Katy Perry’s Executive Team On 'PRISM' Roll-Out: Steve Barnett, Martin Kirkup, Greg Thompson In Their Own Words
Photo: Ryan McGinley

The unprecedented success of Katy Perry’s 2010 album "Teenage Dream" set the bar for a follow-up extremely high. How, in this day and age, does anyone sell 2.8 million albums? Or surpass a milestone like being the first woman in the 55-year history of the Billboard Hot 100 to send five songs from the same album to No. 1? Clearly, Perry and her team have their work cut out.

On the eve of her follow-up "PRISM," out Tuesday, Oct. 22, Capitol Records, Billboard spoke with Perry's executive team--including Capitol label head Steve Barnett, Direct Management Group's Martin Kirkup, Steve Jensen and Bradford Cobb and Capitol promotions head Greg Thompson--for a Billboard cover story written by Matt Diehl. The team, so far, have done well by Perry taking her first single “Roar” to the top of the Hot 100 and tying her with Rihanna for the most No. 1's on the Pop Songs tally. Here, the execs discussed their release strategy, how things have changed since UMG acquired Capitol and, of course, PopChips. 


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Katy Perry:

Dont Sit On Something About to Burst:
“In May, I sat down with my managers and said, ‘Guys, I think I'm going to have everything ready enough to come out this fourth quarter. We weren’t really like thinking we’re going to come until February – but you don’t want to sit on something that’s about to burst.”

Bradford Cobb, Partner, Direct Management Group:

Burning The Wig
“Her burning the blue wig recalling “Teenage Dream” era in a viral video teaser - that was really about shedding the image of before and starting a new era.” 

Steve Barnett, chairman/CEO, Capitol Music Group:
It's Official: Universal Names Steve Barnett Chairman/CEO of Capitol Music Group

Steve, Katy; Katy, Steve: 
“In the first meeting I had with Katy, we found we shared the philosophy of taking nothing for granted. Last week Universal made history: we had ten songs in the Hot 100 – and Katy was number one [‘Roar,’ Perry’s first single from ‘Prism,’ topped the Hot 100 on Sept. 16]. That was fantastic for Universal and [Universal Chairman/CEO] Lucian Grainge, who supports Katy’s vision completely. But it doesn’t matter how many No. 1 singles you have. There is no more important artist or album than this to the company, so we had to have the most massive, far-reaching global plan possible. Put that together with the fact Katy made a fantastic record, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Pop Artist/Quarterback:
“Katy has combined everything great about her last record and taken it to the next level. What she does is really pop art – she’s got an acute awareness of how youth culture works. She’s the quarterback, and we’re along for the ride.”


Katy Perry at the iHeartradio Festival
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Clear Channel)


International, Integration: Incredible
“For me to add Robbie McIntosh, who’s head of international at Capitol – that made a massive difference, integrating her to Universal system. Greg Thompson turned the leak of her single into an advantage. Lucian supports her vision, and she’s embraced Capitol’s acquisition and the Universal team; the key components are all there. It’s been an incredible launch, and handled beautifully.”

A Massive Brilliant Plan
“Domestically, it’s a massive, brilliant plan. Working with management, it’s all been well thought out for an incredible start. Add in to that Katy’s commitment to go to Europe, Australia twice, Japan – for artist to her stature to commit and add on to that is great. Max hole and the incredible Universal team put all that together: it’s fantastic, and the record spells success.”

The Tipping Points

“In every category, Katy is at the forefront of radio. Terrestrial radio has been incredibly supportive; closing the iTunes fest, doing IHeartRadio – those are real tipping points. The promotional team, lead by Dennis Reise, has done an incredible job. Everyone in the company – Dennis, Bob Semanovich, Robbie McIntosh, Ron Spaulding, head of sales, all incredibly important people - understands how important this record is for our redevelopment. Danny Lockwood has been her partner with an incredible run of videos; David Joseph and Ted Kunkel in the UK did a brilliant launch, as did the whole global team. No one in history has achieved what she’s done in that space of time – that’s a credit to Katy.”

Martin Kirkup, partner, Direct Management Group:

On the UMG-Capitol Acquisition:
“The core group of people from Capitol that broke Katy are still with the company, which is huge. Add to that focus an even bigger dynamic. There’s a great new boss in Steve Barnett, who’s all about the artist, and there’s no more powerful group of international assets than what Universal has. We’re still at early stages, really enjoying these relationships, seeing the extension of reach we can have. They can grow with Katy and us over the next few albums.”

Old School To Viral:
“How does she announce that an album is coming, and the title, and the date? What we came up with was so old school, it felt brand new: put it all on a truck and send it around America. That started in late July, and then went viral.”


The deluxe edition of "Prism" on iTunes.

“The 'PRISM’ launch utilizes every form of technology for fans to hear the music and taste the variety of the album. We worked very closely with the team at iTunes to do things that have never been done before. What we’re doing with iTunes is happening globally, instantaneously, and simultaneous. In England, however, the strategy is slightly different, but in most territories we put out “Roar” as an official single, then released ‘Dark Horse’ as a ‘instant gratification’ buzz track a few weeks later to highlight the pre-order option; the preorder just pops up on the computer. It’s a way to immerse the fan into the experience and say, ‘Hey, Katy has a lot of singles, but there’s a whole album that’s very deep.’”

