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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Marcie Allen

— By Larry LeBlanc

This week In The Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Marcie Allen

Despite her Southern drawl, there’s nothing laid-back about Marcie Allen, the savvy, spirited and fast-talking 15 year music industry veteran who heads Nashville-based MAC Presents, the 5-year-old sponsorship and fulfillment agency that deftly matches corporate sponsors with music artists.

MAC—with a staff of 10-- has been singled out as finalist in the 2009 American Business Awards—for Best Overall Company of the Year (Up to 100 Employees) and, Allen has been nominated for Executive of the Year – Media and Entertainment. The awards will be announced in New York on June 22.

According to a recent IEG sponsorship report, North American-based companies will spend an estimated $1.08 billion to sponsor music venues, festivals and tours in 2009---a 3.8% increase from 2008. That's the highest level of spending on music ever reported by IEG which tracks money spent on sponsorships.

Most of that growth is being driven by growing American corporate interest in large-scale tours by major artists, and spending on national music festivals, according to IEG.

Sponsorship—once universally scorned by music artists and managers alike--has experienced a huge growth of interest in recent years as acts seek to defray tour costs while being heavily courted by corporate marketers trying to reach new consumers.

While corporate marketers are more sophisticated in their approach to music sponsorships, and now seek sponsorship opportunities that offer as many touch points as possible, Allen and a handful of others in her field have greatly boosted sponsorship benefits to offer customized marketing platforms, including on-site presences, and viral-marketing campaigns that create interactions among fans, bands and brands.

Allen is the third generation of her family to work in entertainment. Her grandfather, the legendary DJ "The Hossman" Bill Allen (who died in 1997), was, along with "John R" Richbourg, Herman Grizzard. and Gene Nobles one of the first to introduce R&B (including releases by James Brown, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry) to a white audience via WLAC AM's 50,000 watt signal in Nashville, starting his show with the familiar "Well, hello, darlin', hello, darlin'" greeting.

Allen’s aunt, BeBe Evans has worked as director of touring for the Charlie Daniels Band for almost 25 years.

Allen’s first music booking was hiring a cover band called Megaphonics for her senior prom at Harpeth Hall in Nashville.

While attending Rhodes College in Memphis, as a history major and then in the British Studies program, Allen began booking bands for her sorority, Tri Delta.

In 1995, Dave Williams, president at Cellar Door Concerts in Washington, D.C. hired Allen as an intern assistant to talent buyers Geoff Gordon, Drew Pompilio and Brian O'Connell. She was later promoted to director of marketing.

In 1997, Allen joined the William Morris Agency in Nashville as an assistant but only stayed a year before deciding to launch her own company, MAD Booking (an acronym for "Marcie Allen Does Booking") in 1999.

MAD produced several weekly summer concert series including Bridgestone Dancin' in the District in Nashville; On the Bricks in Atlanta; and Sessions at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Washington D.C . It also booked the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans from 1999-2001, and the 18-city Virgin College Megatour, presented by Dentyne Ice & Dentyne, and headlined by Michelle Branch.

By 2004, MAD had 15 employees in offices in Nashville and Atlanta. When MAD's investors came to her with a restructuring that she didn't like, Allen resigned. MAD closed the following year.

Shortly after launching MAC Presents five years ago, Allen brokered a name-in-title sponsorship deal with the Lebanon, Tenn.-based restaurant chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, and Alison Krauss and Union Station for a U.S. tour supporting the Rounder release, "Lonely Runs Both Ways.”

The deal, concluded with AKUS manager Denise Stiff, and Cracker Barrel VP of marketing Chris Tomasso, enabled AKUS to put money into tour production, including a year-long bus lease.

Additional elements of the deal included a Cracker Barrel wrap for the tour bus, a consumer web site and Internet promotions, meet-and-greets, promotional tickets, inclusion in TV and print promotions, venue signage and on-site marketing opportunities at all venues.

In 2006, CAA approached Allen to create a sponsorship department in its Nashville office. She was a consultant for CAA from Sept. 2006 to Oct 2007.

In 2007, Research in Motion (RIM) presented John Mayer's North American tour for BlackBerry to help launch its AT&T-carried mobile phone, Curve. The deal was brokered by Allen, Amy Pesa and Andre Gaccetta from the event marketing firm George P. Johnson, and Paul Kalbfleisch, senior dir. of corporate marketing for RIM.

In 2007, MAC, again with George P. Johnson, oversaw Jeep's sponsorship of the Tim McGraw/Faith Hill Soul2Soul Tour in 2007.

