When it comes to advertising, brands have traditionally needed musicians more than musicians have needed brands. But as the popularity of streaming continues to drive down album sales, more artists are seeking out lucrative campaigns and licensing deals.
At Atlantic Records, home to Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Kelly Clarkson, and other stars, EVP of brand partnerships and licensing and head of the global brand council Camille Hackney helps both sides navigate this new terrain. Here’s what she has learned about blending art with sales.
Impact Starts With Sincerity
Early in her career at Atlantic Records, Hackney watched as a hip-hop artist trashed a brand partner in an interview and quickly learned the consequences of a forced relationship. “The artist has to truly love the brand, or you’re going to be on pins and needles the whole duration of the contract,” she says. Now, each time she meets a new Atlantic artist, she asks a series of questions: “What do you wear?” “What devices do you use?” “What do you eat and drink?” The responses serve as starting points for outreach to clothing labels and tech companies. For example, when “Jar of Hearts” singer Christina Perri announced in her first meeting with Hackney that she had a Mini Cooper tattoo on her driving foot, Hackney knew immediately whom to call, and BMW ended up sponsoring several of Perri’s music videos. “You’re in a much better position when you can say, ‘My artist loves your brand. How can we work together?'” says Hackney.
Leave Room For Growth
When new artists join the label, they’re often open to any partnership opportunity that might come their way. That’s fine in the beginning, when publicity is a priority, says Hackney. But as musicians develop their image, she leads them toward partnerships that can benefit more than just their wallets. For body-positive rapper Lizzo, licensing deals with companies like Apple and Cadillac have been significant–but a 2017 spot with plus-size retailer Lane Bryant proved even more effective for connecting with her fan base. Sometimes, Hackney has learned, the potential lies not in the music itself but the method: Grammy-nominated R&B singer Kehlani is known for her highly physical performances, which won her an endorsement deal with activity-proof beauty products from Make Up For Ever.
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Tell It Like It Is
One way Hackney builds strong relationships is by delivering bad news fast. If, for example, an artist gets arrested, “You don’t want [the brand] to read about it on TMZ,” she says. Her straightforward reputation has helped draw companies including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Samsung, and the NFL into the Atlantic ecosystem, where they have become regular partners. It’s also helped her land deals for newer artists with smaller followings. She recalls bringing NFL representatives to Bruno Mars shows in 2013 and selling them on an artist who, while popular, wasn’t yet iconic. His 2014 Super Bowl halftime gig ended up breaking viewership records. “They have to trust that we can read the tea leaves,” she says.
Humanize The Arrangement
Hackney has one requirement during negotiations: The brand representatives and the artist have to speak directly with one another, either in person or on the phone, before they sign a deal. “Both parties are building brands, and each needs to talk about who they are, their goals and strategies,” she says. She’s learned that when musicians have a chance to put a face to what can otherwise seem like an anonymous corporation, they’re more likely to understand the importance of their actions while they’re under contract (and less likely to flake on engagements). Brands, meanwhile, are less likely to make unrealistic requests, like a “no change in appearance” clause once suggested for an artist famous for altering her hair color daily. Understanding one another’s values, she says, “always makes a partnership stronger.”