Pop idolatry

As singles sales dwindle, management companies of pop bands are turning to brand sponsorships and tie-up deals to pull in the revenues. Branwell Johnson looks at the recent pop world phenomenon whereby stars behave more like global lifestyle b

“Fame, what you like is the limo;Fame, what you get is no tomorrow;Fame, what you need you have to borrow.”

Apposite lyrics from David Bowie for a world of riches, opportunity and public recognition to which winning recent TV show Pop Idol is the apparent key. Bowie himself is a master of image manipulation and career management, but compared with the slick, well-tooled music and entertainment companies of today, he seems like an amateur.

Pop Idol is a massive media phenomenon and has made the winner, Will Young, and runner-up, Gareth Gates, household names. But now the real work of establishing a career and generating revenue from these two young men and the other finalists, which include Darius Danesh, Zoe Birkett and Hayley Evetts, begins. The 19 Group, set up by music industry maestro Simon Fuller in 1985, devised the show in a co-production deal with Thames Television and is preparing a battle plan to exploit its new properties.

Cultivating the pop seeds

Will and Gareth are signed to 19 Management and have singles ready for release through BMG. The management company is also handling prospects for the other eight runners-up for three months, with options to extend the relationships.

Pop stars can now access revenue streams far beyond the records and tours. Canny management investigate sponsorship, product endorsement and merchandising deals. Singles sales fell ten per cent to below &£60m in 2001, the first time this has happened since 1993 (British Phonographic Industry figures), so it is no surprise that pop management companies are exploiting other income sources. Chris Herbert, director of Safe Management which handles Hear’Say, the band created by Pop Idol’s TV forerunner, Popstars, says: “With a successful pop band there is more money to be made from licensing, sponsorship and product endorsement than with the recorded side.”

Money from a partnership or merchandising is split many ways, with management generally taking about a 20 per cent cut of any deals they arrange. Herbert believes each member of Hear’Say emerged with about &£300,000 from the first year’s commercial activities and that various deals together amounted to about &£3m. An industry commentator says that the deals The Spice Girls signed before they rancorously split with Fuller netted them about &£8m collectively and that each member of the band was worth &£15m to &£20m when they parted company with him.

Pop shop

Gone are the days when the teen pop idol was purely a singer, they are now entertainment brands. Herbert maintains he is involved in “building a lifestyle package”, while 19 Management marketing director Charles Garland says: “We are rapidly developing something much stronger than a company built on music.” Garland, once head of group development at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, adds that 19 Group is concerned with long-term projects and that Pop Idol took three years to come to market.

There have always been fast-buck merchandising deals in the pop industry with faces slapped on T-shirts and any other dispensable items. But the real departure came when soft drink giant Pepsi began using alliances with pop stars as a long-term marketing strategy in the early Eighties. Most recently pop princess Britney Spears has fronted its US campaign. Since the arrival of The Spice Girls, however, there has been a tendency for brands not previously associated with pop music to seek partnerships with pop stars.


Garland believes that brands are increasingly aware of the music industry’s ability to quickly generate interest in a property, and they know that music grabs and holds the attention of a traditionally restless young target market.

Partnering the right brands is vital to the development of the artist and long-term revenues. Garland says that 19 Management will probably try to find two or three brands for each artist with which it can develop long-term relationships, and stresses there will be no one-off deals.

He adds: “We will be very careful about both the brands and the number of brands that we get together with.” 19 Management’s approach is to try to develop exclusive material for a partner’s needs, as it has with Pop Idol sponsor and mobile phone Internet portal Vizzavi, and BT, the commercial partner for SClub7, also managed by the company. The Vizzavi agreement, originally estimated at &£2m, has already been extended to include sponsorship of the upcoming Pop Idol tour, as well as a Will Young-branded CD-Rom – exclusive to Woolworths – that features exclusive ring tones, competitions, Internet connection and a voicemail message.

19 Management and BMG seem to have struck it lucky in having two properties in Gareth and Will, which appeal to slightly different audiences. Gareth is thought to attract a slightly younger market than Will. Garland says that Gareth’s fresh-faced look could work well for a grooming products company.