Allen has also negotiated sponsorship deals for CAA artists with AT&T (Ace Young), Dreyer's Ice Cream (Chris Richardson and Melinda Doolittle), Wrangler/Justin Boots (Little Big Town), Nikon (John Mayer), Crocs (Guster) and Rembrandt (Griffin House).

Following last year's successful stint working with Tim McGraw, KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce and Kingsford Charcoal signed on as headline sponsors of the 2009 Keith Urban Escape Together tour. Allen, representing Kingsford and KC Masterpiece brokered the deal.

Under the deal, KC Masterpiece and Kingsford are hosting the Keith Urban Backstage Barbecue Experience. As well, for the sponsors, there is VIP pre-show, admission to concerts including a exclusive performance by Urban and photo ops.

Allen also partnered Lady Antebellum with the water filtration company Brita and its "Filter for Good" campaign that encourages fans to reduce their consumption of disposable plastic water bottles (by using Brita products, of course). The deal is the first corporate partnership for both Lady Antebellum and Brita.

A recent survey of 70 major brands, titled "Sounds Like Branding" by Stockholm-based brand communication agency Heartbeats International, suggests that music is considered an important tool in building a brand but seven out of ten companies were found to spend 5% or less of their marketing budgets on music.

When asked what factors are holding them back, 37% of respondents indicated difficulty in measuring the value of an investment in music.

How do you get paid?

I charge 20% off the top of the deal. If an artist says they need $1 million, I try to get $1.2 million. I pay all of our own expenses. I don’t take a retainer. Never have. Never will. When you are on retainers, you always hear, “What have you done for me, today?” That’s not how we work.

Some times we will take on clients and our team can’t get them anything. Of course, they are then upset with us. But we can’t force two parties to the table. Some times, there are brands or artists that come in, and say this is all they are willing to do. The key to success in the sponsorship space is that you have to come in with the mind frame of, “I’m going to have to negotiate.” Because the deal never gets done on the first offer, I have never seen that happen.

Instead of representing artists, you represent brands. That seems like a switch of traditional roles in the field.

When I left CAA in the fall of 2007, I shifted to representing the brand. I didn’t want to compete with William Morris, Paradigm, or CAA. I didn’t want them to feel that I was out there trying to sign artists to represent them for sponsorship and endorsement deals. When I did that (shift) there was a huge shift in the success of my company.

You changed the funnel of delivery?

I go to brands and tell them that we want to help build their music strategy. There’s probably not a manager in the industry that isn’t going to take a sponsorship deal if it makes sense for their artist. Now, I am not saying that I can get an A-level artist to take a condom sponsorship but If I phone a manager, even if I have never worked with them before, and I say that I have a client who is interested in sponsoring their client, they are going to talk to me. They have probably heard of me or they can find out about me.

While at CAA, I had a roster of 75 artists. It was a challenge giving the time and attention that was needed to each of those artists. With one artist, you might have to call 20 brands. So now, we focus on fewer brands.

Back to your booking days, instead of booking the artist you are representing the venue?

Right. I am representing the dollars and nine times out of ten, I can tell a brand in five minutes if an artist is willing to do something or not. When they say to me, “Will the artist hold up my product from the stage and talk about it?” I can say, “No. I don’t care if you pay them millions of dollars; they aren’t going to do it.”

A decade ago, if an artist agreed to do a corporate-related deal, they were still wary of how they would be used. At the same time, over the years, brands have sought a bigger bang for the buck.

Today, while many artists feel they can work with brand marketers, the field isn’t wide open to acceptance yet.

I agree but everything (in the music industry) has changed. The marketing budgets of record labels are decreasing by the day. The dollar is shrinking and it’s not getting any cheaper to go on the road and tour. Every artist knows that the only way that they can (survive) is by creating a true fan base (through touring) because radio doesn’t create hits or superstars anymore. Having your song on the radio means nothing today. There are bands selling more tickets without a lot of airplay. The Kings of Leon have now crossed over at radio but, forever, nobody really knew who they were. All of a sudden, they sold out Madison Square Garden last year.

Most of the reason that artists do sponsorship deals are to offset the costs of touring or to help assist them with their marketing campaigns if they are launching a tour and an album.

Tom Petty, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, and My Morning Jacket are among acts who have said that they will never do a brand sponsorship.

I was shocked when Coldplay appeared in the Apple commercial (with "Viva La Vida") last year. Very shocked. But they used it to launch their new album (“Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends”). You didn’t see them endorsing the iPod. That commercial was around the launch of this new album. In essence, it was a music video for their first single.

