A few incidents in the past couple of weeks have reminded me that record promotion is harder than ever.  Consultants control more and more programmers.  It seems every station has a deal with an independent.  Radio conglomerates are buying more stations daily making programmers more concerned with their longevity and tighter with their lists.  Callout research, once a tool, is becoming the mitigating factor in airplay.  BDS makes a “favor” add impossible. SoundScan completely nullifies sales hype.

What’s a promotion executive to do?

I’ve used a lot of ink and killed many trees in past Editorials on how to cope with each of the difficulties mentioned above.  But a new problem seems to be raising its ugly head of late.

Promotion VPs, whose time is consumed with meetings and memos that often have little to do with getting records played and building relationships with programmers, have been forgetting the little things that can quickly turn into the Big Bad Wolf.

PDs are running into the same time-spent-concentrating (on the real issues) problem.  It’s difficult to get a PD to take a phone call, rare when one returns an e-mail, rarer still when a PD accepts a dinner invitation and almost impossible for a major PD to attend the showcase of a new artist.

Too often, when we have a PD in our pocket for an evening, a situation that could be the genesis of a new relationship, a growing measure of respect or an early add turns out to be the exact opposite.

Why?  Lack of planning or just complete stupidity.  Promotion VPs, and their soldiers, Sometimes forget the two words: homework and legwork.

When a programmer agrees to attend a showcase, VPs should treat this like a troop movement.  A PD is giving up valuable time to show respect to a record company. Rarely has a PD heard of the new act.  Seldom does a PD really want to give up a night off because the act has a buzz.  In nearly every situation, a programmer attends a record company function out of respect to the company or the promotion executive.  This is a VP’s time to shine, but only if you run the event.  It all goes to hell if you let the event run you.

Dealing with today’s Mainstream artists, whether established or new, is always a pain in the ass.  For the most part, artists don’t care about PDs.  They care about sound, lights and the audience…and what color M&Ms are served in the dressing room.  There is a reason Country artists have a longer lifespan than those in other genres.  Country artists, no matter how big or small, make sure PDs are welcomed at every opportunity.  Country artists are usually pouring the drinks at the pre-show meet-and-greet.  Mainstream artists are more likely to show up late in a bad mood, anxious to get everything over with because nothing is more important than their “art.”

Their “art” is worthless unless it’s heard by the masses.  It won’t be heard unless programmers play it.  And it won’t get played if a PD has a bad experience at a showcase.  A promotion executive can’t control an artist.  It’s impossible.  But homework and legwork can take command of the situation.

If a PD agrees to attend an appearance by your artist, start your homework.  What kind of artist are you showcasing?  Is the artist pleasant?  Does the artist truly care if a programmer will be in attendance?  Will the artist be on time?

If it’s possible, sit down with the artist and explain the importance of a PD’s attendance.  Convince the artist that homage needs to be paid.  If this is impossible, then take charge of the logistics to make sure the evening will be pleasant for the PD.

If your artist is prone to be late, doesn’t care about a meet-and-greet or is on a strict time schedule, make alternate plans.  Treat the programmer to a great dinner before the show.  This way, you control the situation.  Over dinner, you can extol the virtues of the artist.  The PD doesn’t need to meet an artist to be impressed.  Most of the time, PDs don’t even want to have their picture taken with the artist.  If you can’t work it out so that it’s easy and painless for both parties, don’t bother.

Make sure the show begins on time.  While you’re having dinner, check with your local rep waiting at the venue.  If the show is running late, order another bottle of wine.  Don’t make a PD wait for a showcase or you’ll be waiting when you want the add.  It’s quid pro quo to the max and if you don’t believe it, you should get into another business.

“Don’t worry, the PD will understand,” is an overstatement bordering on the absurd.  PDs don’t understand.  If you believe differently, you’re living in a subjective dream world of adolescence incapable of comprehending your own environment.

After you’ve done your work and planned the evening to the exact second, things outside of your responsibility can cause the evening to spin out of control like a psychotic horse racing toward a burning barn. In this case, improvise.  But as you improvise, remember that the PDs pleasure is your only objective.  I recently witnessed a perfect example.  Columbia Sr. VP Promotion Jerry Blair made careful plans for a group of PDs to have  wonderful evening with Mariah Carey.  Nothing was left to chance.  Then, everything went wrong.  Rain poured during the concert, prolonging the event.  Afterwards, at a scheduled party, the weather played havoc.  Mariah was to meet the PDs after MTV appearance.  MTV took forever.  The PDs were left waiting.

Blair didn’t assume that the PDs would understand.  He went to work.  Blair personally reopened the bar and began pouring drinks.  He made the time-spent-waiting as comfortable as possible.  Next, he arranged for Mariah to make an unscheduled appearance in his suite back at the hotel just for the programmers.  And he didn’t stop there.  The next week, he was on the phone to all of the PDs apologizing for the inconvenience and giving them additional promotions.  He left nothing to chance.

Is this why Mariah’s next record was most added?  You be the judge.

Rest assured, PDs judge promotion executives under the column headed “time-spent-worthwhile.”  If you believe differently, you’re a VP, all right.

Very pathetic.

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