This year, as part of its 2019 Branding Power Players report, Billboard recognizes four Masters of Branding: Marcie Allen, founder/president of MAC Presents; Jennifer Breithaupt, global consumer chief marketing officer, Citi; Deborah Curtis, vp, global brand partnerships & experiences, American Express; and Maureen Ford, president of national and festival sales, Live Nation.
These four excel not only in their business achievements but in driving conversations around the importance of branding partnerships to the music industry.
“Everyone is so focused on streaming, but you need to be Einstein to understand that model of how artists get paid,” says Allen. “Brand partnerships go straight into [artists’] pockets. That’s what’s funding additional production on tours, opening acts, pop-ups, philanthropic endeavors. That’s why brand partnerships are a pillar to the music industry, and any manager or label is going to tell you that.”
Founder/President, MAC Presents
This year marked the 15th anniversary of Allen’s company, MAC Presents, which has staked out its place at “the intersection [of] gaming, technology, fashion, food and music,” she says. “We do everything from brand partnerships and strategy work to social media, activations, experiential events, production and more.” Most recently, she and her small team — comprising “90% women” — have achieved hip-hop branding coups like Valee’s partnership with Adidas, Travis Scott’s Postmates sponsorship for his Astroworld — Wish You Were Here Tour and MadeinTYO’s Fresh Faces deal with Sprite. Allen has ongoing projects with brands that include Citi, Swisher Sweets, Uber and Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre.
She helped steer Khalid’s mainstream breakthrough via partnerships with Forever 21, AT&T and Uber/Uber Eats, as well as an expansive deal with Hollister that included a 13-piece clothing line and an anti-bullying campaign. (Allen cites a 2018 study by global measurement and analytics company Nielsen that found 70% of millennials are more likely to purchase from a brand if it handles a social issue well.) For Khalid, she also ensured that sponsors including the app LiveMe, gaming accessory firm HyperX and FIJI Water picked up the tab for the singer’s gaming-themed 21st-birthday party in Beverly Hills, Calif., in February. (“It was a proud-mama moment,” she says.)
An adjunct professor at New York University since 2013, Allen shares her expertise (and industry contacts) with the next generation of branding entrepreneurs. Joking that she “got in trouble” for recently saying that tour partnerships are dead, she elaborates that concerts and festivals “are leveraged as a way to activate a bigger partnership between an artist and a brand. There are no more cookie-cutter deals. At heart, we’re storytellers.” Looking ahead, Allen is bullish on music branding. “While the majority of sponsorship budgets in North America are still going to sports, people are starting to shift their dollars into music,” she says. “If we can continue to carve out more dollars, I truly believe that in the next five years, music-brand partnerships could be a $5 billion industry.”
Global consumer chief marketing officer, Citi
Since her promotion in April 2017 to global consumer chief marketing officer at Citi, Breithaupt and her international team have reaffirmed Citi’s commitment to music, collaborating with some 1,500 artists on over 12,000 events and experiences worldwide through the Citi Entertainment program (previously known as Citi Private Pass). For any global brand, reaching customers worldwide can be difficult. “But music is the one thing — that universal language — that is incredibly powerful for brands to connect on a deeper level with consumers,” says Breithaupt. Among her most effective initiatives is Citi Sound Vault, now in its third year. During Grammy Week in February, the program (booked through Live Nation) offered cardholders exclusive access to small-venue shows in Los Angeles by P!nk, Muse and Chris Stapleton. Breithaupt calls it “the ultimate fan experience” and adds that Citi has earned over 1 billion marketing impressions from the events.
Ahead of this year’s Grammy Awards, a study released by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative detailed how women artists, songwriters and producers are marginalized in the music industry. Citi already had joined the #SeeHer campaign, created in 2016 by the Association of National Advertisers, to fight bias against women in advertising and media. On March 8, International Women’s Day, in an hourlong segment on NBC’s Today that featured Maren Morris, Citi launched #SeeHerHearHer, a social impact campaign and mentorship program to advance gender equality in the music business. “Because we do so much [in music], we thought, ‘What better way to use our influence?’ ” says Breithaupt. “And Citi is not doing this alone. We’ve made a commitment to bring in 50 other brands for this initiative. Collectively, we have a lot of power.” The company’s plans go beyond hashtags. “You’ll see us lean in heavily on how we support women in the music industry, not only through events, experiences and tours that we support, but through the use of music in our advertising, making sure we have fairer representation when we’re selecting songs and fairer representation when we’re producing our advertising, [including our choice of] producers or directors,” she says. “Gender equality is important to us as an organization, and to me personally.”
