Live Nation Network President Russell Wallach on Branding Concerts, Optimizing Bathroom Breaks and Bruce Springsteen
Russell Wallach saw Bruce Springsteen play in the ‘80s. This summer, he had one of his “wildest experiences” with saran-wrapped laptop mash-up manic, Girl Talk. Wallach isn’t some stereotypical middle-aged rich guy trying to rekindle his youth on sweaty festival grounds. As President of Live Nation Network, it’s his job.
This year, Live Nation, the overarching brand comprised partially–and most notably–of Ticketmaster, is changing the live entertainment landscape. “In the last 10 months we’ve hired about 12 people to build up a digital media and national visual media talent force,” Wallach established at the beginning of our conversation, “[That team] is now out working aggressively with Madison Avenue on incredible mobile, social and online advertising programs.”
Wallach covers all bases with that statement, and it’s an easy claim to make. But how exactly are these programs more “incredible” than traditional (Facebook, Twitter, website) social media engagement? First, some background:
In January of 2010, Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster. The music company and ticket-selling powerhouse came together in hopes of becoming the world’s premier live entertainment company. Their marriage was not without vows of compromise: to satisfy anti-trust groups, Live Nation gave their competitor AEG license to Ticketmaster ticketing technology and agreed not to retaliate against clients who decided to part ways with the company when their contracts were up.
This summer, Fast Company labeled Ticketmaster “The Most Hated Brand in America.” High service fees, ticket prices and a general lack of follow-through provoked hate mail and drove audience numbers down. But, as Fast Company points out, Ticketmaster is now “rocking” their reputation and playing to the crowd. Last May, CEO Nathan Hubbard embarked on a “Turnaround Tour” to inform Ticketmaster’s clients of their new strategy.
Wallach explains that it’s all about the fan, even if past failures indicated otherwise. With updated technology and outreach, they’re now starting prove their integrity. Whether Live Nation is uniting band and brand or artist and audience, their improved way of doing business is focused on engagement and convenience.
“What is powerful is, how can you engage with the brand and the artist together on an ongoing basis?” Wallach said. “That really is through social media and developing programs that are integrated and multi-dimensional versus one-dimensional, which would be a product placement or a banner somewhere, which was something that brands might have been interested in – having a banner on the stage, sponsoring a concert – 10 years ago.”
Today, emphasis is on attracting fans via subtler methods. Live Nation’s newly updated app takes care of ticket purchases, concert logistics and branding. “The great thing about our app, first and foremost, is that it solves a marketing challenge,” says Wallach. “Our research told us that a big reason that fans didn’t go to the show was because they didn’t know about it. So with our app, since it’s linked to your iTunes library, if you lived in New York, every time a band that’s in your iTunes library is playing in New York, you’re going to get a message about that show and when you can actually purchase tickets to it. That’s a key strategic move for us to solve a fan problem. So that’s one.”
“Two, is how to do we take that app and create more engagement? There’ll be things we’ll be doing in the venue with QR codes so that you’ll be able to get discounts on different things in the venue, whether that’s a special offer for Coca-Cola at the concession stands, or maybe an opportunity to upgrade your seats compliments of State Farm. We’re going to be incorporating those types of capabilities into the app.”
Other upcoming capabilities include the ability to buy your hot dogs from your seat then skip to a “fast track” at the concession stand. And if you’ve made the fatal decision to pee during a show, you’ll be able to check how long the wait is at your closest bathroom.
“We want to make the process as simple and easy as possible for the fans,” Wallach underscores. “We’re also launching some interesting products – like we just launched our interactive seat maps via Facebook, so you can see where your friends are sitting in the venue. [It’s an] enhancement that is social, that is interactive and engaging, and hopefully making it a more fun and more community experience at the show.”
Though concerts are still about escaping from the world for a brief moment, that doesn’t mean being disconnected from your iPhone. Part of the live music experience is now documenting it. Maybe it was fun while you were in the experience, but posting the pics of your crowd surfing with feathers in your hair or tweeting the autograph you just got can garner extra gratification. It’s no longer enough to just go to a show without producing public proof of your attendance. It seems that Live Nation is finally aware of this shift. As the world leader of live entertainment and e-commerce, it’s about time they figured it out.
Digital and mobile interaction coupled with an easy access to community sounds like the key to maintaining Live Nation’s hold on the market. Their learning curve is sharp, but Wallach is enthusiastic about his journey. “I’m learning so much,” he says. “I really didn’t have a full understanding of the online mobile social media business two years ago, [but] I’ve had the opportunity to really immerse myself in the business and understand, along with my team, how these incredible media assets that we have can actually help our brand.”
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