There are three deals that I think changed the way people look at sponsorship deals. One was Microsoft and Madonna in 2001. Microsoft paid her a fortune (to launch their new computer operating system software Windows XP). And it really was them utilizing her song (“'Ray of Light”). Then Led Zeppelin and Cadillac --they ran the commercial (with “Rock and Roll”) during the Super Bowl (2002) and they paid a fortune for it. And then there was Paul McCartney and Lexus in 2005.

I don’t know why Led Zeppelin agreed to do the Cadillac deal but Madonna and McCartney--two iconic artists--had new albums.

Sponsorships started to change when Paul McCartney did the Lexus deal. You know how protective the Beatles were of everything. They weren’t on ITunes. They were so protective The Lexus deal with McCartney was called a tour sponsorship. But outside looking in, it was an endorsement.

[In 2005, Lexus and Paul McCartney announced the groundbreaking partnership that named Lexus as presenting sponsor of the McCartney U.S. tour. The Lexus tour sponsorship represented the first time McCartney had ever partnered with a commercial brand in his career.]

I’d add the Rolling Stones letting Microsoft have “Start Me Up” In 1981 to introduce people to the 'start button' in their Windows software.

Yep, I was going to say that too but the Rolling Stones have always done these types of deals. in the late ‘70s, they did the deal with Jovan. That’s the first sponsorship deal that is regarded by anyone I’ve ever talked to in the music industry.

Within the sponsorship and endorsement world, what generally will artists not do?

Some of them will not do corporate events--performances for the brand. Some won’t go to dinner with the president of the company. Some won’t allow the brand to stand on the side of the stage during their set.

It sounds as if some artists still feel like they are making a pact with the Devil.

Everything is negotiable. Although I represent the brand, I represent the deal. It doesn’t matter what the brand wants or what the artist wants. Unless they meet in the middle, and you can find something that everybody is happy with, then there’s no deal.

Artists are starting to realize that, in addition to cash, brands bring marketing support. This is why I feel that (the market for sponsorship and endorsement) has shifted. And I think you are going to see the amount of money brands spend in the music space double, triple and quadruple in coming years.

Despite these bad times, North American companies will spend $1.08 billion in 2009. Yet, Heartbeat International says that while music is important to corporations, many of them spend less than 5% of their annual advertising budgets on music-related activities.

Do you want me to tell you why? Because they don’t know how to do it. That is why companies like us are so successful right now. We have major brands coming to us, including Gallo, AT&T, Research In Motion (BlackBerry) Clorox, KC Masterpiece and Kingsford asking how to navigate within the music business. Marketing teams at Fortune 100 companies are also being cut daily from 200 to maybe 50 employees.

At the same time they are trying to strengthen their brand.

Correct. And more importantly they are trying to get more for their dollar.

One of the things that my team pride ourselves on is that we try not to just go and do a sponsorship deal. We make sure the deal makes sense. With all of our deals there’s been a story. That is why the major brands are calling us. They will say, “Find me my Jeep story. Find me my BlackBerry story.”

I also feel that if there were 100 companies like MAC Presents, you would see that number jump dramatically.

The problem is that you can work 12 months on a deal and you are working on spec. I only get paid by a brand if I close the deal. So you have to be very selective. There are people that will call me—and these will be A-level artists—offering me 20% to close a deal. I pass on probably 80% of the calls that my team gets. We are very selective. And we only take on projects that we know we can close. I don’t have any investors.

While working at CAA in 2006, you put together the BlackBerry tour with John Mayer for 2007. That was the first time Research in Motion (parent company of BlackBerry) had ever done tour sponsorship.

And the first time John Mayer had ever done a tour (sponsorship) deal. I’ve worked for years with John. I saw him at South By Southwest (The SXSW Music and Media Conference) before he had an agent or a manager. He gave me his tape and I said, “You need to play my festival.” He played my festival in Nashville (Dancin' in the District) and my festival in Atlanta (On the Bricks) and the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans which I booked.

Did RIM come to you?

No. The event marketing firm George P. Johnson was working with RIM at the time. I had just joined CAA as a consultant to create a sponsorship division in their Nashville office in 2006. Michael McDonald (Mayer’s manager) and the agents at CAA said that John was open to a sponsor. There were four or five brands that he was willing to work with. One of which was BlackBerry. These were products that he used every day. He did not want to have a pop corn or potato chip company sponsor him. He wanted something that he genuinely had a connection with.

When I first called RIM, they said they’d never gotten into the music space but they want to transition into the consumer marketplace because the BlackBerry was predominantly utilized by the business sector.

