8 Partnership Lessons from The Black Eyed Peas

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I really don't like the Whack Eyed Peas.  Don't now, and never did.  But that's not the point of this post.

There's a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the group's marketing savvy and how they've been able to gain the sponsorship support from major corporations such as Apple, Blackberry, Samsung, Best Buy and a bunch of others.  Of course, none of this would be possible without their having sold 26 million albums around the world.  Clearly, mainstream territory.

Here's the thing:  This may seem out of reach for a lot of black rock bands.  However, what you have to give Will.i.am credit for is understanding how to work with brands.  And this is something everyone can learn and do, right down to the local level.

Some things I'd suggest musicians can think about (and if you don't want to, then get someone–a manager, a lawyer, your best friend with the MBA–to help you):

  • Know your lane. This encompasses a couple of things.  First, can you describe what you do quickly and succinctly?  At SXSW, I mentioned Sharif Iman, who described himself as "Seal meets the Foo Fighters".  No descriptor like this is ever 100%.  But the point is, it gets people who haven't heard his music in the zone of what he does.  Secondly, who comes to your shows?  Guess what: For the time being, that's your audience, whether you like it or not.  You need to be clear about who that is because any partner is going to want to know this.
  • Build your database. I can't stress this enough. Take every opportunity to get email addresses of people who actually give a shit about you and the music you're making.  I'd say that most black rock bands don't need to talk to the whole world.  They just need to find the folks that care about what they do.  Imagine if you could cultivate 1,000 true fans who'd spread the word and evangelize for you the next time your went or tour or released your album.  What would that be worth to you?  I'd say it's significant if you can maintain a connection with the ones who really care.  After all, if you can book at 10-15 city tour and pull 200 people per city, that's a good look. Promoters will definitely book you, no matter what you look like, since they'll see dollars.  And it all starts with a solid database.
  • Be honest about who you are in the beginning and stick to that. Both your fans and your eventual partners will appreciate the honesty.  Don't take this to mean that you should be inflexible.  I'm just saying be clear and don't compromise who you are just to get a check.  Yes, I imagine it gets harder as the money and the partners get bigger.  But by having clarity in the beginning, you'll do just fine.

  • Don't overlook local businesses as partners. Yeah, it's cool to get a national brand behind your band.  After all, who wouldn't want Verizon Wireless or AT&T behind them?  What about that great coffee shop you frequent every morning that's also around the corner from the venue at which you've set up a three-month residency?  Talk to them about covering the cost of your flyers in exchange for you listing them as a sponsor and shouting them out at your shows and in all of your online marketing.  Guess what? You just zeroed a line in your budget!
  • Only partner with companies and businesses you use and love.  Seriously.  Your enthusiasm for them will be authentic.  Believe me, everyone–your fans, your friends, the partners themselves–will eventually find out if you're faking it.
  • It's not about what you can get, but what you can give your partners.  Once you take on partners, you're in the customer service business.  You need to take care of these people and treat them like royalty because to you, they are.  Happy partners come back to do more business.  So, what do they need?  Figure it out–better yet, ask them–and then over-deliver on it.
  • Make your partners look good.  Make sure their prominently–but tastefully–displayed on all the real estate–Web sites, social media sites, flyers, posters–that you own.  Make sure their logos are produced at a crisp resolution.  Make sure their name and their URL is spelled correctly before you print 5,000 times.  Think of ways to integrated them into your shows.  The WSJ article talks about how the Peas works Blackberry into every show:
  • He [co-manager William Derella] says the band eventually scored the sponsorship in large part by
    presenting ideas such as the nightly freestyle rap, and a moment when
    will.i.am works variations of the company's tag line, "Love what you
    do," into a seemingly spontaneous monologue during one of the show's
    closing numbers, "Where Is the Love." Such gambits allowed the Peas to
    get away without putting any BlackBerry banners on the stage.

    • Measure everything. All partners want metrics.  That's how they gauge whether or not their investment in you has been worthwhile.  Companies speak in numbers because they're concrete, so be prepared to tell them how many people came to your show; hits your Web site had; people opened that email with their logo on it; and the # of people who clicked on their logo.  They'll be able to tell you how many people came through their site or their store and, for example, said your band's name to get a discount.  At least, they should.

    Bottom line is this: You want to build a track record of working with businesses.  Start with smaller ones and work your way up.  Bigger companies will look at those early partners and take comfort that you and your bandmates aren't "typical artists," i.e., difficult.  Make it easy for them to say yes.

    Just start laying the foundation now.

    This is kinda off the cuff, so I'd be interested to know what you all think.

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