If there’s one day of the year that music fans of all stripes wait for, it’s the night of the Grammy awards. What most casual music lovers don’t know, however, is that there is a half-century-old not-for-profit organization behind the awards—and one that is busy with the business of celebrating music the other 364 days of the year, as well.
CMO.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with Evan Greene, CMO of that organization—The Recording Academy—to discuss what it’s like to be the head of marketing and brand steward for this important entertainment entity.
CMO.com: Your title is chief marketing officer of The Recording Academy/the Grammys, is that right?
Greene: Well, The Recording Academy is the umbrella organization and the Grammys are the awards. It’s kind of like what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is to the Oscars.
CMO.com: Got it—the Grammys is the award and the Academy is the entity.
Greene: At our heart and soul, we’re a 57-year-old not-for-profit trade organization that happened to produce a television music awards show over five decades ago that really resonated around the world. That has since become our calling card and our brand and what we’re known for. Candidly, it’s a piece of what we do, but not the only thing we do. But we certainly embrace the fact that that gives us license all over the world.
CMO.com: Can you give me a little bit about your background? How did you end up at the Grammys—what’s the short version of your sojourn?
Greene: I spent five years at Disney and five years at Sony Pictures. About 11 years ago—it’s hard to believe that it has been that long—the CEO of the Recording Academy was about six months into the job, and he realized that there was no marketing department. There was nobody watching over the brand. There was no brand steward, and we were just operating as a not-for-profit trade organization for 364 days out of the year. And one day of the year, we sort of acted as a show or a brand. So he realized that, to his credit, for our long-term success and viability, we needed a marketing department, so he put together an industrywide search. I was fortunate enough to get the nod, and I came over and started the marketing group at The Recording Academy just about 11 years ago. It has been quite a transformational journey for both myself and The Academy in that time.
CMO.com: How did things operate before there was a marketing arm of The Academy?
Greene: Well, we do things like put music back in schools, we have a Grammy Foundation, and we’re advocates on Capitol Hill for artist rights and IP protection. We operated mainly as a trade organization all throughout the year, and our idea of marketing was really twofold. No. 1, when the show came around, our TV network partner put us on their slate and put together a series of promotional spots. And from a partnership standpoint, we had an outside agency going out and trying to build “sponsorships” for us, rather than integrated partnerships. We had no brand direction, no strategy, nor any cohesiveness. And we certainly had no consistency in our message.
The “aha!” moment for the guiding vision of this whole marketing project was that, if we could become the biggest brand in the history of music by accident—by virtue of a single television event once per year—how powerful a brand could we be and how resonant could we be if we took a proactive brand management approach for the other 364 days out of the year? And that’s really what drove our marketing going forward.
CMO.com: What are some of the other things that you and your marketing team get involved in these days?
Greene: Well, one of the things that’s really critical for us is to keep the conversation going all year long rather than simply telling people to watch the show and then going dark for eleven-and-a-half months. It has having a respectful two-way conversation with music fans all throughout the year, and that takes many forms and is executed in a number of different ways.
One of the ways is to work with partners throughout the year—marketing partners—to reinforce a Grammy-brand message, not only domestically, but also abroad. We produce live Grammy-branded music events at key times and key cities and venues across the country, and sometimes even outside the country from a social media standpoint. We are having a daily conversation with our friends, fans, and followers about music. The Grammys are present at virtually all the major festivals, whether it’s Lollapalooza, South by Southwest, Electric Daisy Carnival, Stagecoach, Bonnaroo, etc. And rather than telling you what you should listen to, or who you should like, we simply want to be where music is happening and where music is important.
CMO.com: So you see yourself as a sort of conduit of music rather than a purveyor of music?
Greene: We don’t necessarily want to take an authoritative voice. We don’t want to take the position that we know what’s best. Our brand promise, so to speak, or our brand essence, is really “celebrating music,” and that’s simply what we want to do all year long—celebrate music in a variety of different and distinctive ways. We want to celebrate music with fans, and we want to connect with fans. So we see ourselves as more approachable versus authoritative. We certainly have a broad membership body who votes on and ultimately chooses who made the greatest contribution in a particular year. So when it comes to the Grammy awards themselves, there is an honor and a distinction, but that’s the culmination of what we do throughout the year. All throughout the year, for us, it’s really about celebrating music.
CMO.com: Can you talk to me a little bit about how you’ve seen marketing change over your 11-year tenure and what some of your biggest challenges are?
Greene: I think the biggest challenge is determining what the right questions are to ask because the market is changing so quickly. Communication is changing so quickly among fans, among brands, and just in general across so many different formats. It’s no longer a simple question of how many Facebook friends you have. It gets far deeper and more sophisticated, into areas like, “What is the pass-along value? What is sentiment? What specific audience is talking about you? What specific audience is engaging?” There are so many different choices these days. And there are so many different ways to measure the data that, I think, the biggest challenge is trying to home in on the effectiveness of your overall marketing activities, and the target is always shifting. You always have to try and stay one step ahead, one step in front, because platforms are changing, conversations are changing, the rules of engagement are changing.
CMO.com: Do you change your mix of marketing efforts based on the data that you see?
Greene: I think some of the data helps us to modify some of our tactical approaches. But, strategically, I think we have a very good sense of who we are as a brand, what our voice is, what the tone and spirit of our communication needs to be. We’re not always chasing the data and modifying our strategy accordingly. I think one of the most critical components is really understanding what you stand for as a brand. And, from that, your strategy can emanate. But in terms of how your message is received and how engaging some of your activities are, I think that’s where we look at data and start to look at analytics and measurement and make some potential real-time shifts in some of the tactics that we employ.