This deal was literally done—negotiated out—in two weeks. Right there, that sums up why you have to have people (in these negotiations) who speak these two languages, (marketing and music) that is the thing that people don’t understand. It is two languages. It is like Italian and French.

That deal wasn’t like the integrated deal that was done recently with JCPenney and Rascal Flatts. What are the differences?

It is a sponsorship (deal) versus an endorsement. The deal we did with John Mayer was for his 2007 summer tour and around the launch of the new BlackBerry/AT&T Curve. It was for the U.S. only, and for around 30 shows. That is what we call a name and title sponsorship. So that means it was “BlackBerry Presents.” They got a pass through sponsorship with their carrier AT&T. They got tickets, and meet-and-greets with John. They were in all of the (tour) advertising. They had “experience centers” on site. They are trying to go after that 18 to 34 demographic which is what John's demographic was.

The deal with BlackBerry and John Mayer then stepped up?

In 2008, BlackBerry wanted to step up their involvement with John and do a global endorsement deal. This is where when you think BlackBerry, you think John Mayer. So there was a full print campaign. A minute of his video of "Waiting on the World to Change" was loaded onto three million new Curve sets that came out in the Spring. John went into the studio and recorded five original ringtones to be pre-loaded onto the Curve. He performed at the Consumer Electronics Show for BlackBerry in January. He also performed at their conference in Orlando in May.

That sounds like an integrated partnership deal.

Integrated partnership is a tricky term. A sponsorship (deal) can be an integrated partnership. It is endorsement versus sponsorship. JCPenney and Rascal Flatts was an endorsement. That is where the brand steps up and is represented by the artist. Rascal Flatts says “We are representing JCPenney. We are going to wear their clothes. We are going to put the name of their slogan into one of our songs (“American Living”). We are going to call the tour “American Living.” We are going to wear their clothes on the cover of our album.” I don’t remember all of the details. But it was a full-on endorsement.

With John Mayer, let me tell you the difference. From 2007 to 2008, all of the shots we did with John, he was not holding the (BlackBerry) device because it wasn’t an endorsement (deal). it was tour sponsorship.

The next year when (photographer) Danny Clinch shot John, he’s holding the device. (In ads) John gives a personal statement that he wrote himself talking about how whether he’s in the back seat of a cab going to visit a graphic designer or on the front lip of the stage playing to 15,000 people or in a hotel putting my BlackBerry down on the nightstand, the BlackBerry is his personal assistant. It’s my life.” That’s tied in with BlackBerry’s slogan of “Life on BlackBerry.”

Your relationship Tim McGraw and Faith Hill started off as a tour endorsement deal with Jeep in 2007?

It wasn’t an endorsement but it came across as an endorsement, because it was so authentic. It was a tour sponsorship for the summer of 2007. Jeep dealers were able to get one-on-one interaction with Tim and Faith with a few songs and a Q&A. When I left CAA, I was still working with Scott Simon (Tim's manager) and CAA. So I then represented Tim in the Kingsford and KC Masterpiece tour sponsorship deal.

And now KC Masterpiece and Kingsford have signed on as headline sponsors of the 2009 Keith Urban Escape Together tour.

At the end of the summer (2008), Kingsford and KC Masterpiece indicated to me that they want to do more music stuff. So they asked me to represent them to navigate through the music space. I brought George P. Johnson in. So George P. Johnson and MAC Presents are the entertainment agency for Kingsford and KC Masterpiece for their summer music initiatives. We did (a deal with) Keith Urban with Gary Borman (of Borman Entertainment) who I knew from when I represented Faith (Hill) and the Jeep deal.

JCPenney’s two year deal with Rascal Flatts seems cutting edge with the members recording the track "American Living" and wearing JCPenney "American Living" clothing onstage

Exactly. I have never known that to happen. Obviously, Converse is out there giving shoes out, and the Gap is giving out clothes. But it is not like artists have to wear them. It’s free clothing and shoes and artists can elect to wear them. With JCPenney, it’s a full-on endorsement deal with Rascal Flatts.

I want to jump back to something that you said to me about why is it that brands only spend about 5% of the their budget (on music).

Number one, I think it is that they don’t know how to navigate (the music industry). Number two, I think it is because they don’t have the staff to be able to. It takes so much time and effort to do this. Number three, it is because marketers of brands are getting savvier. They are into social networking. They are text savvy. And they don’t want a banner and a logo (deal) anymore. They want a true integrated partnership.

So that is why I said when you mention that word (integrated partnership) to me a few minute ago, I said that doesn’t necessarily mean sponsorship or endorsement. That this is more of a strategy. That is more of what brands are looking for. If anything, sponsorship is a bad word now. I don’t use that word anymore. I use the word partnership or endorsement.