Vp, global brand partnerships & experiences, American Express
When it comes to relationships between brands and artists, Curtis says the essential challenge is, “How do we create value together? It’s not always easy, but it’s really satisfying when you do that collaboration the right way.” She took on that task afresh with the launch in April 2018 of a new global marketing campaign for American Express called “Don’t Live Life / Do Business Without It.” (The tagline evokes the company’s classic 1975 ads that told cardholders, “Don’t leave home without it.”) Curtis says that value is created in three ways in relation to music: “How we back our customers, our partners and the music community.”
Under Curtis, American Express has become known for giving customers priority access to high-demand concerts and exclusive events. The past year was no exception. Curtis oversaw card member deals for Elton John’s and Travis Scott’s tours and such festivals as Austin City Limits and Coachella. For the third year, festivalgoers who downloaded the Coachella app and entered their account information could use their festival wristbands to enter the on-site Card Member Lounge (where they could avail themselves of complimentary sneaker cleaning and nail art) and the off-grounds Platinum House at the Avalon Palm Springs.
Curtis also managed a handful of “truly one-of-a-kind” experiential events, including, she says, Amex listening experiences for Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods rollout and Ariana Grande’s intimate Sweetener Sessions — underplays at theaters in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The relationship between artists and their fans is paramount, says Curtis, “so we really hold that quite sacred.” Giving back to the music community also remains a core goal, particularly to advance women. The company has been a repeat sponsor of Billboard’s annual Women in Music event where, in 2017, American Express announced its Women in Music Leadership Academy, dedicated to identifying, developing and strengthening women’s leadership profiles and business impact across all sectors of the music industry. “Personally, as a woman in music,” says Curtis, “and professionally, as part of a brand that has their backs, that was one of those great professional accomplishments.”
President of national and festival sales, Live Nation
Helping brands connect with fans attending over 100 Live Nation festivals worldwide, Ford, 54, and her team drove festival sponsorship for the world’s leading live-entertainment company by 13% in 2018. She’s a leader at the Live Nation division that, under global president of media and sponsorship Russell Wallach, gives marketers the means to reach some 93 million fans (up 8% from 2017) at Live Nation concerts and festivals. Ford achieved that growth through new deals with Nissan, Subway, American Eagle, Pantene, Sterling Wine and Sony, among others, by using a powerful new tool to strike those partnerships: Live Nation’s global consumer study, “The Power of Live.” The project, which surveyed 22,500 fans in 11 countries across five continents, produced a number of key insights, among them that 66% of survey respondents perceived a feeling of “sensation deprivation” — a hunger for real-life experiences — with 71% of respondents agreeing that live music was the best antidote for that problem. In addition to “educating brands about live music and why the passion for it is so important,” says Ford, “I want to hear about their objectives.”
Live Nation-devised activations at festivals also allow brands to stand out. “We’re very proud of our LG Electronics laundry activation — the ‘Laundroo Lounge’ — for campers at Bonnaroo last year,” she says: Visitors could drop off clothes for cleaning in LG washers and dryers (and also charge their phones). With this summer’s North American festival season just beginning, Ford is already bullish on the year’s financial results. “With over 70% of our budgeted sponsorship net revenue for the year already committed, we are confident we will again deliver double-digit growth in 2019,” she says. And beyond this year, continues Ford, measurement of results for sponsors “will definitely be the 2020 story. We’ve hired an entire staff, including some from comScore, and we’re having those conversations much earlier about engagement, brand lift [and more]. We do measurements in our deal points now because we have that discipline now, and we feel like we’re ready to make that commitment to brands.”