Manage for Success: Marketing Plans Newsletter #82, February 2008

"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully. It's published by Keith Holzman of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant, troubleshooter, and trusted advisor, and is based on his many years as a senior executive in the music industry.

Copyright 2008 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.


For years I've been stressing to my clients the need to develop -- and implement -- comprehensive marketing plans for each and every release. And lately, it seems, quite a few have asked me to guide them through the process of creating them.

A truly comprehensive marketing plan should cover all aspects of what's involved in getting the word out to the public about an artist's newest release, and should indicate what each department (real or "virtual") needs to do to implement its share of the project, and should contain budget estimates of what each step is likely to cost.

The plan should include what's to be done to publicize the release, how you might enlist and obtain radio airplay, how you plan to motivate your distributor and retailers to move appropriate quantities into stores, and what'll be involved in digital distribution of individual tracks and complete albums, but most important -- how you plan to motivate the public to buy the music.

It should discuss when and where the artist should tour, and how to make use of street teams and in-store performances.

If you're a medium-size label you might have one or more people handling each principal departmental function. However, if you're really small, then make use of a wide variety of independent "virtual" professionals who specialize in overall marketing, or public relations, or getting airplay. I successfully ran my own label for some years with just one full-time assistant. All the rest of the work was done on a project-by-project basis by one or more virtual, freelance pros, it being my job to coordinate their efforts in a constructive and meaningful way.

It's probably best to develop the marketing plan as a series of "phases," each of which is for a certain period of time. For example, Phase 1 might cover what's involved in setting up a release and what's to be done prior to street date. Phase 2 could cover the initial roll-out through the first few months of work. Phase 3 might cover a projected accelerated build-up based on positive feedback from the roll-out. If, however, initial reaction isn't overly positive, then an alternate Phase might cover how to "fix" any given problem that developed during the first months of work.

Here are some of the things that need to be included in an effective marketing plan, broken down by traditional "departmental" functions. Remember that each label functions differently, so make use of the following as best fits your own company's style and structure.

Publicity. Also called public relations, its job is to build public awareness of an artist and release thorough use of such print media as newspapers and magazines, radio and television interviews, etc., not only for the recording, but also in support of all public performances and road tours. It's done through use of press kits containing promotional CDs that are seeded to media three or months prior to street date, and then committed follow-up with writers and editors.

Promotion's task is to get radio airplay for a release based on the genre of music, and its inherent musicality. Stations, whether commercial or non-commercial, will be pitched as appropriate. In some cases, classical for instance, there may be a limited number of possible stations that might broadcast the music; whereas there are very many stations that might be right for a straight-ahead rock track. A radio promoter might work a complete album, or just a specifically chosen "airplay" track. And the person or department may very likely obtain assistance from one or more independent promotion people to assist in getting airplay. In that event, your designated in-house person's job is to rally the forces and keep track of plays and rotations.

Touring is usually the responsibility of an artist's manager, since most indie labels don't have anyone on staff to handle it. The manager's job is to keep the artist performing in front of the public, but it’s the label's job to coordinate its efforts very closely with the manager and/or agent.

A label might also help to obtain commercial sponsorship and/or tour support from appropriate companies that might be willing to provide funds, instruments, or equipment in exchange for publicity or other considerations.

It's also the label's job to see that Publicity coordinates touring with media so that newspapers are encouraged to not only write about an upcoming performance, but also to publish reviews. Sometimes in conjunction with promotion, Publicity should arrange for on-air interviews by local DJs and music directors just prior to a public performance.


There's a lot more about marketing and marketing plans in my book, "The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company," available as a downloadable eBook in PDF form, or as a printed, spiral-bound volume. Download the Introduction and read the complete Table of Contents at <>.

Also, please contact me if you need help putting together your own effective marketing plan or with any other administrative or organizational problem. Take advantage of my many years of record industry experience to see how I might be able to assist. My email address is at the bottom of this newsletter.


A company's digital download direction is generally label-wide, but you might want to offer a free track as an initial "come-on," or set up some kind of a special promotional deal with one of the online stores.

Don't forget to consider how email can be an effective marketing tool, and most important, how you'll make use of the web. Each artist and release should have its own web page or pages, but be sure that they've been fully thought through and developed.

When appropriate to artist and music, clever use of street teams can do a great deal to increase public awareness of an act, at very little expense. But it will needed to be coordinated by someone at the label.

You must also consider whether or not to make use of video as a part of your marketing. Although effective music videos can be made for a modest amount of money, some can be very expensive. Be sure there's potential for your video to actually get broadcast on stations where it might help build an artist's profile and career.

Advertising is one of the least important considerations, and generally unnecessary at the outset of a new artist's release. Loads of ad dollars will not make someone buy something from an artist she's never heard of and whose music is unknown. Save such money for established artists, or in support of a release that's accumulated sufficient heat to make the gamble seem reasonable.

Budgeting. All of these efforts will have to be carefully budgeted in a comprehensive spreadsheet. Allow for phased expenditures based on what you plan to do and then on what's actually happening. Don't "chase" a release by throwing money at it, but have enough arrows in your quiver to use on selected targets as positive events occur. And most important, be sure to keep track of all marketing commitments and expenses as they're made.

Be prepared to set up your plan for a lengthy period of time. It might be six or more months before a release takes off, so be sure to budget accordingly. Encourage managers to keep their acts on the road for an extended period of time. This is what builds exposure for the artist and the music. There was an excellent illustration of this in an article titled "The Long Haul" by Cortney Harding in the February 16th issue of Billboard, where she writes "marketing campaigns for indie bands are looking less like sprints and more like marathons." < > (Subscription required.)

Above all, follow-up on everything. Keep everyone involved well-informed, and be sure your own staff, all virtual professionals, and particularly your distribution partner and retailers, know about positive events as they occur.

Remember, any marketing plan is just a road map based on what you hope will happen. Be prepared to take detours as necessary based on positive or negative reactions to the music and its marketing. After all, the plan is written on paper, not in stone.

By the way, there was an excellent interview conducted by David Byrne with Radiohead's Thom Yorke on "The Real Value of Music" that appeared in the January issue of Wired. It was followed by Byrne's own article titled "The Fall and Rise of Music." Both have lots of provocative ideas that provide much food for thought.

Until next month,

Keith Holzman -- Solutions Unlimited

Helping Record Labels Manage for Success.



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Copyright 2008 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.