The deal Lady Antebellum has with the water filtration company Brita for its "Filter for Good" campaign is to encourage fans to reduce their consumption of disposable plastic water bottles.

I’m so proud of that deal. Number one, you have an artist who at the time (that the deal was negotiated) was just starting to break. There’s this stigma out there if you aren’t an A-level artist that you can’t get a sponsorship deal. That’s not true.

Daniel Miller (at Borman Entertainment) had been pitching Lady Antebellum to my team for months. So when I approached Drew McGowan (senior group manager, PR and sponsorships for the Clorox Company) after we finished the Keith Urban deal, he felt comfortable with the management company. And he’s a huge country music fan. Again, the DNA matched up perfectly.

Lady Antebellum is on a huge summer tour (supporting Kenny Chesney on his Sun City Carnival tour) and they are able to say that they are installing Brita filtration systems on their bus. They are uploading “webisodes” every week talking about a lot of different things they are doing this summer but also integrating that with how they are trying to cut down on their bottled water use.

So again it’s that true partnership. But it’s not an endorsement. It’s not big dollars. That’s not what it was about. It is about lady Antebellum spreading the message about Brita and Brita continuing to build Lady Antebellum, and build their brand.

You started in the music industry answering phones at CDB Inc, the Charlie Daniel Band’s management office in 1989. You were 16.

I can’t remember if I was paid. My aunt, BeBe Evans has worked with Charlie Daniels (as director of touring) for almost 25 years. And my grandfather who raised me “Hoss” Allen was a DJ for WLAC in Nashville. Hoss and BeBe were my early sources of advice, knowledge, and information about the music industry. I was always interested in rock, always. Even though my first job was answering office phones and answering fan mail at Charlie Daniel’s management, my favorite band was the Black Crowes, and my favorite artist was Dave Matthews.

Your first music booking was a cover band called Megaphonics for your senior prom.

I believe I paid them $500. They called to advance the show and asked me where the green room was going to be. I told our (student) advisor that I would have to go to a paint store because we were going to have to paint the locker room in the Harpeth Hall gymnasium green for the green room.

What was it like working at Cellar Door Concerts in Washington, D.C. as director of marketing in your early ‘20s?

Unbelievable, I started off interning as an assistant. The first summer I was there, they opened Nissan Pavilion. I had been at work probably a week, and Phish was headlining there. Dave Williams (then president of Cellar Door who passed away in 1998) said he needed me to take a golf cart and pick some up someone who’d be playing onstage with Phish. He didn’t say who it was.

So I come around the corner, and Dave Matthews is at the gate with his guitar. Dave says, “Scoot over. I’m driving.” And we’re driving around, and all of my friends are checking us out. I can’t talk. I’m 22 years old. I can’t talk. It’s not like I asked him for an autograph or anything. But it was one of those cool moments that you pinch yourself and you can’t believe you get paid for what you do.

Backstage, Dave Williams told me I had to learn not to be star stuck. I said, “It’s not about being star-struck. It’s that I now feel like I am in the music industry.”

In 1997, you joined the William Morris Agency in Nashville. Did you want to be a booker?

I knew from the second I walked into William Morris that I never wanted to be a booking agent. I actually told them that.

Why work at a booking agency? You were 24 and could have found work elsewhere.

Someone told me a long time ago that if I wanted to be successful in the music industry I needed to do a family tree. At the top of the family tree is your ultimate job which, to me, was to do a Woodstock Festival. Then, you need to break down a family tree with the different jobs that you would need in order to do that job successfully. You need to know marketing, booking, legal, contracts and so on. I literally ran my career off of my family tree in my head. I had worked for a promoter. So when I came back to Nashville, I knew I had to work at a booking agency.

After 14 months at William Morris, you left to start MAD Booking.

I had $300 to my name. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I knew there was a niche and it was booking colleges which I did. Four months later, I got hired to book the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans.

You left MAD because of a disagreement with investors?

I also wanted to balance family and a career. I had been married for 18 months and I was doing 50 festivals a summer. I had two offices and 15 employees. I was at a funeral of a friend, and my phone kept ringing. I realized right then that I couldn’t get away for two days to go to a funeral of someone who was very dear to me. Even with 15 employees.

So you walked out the door?

I walked out the door. People thought I was crazy. I didn’t have a job. I pouted for about a week and then I decided, again, to do what I do best. Find a niche (in the market). So I started MAC Presents. Alison Krauss and Union Station were my first client and my second client was Cracker Barrel. And I thought, “Wait a minute, I can put them together.”

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008, Larry was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.

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