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UMG’s E-Commerce Chief Talks Big Holiday Campaign, New Hires and Merch Gift Cards

When the Universal Music Group announced in May that Richelle Parham was joining the company in the newly-created role of president of global e-commerce and business development, the hire was seen as significant: Parham, the former CMO of eBay, was a native of the direct-to-fan e-commerce world that the music business has so openly embraced in the past several years.

Now, six months into her gig, Parham is shoring up her executive team heading into the busy holiday season with two new hires: Naras Eechambadi as chief data and analytics officer; and Alexandra Hinkle as chief marketing officer global consumer marketing. With Eechambadi and Hinkle, as well as the announcement last week (Nov. 15) that former Warner Music executive Matt Young would be heading up the merch division Bravado as president, Parham, in her first interview since taking on her current role, says she has the driving forces in place to execute what UMG is trying to do.

“The best way to think of it is in really creating this ecosystem that surrounds the artist and the fan with merchandise, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, one-of-a-kind items, personalized recommendations, retail and other pop-up stores like what we have in the U.K. with The Rolling Stones and Queen, or value-added content and lyrics,” she tells Billboard. So [Eechambadi and Hinkle] really help to fuel that, and then you need all that great merch, and that’s what Matt Young brings to the equation with Bravado.”

Following Young’s appointment to lead Bravado — which she calls the “engine” of UMG’s D2C machine — Eechambadi and Hinkle will be tasked with both helping to better understand fans of UMG’s vast stable of artists and helping to turn those fans into super fans, analyzing data and analytics to help build tools and marketing campaigns to better serve the fans looking for merch, experiences and content from the artists they follow closest. Parham points to Eechambadi’s work with clients like Disney and American Express as examples of ways that UMG can use consumer data to zero in on fans and customers, as well as Hinkle’s extensive marketing strategy and audience growth experience, as essential to what lies ahead for UMG. Eechambadi and Hinkle, both with more than two decades of experience in their fields, are reporting to Parham in newly-created positions as she re-shapes her purview.

Alexandra Hinkle
Alexandra Hinkle Courtesy of Universal Music Group

Here, Parham explains her strategy over the first six months since she’s been in her role and her plans, both for the rest of this year and moving into 2022, of expanding the department and connecting fans and artists, which will include a major and global holiday campaign, which she calls the first of its kind. “Our artists are just looking for better, smarter ways to connect with fans, and that’s what we’re bringing them,” she says. “That’s what this ecosystem that we’re creating is all about.”

It’s been six months since you started. How have things gone so far?

On a personal note, I’m having a great time and having so much fun. Professionally, it’s going great because I’m able to do what I’ve been doing at some of the other amazing brands where I’ve been. This is all about building ecosystems and really digging in and understanding fans. So with these amazing hires, as well as the great team that I already have, we are really bringing something new to our fans and super fans, whether it’s the work we’re doing in the NFT and blockchain space, the work we’re doing with personalized music recommendations or the work we’re doing here with marketing, data and analytics, it’s all about really making those stronger and deeper connections between our artists and the fans who love them.

What have you set out to do within your department?

What I’m trying to do is really create stronger and more meaningful connections between our artists and the fans who love them. And how we’re doing that is by creating “always on,” one-to-one relationships with fans that go beyond releases and tours. A lot of what we’ve been doing is focusing on releases and tours, but fans don’t go away after those things, so we’re focusing on being always on and building those one-to-one relationships.

We’re also focusing on deepening that fandom and creating these really meaningful connections and experiences, but powering them with exclusive content and products. So a lot of what you’ll see from us is how we’re starting to lean in more onto some of these efforts that we’ve been doing over the years to really create these very personalized experiences. And the last thing we’re doing is using our enterprise-level data hub to identify and nurture and optimize the fan and super fan throughout their journey.

Naras Eechambadi
Naras Eechambadi Courtesy Universal Music Group

How has your background with previous companies informed your approach to this role?

eBay is a layup, as you can imagine — a lot of what I focused on at eBay was exactly this. We had all this incredible merchandise and we just needed to make sure that it showed up in front of our consumer at the right time and at the right place and create opportunities for them to continue to find items that they love. So what we’re doing here is the same thing. My job is to create experiences that our fans and super fans love, and the only way for us to do that is to not only understand more about the things that they care about, but be able to create products and merchandise that they love. And it’s giving them access to content that the everyday person doesn’t have. And it’s because of those fan relationships that we’re able to do that.

What I’m trying to do is really lean in and surprise and delight our fans, to reduce the friction so that they can make these meaningful connections with their favorite artists, but I’m also giving fans the confidence that they can come back to find even more, greater experiences. So what’s been exciting about my career is that it’s been pretty consistent: it’s about the power of e-commerce and data analytics and being able to create relationships with fans and ultimately turn them to super fans. So I’m doing exactly what I love every day.

Your efforts also extend into web3, correct? What other changes are you seeing happening in e-commerce with respect to the music business?

How I think about what I do is, music is the foundation for everything, as you can imagine, but I’m able to overlay all of these great new ways for fans and artists to connect. So when you think about some of the partnerships that we’ve announced in the digital-goods space, many of our artists are excited about digital goods and how that connects, and you can imagine a world where merchandise authentication and all these other ways to not only get fans to the product but also give them something that they’re excited about and proud of, that they can own it, that’s what this whole space is about. Our artists are just looking for better, smarter ways to connect with fans, and that’s what we’re bringing them. That’s what this ecosystem that we’re creating is all about.

What do you have coming up next?

We are doing our first-ever global holiday campaign with 50-plus artists. We have a holiday gift guide, we have holiday merchandise. What we’re doing is bringing new merchandise, bringing back some old favorites, sprinkling in some one-of-a-kind items and we’re doing some holiday bundles. We’ve done holiday before, but we’re going big with our first-ever global holiday campaign.

We’re also launching our first-ever UMG new music gift card, which allows our fans to gift artist merchandise to their friends and family. We have 25 artists signed up to be a part of it and we’re excited about this new way to get our fans and artists connected. For next year, we’re going to make that gift card program even bigger, but this is our pilot. We’re using our recommendation engine to personalize the experience for our fans and super fans and help them find the right items that they’re looking for. We did a soft launch on Nov. 15 and we’ll be in full swing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s an integrated, cross-channel marketing campaign with email and media and social and a holiday sweepstakes, and then we have a significant non-profit partner who we’re going to make a donation to at the end, and we’ll announce who it is at that point.

What you can expect from us next year is leaning in even harder with data and analytics. You can expect us to be present for even more retail moments, in addition to going big on holiday. There’s a bunch of great releases and tours that are happening, so you’ll continue to see us lean in with strong merchandise, great collections, doing some collaborations and bringing new, fun merchandise, including once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and then we have a few partnerships up our sleeve. And then we’re just leaning into e-commerce, continuing to expand that platform and leverage the data and analytics to help us be even smarter, and just be present. We want to make sure our fans have access to their favorite artists, and in order to do that we need to ensure that we have all of the right data and analytics, the best products, the best content and the best experiences to make those connections come to life.