s leading technology, it looked like a NASA space center. Lady Gaga and her entire team went in there, we built a replica of the Grammy stage, we shot the collaboration [and] what they went through, creatively and from a technology standpoint. We created 80 original pieces of content, which we then distributed out across a variety of digital and social platforms and networks.
And then came the thing that really was the moment on the Grammy stage, where Lady Gaga used that technology to literally morph into David Bowie. We didn’t know it was going to be David Bowie until three weeks in advance. It was something that had never been done before, the first time a brand had been partnered up on the Grammy stage with an artist.
Where is the Intel messaging in that program?
It’s certainly in the technology of it, because the question you’re asking is “how did she do that?” We also did a media buy with Intel’s media buying agency right before the performance and right after the performance, so we led in with an Intel-driven brand spot with Lady Gaga in it, and then went right into the performance onstage. She performs, and then coming right out of that performance straight into a 90-second behind-the-scenes “making of” film that literally showed you how she did it, and that was Intel-branded. That was all driven by a short film that we created, which was “the making of” that experience. That, along with social media and the 80 other pieces of content that we created, allowed us to tell that story on a variety of channels and do a lot of publicity around it.
What kind of investment are we talking about from Intel to bring something like this to bear, and how do you measure its success?
Intel was in the process of re-branding themselves. They’ve always been this “ingredient” brand, “Intel inside.” What people didn’t realize is that most of the incredible experiences you’re having when you go see a movie or show, that great experience outside is actually being powered by Intel. This [Grammy Gaga moment] was the proof point. We looked at variety of other platforms: creating our own, partnering with a number of other places, and the Grammys are the world’s biggest music stage. We did a three-year deal with the Grammys to be partnered with [Intel] and to create unique experiences, not just on the Grammy stage, but in other places.
So there’s that financial component of committing to a partnership program. Then, of course, there’s the artist component of it, and you know the range that those typically end up in. Frequently, when the idea and the creative are so good, and you’re really collaborating with an artist, you tend to make much more advantageous deals with artists because artists want a creative partner, they want a collaboration partner, and it’s not necessarily about the money. That’s not always true, but I think in the best situations we live in a co-creative society now between brands and artists, and the best content and best experiences happen when it really isn’t about the money. You can imagine when you buy significant amounts of media on the Grammy broadcast and the digital channels, that’s a pretty sizeable, multi-million-dollar investment in media buy to support that message. But it was all part of their broader strategy and certainly a seven-figure commitment by [Intel].
The measurement is in the engagement level that they get, the media impressions, and where the story is, because that’s what it’s about these days. The return on investment was pretty significant for them based on what they actually spent.
Where does GreenLight fit in at Live Nation?
We’re working closely with Russell’s group and working closely with Jordan, as well, on the development of both brand partnerships and how we can create longer-lasting, more meaningful brand partnerships that are driven by strategy, not just about sponsoring various properties. This is about … music-driven strategies that then generate great creative ideas and executions, whether they are live events, experiences, content, a variety of social and video content, and otherwise. We really believe that Live Nation TV has a tremendous opportunity to create its own digital video network that’s very powerful.
Michael [Rapino], to his great credit, says, “we’re a league, just like the NFL or Major League Baseball. We’re the league of music.” We want to create and own that live experience from end to end, not just live in festivals and tours, but in content, too, so even if you can’t be at that experience, you can still experience the live moment through video content, social content, that’s at their fingertips.
What types of deals might we be hearing abut from GreenLight in the next year?
We certainly hope to add some more clients… in the music space that want to do music the right way and have a real music strategy and then crate great branded content. Most brands are looking at how they can tap into music as a vehicle for their brand messaging. I’m hopeful the advantage of Live Nation and their relationships with brands will drive some more business to us that’s longer-term, not just the transaction between a brand and an agency, but about relationship between a brand and a music-driven organization like Live Nation and GreenLight.
The other place where we’re digging in is on Live Nation TV, on creation of original programming concepts that they’re going to market with right now and will be pitching to a variety of different brand partners and sponsors. Some of the things we’ve done, from digital video series to full length documentary feature films, that’s the kind of programming that we’ll create, both original and as branded content pieces.
Will you still be involved with Red Light Management and Coran Capshaw?
We’re based in West Hollywood and share office space with Red Light. That’s one of he benefits to how we’ve structured the relationship; because Coran and I continue as shareholders in the company, I not only have the benefit of Coran as a partner, and all the assets of the sister companies there at Red Light and his investments in a variety of festivals and other places, but now I also have it on the other side with Live Nation.
Who else is doing what Green Light does?
If you look at what the music labels are doing, they’re trying to emulate our model, they’re creating their own in-house agencies, too. Universal has definitely done it, and a few others are getting into the space, but they have agendas. Their agendas are their artist rosters, and they don’t manage those artists, and they don’t have any assets other than that. They have the master recordings, of course. I think we live in a pretty great place, because we still remain independent, agnostic, Switzerland, if you will, but now with really unparalleled access. The data is such a powerful component of this relationship, because we have brands that need to get their message in front of audiences in a compelling way, and at the point of purchase further down that purchase funnel.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.