CMO.com: So, in a way, it’s sort of an agile marketing technique, in that you can change on the fly based on what’s working and what might not be?
Greene: Well, I don’t want to give the impression that we pivot on a dime and that we’re always chasing sentiment, or we’re always chasing greater engagement on a day-by-day basis. We take a very measured approach to data and analytics, and we work with some very smart people who can help us interpret that data. We meet with them and review data on a pretty consistent basis, but we’re not trying to shift and move on a daily basis.
CMO.com: But the new digital environment, and especially social, has certainly changed the way you market, right?
Greene: Yeah, I think so. I think content is so important in making sure that you have a dynamic mix across the board, from editorial to video to having the right voice, tone, and spirit to your posts, to what photos you distribute and share. I think—especially in the environment where we exist, specifically where The Recording Academy and the Grammys exist—video is becoming more and more important. How do we really connect with people through our video content strategy? How do we engage with our audience across platforms rather than trying to force fans all to go to a single destination? How do we make content discoverable and shareable in a really easy and streamlined fashion?
CMO.com: What about the authenticity factor? Could you talk a little bit about your feelings about that and how it weighs on the marketing that you do?
Greene: Well, I think that the most important thing in today’s rapidly shifting marketplace is trust. If you don’t have trust, you really have nothing. And the cornerstone of trust is authenticity and speaking in a credible, respectful, honest voice. The way to achieve authenticity is really to understand what you stand for as a brand. What are your core attributes? What is the DNA of your brand? What is your brand promise? What is your brand position? And, I think, once you can clearly define what you stand for, what you mean, and what drives you, that allows not only the marketing department, but the entire organization, to speak in a consistent, authentic fashion.
I think consumers today are smarter than they’ve ever been. I think they’re more engaged than they’ve ever been. I think they’re more demanding than they’ve ever been, and, frankly, I think they’re more cynical than they’ve ever been. They can really sniff out and smell inauthenticity, and, when that happens, you lose people because the people can’t trust you. They don’t want to reward you with their loyalty.
CMO.com: Something I’ve heard you say is that being authentic sounds like it would come easily, but it’s very hard work.
Greene: I think sometimes the things that look the easiest on the surface are those things that took the greatest amount of time and effort to really craft. I think one of the keys is making the complex look simple, and that takes a lot of strategic forethought behind the scenes.
CMO.com: How would you describe that ethos, then? What is the brand promise that the consumer can look for from the Grammys?
Greene: At our core, we’re about celebrating music, period. This celebration of music is at the core of The Academy and of the Grammys—it is our brand promise. I mean, I could go into a broader, more verbose definition, but, in my opinion, it really simply boils down to that.
CMO.com: How big is your marketing team? How has the makeup of it perhaps changed over the past five or six years? And is being a music lover part of the requirement for working with you?
Greene: They don’t need to be music aficionados. I mean, as you can imagine, the types of people that want to work at the Grammys are people that have an affinity for music. I think music touches us all. I think everybody’s life, everybody’s personal journey, has important moments punctuated by music. So music touches us all. Music is a universal connector between all of us. I don’t think you need to be a prodigy or a product of the music industry to work at The Academy; I think you just need to understand what we really stand for. And, for the most part, people really do.
Our team has evolved. So the marketing group—my team—is about 20 people, and we are responsible for marketing, brand strategy, PR communications, social and digital, content, marketing partnerships—anything that touches the Grammy brand or represents our brand or is aligned with our brand ultimately comes through the marketing team. And I would say that, over the years, the way that our strategy has evolved is we’ve become more and more focused on doing things differently. We sort of see ourselves as the agents of change for the Grammy brand. We like to do things that, perhaps, haven’t been done before. We like to do things that are new and fresh and exciting.
CMO.com: How is that manifesting itself?
Greene: One of our real focuses these days is to continue to get better at our evolving content strategy. Content, especially video content, is becoming an integral part of all of our varied and diverse communications and marketing efforts across the board. Several years ago, social was a big part of our focus, and now social is simply an automatic part of what we do. It’s part of our DNA. I would say content is becoming something that is a knee-jerk reaction to everything we do, and the core of that really comes down to shareability. How do we use the idea of shareability to drive discovery, and then how does discovery ultimately lead to the building of a broader community? One way is the new, exclusive, proprietary content programs that we are creating on a consistent basis. And there’s no one set of rules: We seek opportunities to create content that is consumable and shareable.
CMO.com: Do you see yourself mostly as the brand’s steward, or the agent of change? As the CMO of this organization, what would you see as your main thrust?
Greene: It’s a delicate balance in determining the right go-forward strategy because the Grammy brand means so much to so many people throughout music that we have to be very careful about the strategies that we employ. The downside of getting it wrong is very significant. So I would say that my biggest charge and my biggest focus is looking to increase the relevance and the resonance of the Grammy brand across all music fans and doing it in a very credible and authentic way. And while that sounds a little bit ethereal, it really is true. We’re a not-for-profit organization, so I don’t have to worry about compromising any sort of ethics or integrity by doing short-term deals that are gratuitous or highly profitable because we have to satisfy Wall Street every quarter. My biggest job is to grow the Grammy brand while maintaining its integrity.
Here is a sampling of the kinds of video content Greene and his team are creating to further celebrate the music:
Best New Artist Series
- 56th GRAMMYs Best New Artist Nominees Program
- Ed Sheeran: GRAMMY Best New Artist Nominee - Day In The Life
- Kendrick Lamar: GRAMMY Best New Artist Nominee - Day In The Life