Coming off a couple of challenging years for the touring industry, success in generating sponsorship revenue hasn't been easy, especially at a time of continued corporate belt-tightening. Thankfully for touring artists, music events are hot with brands.
Making sure that Live Nation Entertainment maximizes those opportunities is Russell Wallach, president of Live Nation Network, where he oversees all of the touring giant's sponsorship programs across venue, online, social media, mobile and artist platforms. His team has developed a broad range of multimillion-dollar, integrated marketing programs with some of the biggest global brands, including Citi, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Starwood Hotels.
"Every brand we talk to is in love with the idea of doing something in music," Wallach says. "They want to be involved in music for the reasons that we know: universal appeal; it touches audiences that professional sports doesn't touch; we reach women and young people better than anyone in the world."
This year, Wallach's team has been focused on new product categories., "and with those categories, looking at how we can not only create great sponsorship programs, but great promotional platforms." He cites as an example a promotion between Gulf Oil and the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass., called "The Ride's on Us." The first 1,000 people to purchase two or more tickets to a participating event at the Comcast Center (the last eligible event is a Sept. 17 Toby Keith concert) will receive a $20 gas card from Gulf.
That satisfies two timely goals: providing relief from high gas prices and boosting concert attendance. "When we can add value to the artist, help sell tickets, provide value to the fans and get a sponsorship, it's a win/win," Wallach says.
Brands have also been exhibiting greater interest in experiential music marketing, providing their customers with one-on-one encounters with top artists. Live Nation has collaborated with Carnival Cruise Lines to set up artist meet-and-greets in cities where the company sponsors Live Nation venues and has worked with Starwood Hotels to organize auctions for Starpoints loyalty club members, offering them the chance to bid on singing lessons from Natasha Bedingfield or piano instruction from Gavin DeGraw. "We're building out programs and working with the artists to create these experiences that we're then packaging for our clients," Wallach says.
Cyclical downturns in concert attendance don't necessarily have a big impact on sponsorship spending in the space, he says.
"The clients we're talking to are not focused on how many tickets we're selling for a particular show-they're looking at the overall platform," he says. "They're looking to take promotions to retail, to create these experiences. They're not really focused day to day on the ins and outs of our industry. We're selling them the entire Live Nation platform, and that is well beyond the concert at a particular venue. It's everything we're doing online, at social media and mobile. We just launched a program with Bacardi, and the entire program is based around music, but all mobile."
For the industry at large, the tools in the promotional tool box are more varied and specialized than even a couple of years ago, and that's particularly true for Live Nation.
"We're doing things we never did before, building Facebook apps for our clients, programs with Foursquare," Wallach says. "All these things happening in the marketplace we're now able to incorporate into our programs . . . Every conversation we have with brands is so interesting and different than it would have two or three years ago, when it would have been, 'I want a couple of signs and I want a couple of tickets.'"
Wallach and his team are also putting together creative programs with blue chipcq, no hyphen companies like Coca-Cola, which boasts one of the largest loyalty programs in the world with My Coke Rewards.
"The key is, how can we utilize that huge audience to help artists market shows?" he asks rhetorically.
Live Nation found a way with rock band Taking Back Sunday, which is being supported by Coke radio promotions in 25 markets around the country, sound-check promotions and myriad online, mobile and social media tie-ins."We're getting smarter, more creative, in partnering with bands and brands to bring them together so we all take advantage of all of our strengths to do some great marketing, help sell more product for the brand, help sell more tickets and records for the band, and what we're all pushing to do is focus on the fan," Wallach says. "What cool things can we deliver to fans that everybody gets value out of?
"With so many more tools now, there's not a conversation that we can have with a brand where we can't find a solution, and that's exciting from where I sit," Wallach says. "If a client is not interested in a venue or a particular artist, but they're interested in a particular music fan, we can develop a digital/mobile/social promotional program for them. It just gives us a lot more opportunities to work with different companies in different ways and get them involved in music."••••