Label Love:
“Greg Thompson has been our longtime partner at Capitol, and Dennis Reise who’s the head of promo – they make a great team. We love what they’ve done.”

Two Christmases:
“Only in June did Katy ask us to sit down and think about deadlines, and come up with a plan to release a record; creatively, she was ready. When we did that, she felt it was far enough along to meet fourth quarter deadlines. Our advice was get the album out before Halloween, and do a long run into the end of the year. Two Christmases is our ambition.”

The Evolution of Katy:
“Katy is not into repeating herself, nor are we. This is a very different kind of record from "Teenage Dream": we had to have a strategic campaign that reflects the evolution Katy has gone through.”

That's Her On Twitter
“Most important is her connecting with her fans – that’s special. She can reach out to 55 million friends on Facebook, 44 million on Twitter. It’s her – her voice.  That fan connection is what we keep in mind at all times. The fans create the real excitement.”

Greg Thompson, EVP Promotion & Marketing, Capitol Records:

Katy's Bigger, Better Army:
“It’s a funny journey Katy’s been on. When Universal Music acquired EMI, they were very respectful to keep Katy’s team intact. At the same time, they’ve invested even more resources and brought in a great music man in Steve Barnett, and people like [Universal International CEO/Chairman] Max Hole and [Universal Music President of Global Marketing] Andrew Kronfeld to drive the global picture. In an interesting way, Katy got a bigger and better army to support her.”

‘Roar’s Roar:
“We began with the release of the first single, ‘Roar,’ which was immediately successful. ‘Roar’ shot into power rotation at radio stations at multiple formats - hot AC, top 40 – it’s amassing huge hot 100 audience numbers. Releasing lyric videos built up to the VMAs for her first TV performance of the campaign. And then we came with the classic Katy video which was fun and empowering. Who doesn’t love a video with an elephant? It was an exciting way to roll out the ‘Roar’ success story around the globe – the song went to #1 in many countries. It was just the first chapter of a great novel, though.”

GMAs, High Schools, B-Day:
“The partnership with Good Morning America is creating a while different level of engagement, while giving back to fans. We went on GMA on Sept. 6 to reveal the album. Then we came up with a contest where every high school in America can create their own ‘Roar’ video and show their spirit. That pays off on Friday, Oct. 25  - Katy’s birthday during street week, during fall football season  - when she goes to the school with the best video. It’s a great promotional opportunity.”

'PRISM's Multi-Year Lifespan:
“Katy has a massive global footprint, and it’s important for her to touch all fans around globe and let all the markets have their moment in the rollout. This album is going to have a long deep campaign, with multiple singles; its lifespan should take us through a couple years.”

Truck Stop Tweets:
“It was brilliant idea to launch album by painting a truck gold with the title and street date and drive it across America. One minute it was in L.A., the next the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ending up in Brooklyn. Literally, the driver would stop for gas and get mobbed; people at truck stops would tweet photos at Katy of it. The whole point of that was to create an experience with the fans – one they can drive, see, and touch. It became an adventure, and the truck became star in its own right.”

A screenshot of Katy Perry's Twitter profile on Oct. 17.

The Power of 45,234,029:
“When artist amasses 44 million [now 45,234,029] followers on Twitter, you can speak directly to a huge amount of people. We super-serve Katy’s socials via some key partners – for example, we unlocked a teaser through Shazam on the back of the VMAs, and redid her website for a fresh look, and Instagram as well.”

Steve Jensen, Partner, Direct Management Group:

To Be Real:
“Katy’s social media is authentic, so fans take it seriously. She’s been accused of having the label buy her followers, but that never happened. If she mentions her tour, or a movie she liked, it all comes from her directly. If we want to announce a tour, we’ll have Katy tweet it. Everything comes from her directly. That gets more attention than a press release.”

Barnett’s Perspective:
“Steve [Barnett] is a former manager himself. He understands what needs to be done and how to coordinate the record company’s resources with the management team.”

Why the Truck?
“The purpose of the truck was obvious – announce the release date. It took on a life of its own, going to landmarks like the arch in St. Louis, Graceland and Niagra Falls. The plan was to have it out there a couple weeks, and then meet up with Katy in New York for the VMAs and present the song to Z100. Fans had so much fun with it, though, it stayed out for a couple months...There was a lot of humor in the viral videos.”

The Perfect Term For Katys Brand of Branding
“‘Organic’ is the perfect term to use with Katy’s branding. We honestly don’t couple her music with her brands – we try to keep it separate. Coty just did the global launch of her Killer Queen fragrance in Berlin: they would’ve loved to have Katy’s new music in the commercials, and package the perfume with the cd, but we’re trying to keep music and branding separate. There’s overlap, but they’re two different lives. We can’t overly commercialize the experience if you buy the music.”

PopChips & WalMart:
“We’re doing some things in retail, putting things together to help raise awareness. At Wal-Mart, we have a display created by PopChips for a zine-pack special edition album exclusive to Wal-Mart with a 60 page booklet featuring lyrics and photos.”

International Promo:
“Kary did IHeartRadio fest, and is going to do iTunes in the U.K. CBS Radio is also involved in events. We’re tracking around the world over the next six months, doing television and radio in Australia, Japan, France, and Holland. The world is so small these days, and Katy has been a global brand from the absolute beginning.”

Q2 Tour
“We’ll announce at the end of this year a massive tour set for the second quarter next year that will travel around the globe.”

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