But signing a pop star to every deal and every piece of merchandise that presents itself can ultimately prove counter-productive, as parents weary of having to buy the single, then the poster, the video and whatever else follows.

Fuller took this route with The Spice Girls. Garland insists it wasn’t an opportunistic piecemeal approach, but a strategy designed to swiftly establish the band’s profile “on a global scale before anyone noticed”. The band signed up with Pepsi, Walkers, Channel 5, Polaroid, BT, Lever Fabergé’s Impulse brand and Asda.

Avoid the brandwagon

Garland admits that it is easy to over-license or make inappropriate deals where stars’ images are plastered over cheap goods, and says: “I think it would be highly inappropriate to see Gareth on pencils at the moment, because he needs to establish himself.”

Apart from the risk of getting lost in a pile of pop star deals, brands should also be aware that a glamorous pop representative is also a young adult who, under pressure, can act unpredictably. Pepsi came a cropper when unsubstantiated allegations linking Michael Jackson with child abuse surfaced during the megastar’s Dangerous tour of 1993. Jackson pulled out of the tour early, citing painkiller addiction and emotional problems, and no doubt Pepsi was relieved that it could extricate itself from the sponsorship deal.

More recently a member of SClub7 was caught smoking cannabis in a public place. This could have jeopardised the band’s sponsorship deal with BT, but Garland claims that 19 Management acted quickly ensuring that the errant star issued a public apology. A BT spokesman says: “Obviously we were concerned when the story came to light, but we were reliably informed that it was a one-off and it would not happen again. If it had been a more serious indiscretion or more than a one-off then we would have seriously looked at the ramifications for the deal.”

As it stands, BT has just renewed its original two-year deal for a further year and is involved with the band’s current tour.

The accelerated life-span of pop bands should give brands cause for concern. Tim Lawler, strategic planner at Claydon Heeley Jones Mason, which held the direct marketing and promotions account for Pepsi’s ESSA (Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa) territories until last year, says he is surprised that brands are not more wary of the transient nature of pop singers. An alliance with a star who fades or burns out could damage a brand, even more so in the case of new media brands which are perceived as “here today gone tomorrow” themselves. He also points out that the brand effectively cedes control and could find, through its association with an artist who has changed direction, that it is being pitched at a different target group to that which was originally intended.

Live hard, die young

Coca-Cola Great Britain & Ireland takes the same view. A spokeswomen for the company says that it favours linking Coke with “authenticity” through football tie-ups and sponsorship, rather than “with the ‘flavour of the month’ celebrity”.

But pop group Steps, not a creation of a TV show, managed a five-year existence. Vicky Blood of Byrne Blood Management, which managed the band, says this was due to organic growth and the development of their talent through rigorous touring before full media exposure. SClub7, meanwhile, took another tack, waiting two years after their formation before subjecting themselves to the pressures of touring.

Contrast this with Hear’Say which, following its creation and TV exposure through the show Popstars, embarked on an intensive two-pronged publicity strategy, playing more than 40 concerts after the first album release and signing a large number of deals with partners such as Nestlé and Microsoft. But already the band has fractured and shows signs of burn-out with the departure of Kym Marsh. The open audition for a replacement, though labelled a cynical marketing move in some quarters because the boyfriend of the member of another pop band won the competition, gained extensive tabloid coverage and may even have refreshed the band’s image.

Herbert defends the large number of concerts Hear’Say played. They were, he says, meeting demand and they are young people able to work hard. He adds: “They understand that bands can come and go and appreciate the position they are in.”

Despite Garland’s claim that pop talent needs to be carefully nurtured, 19 Management will be putting its hot new properties through the mill with a 19-date tour featuring the top ten Pop Idol finalists on the back of Will’s February 25 debut single, through BMG Records.

All the world’s a stage

But Jonathan Shalit, former manager of Charlotte Church and currently handling Rik Waller – one of the original Pop Idol finalists who dropped out through ill-health – emphasises that the big money is on the global stage. Church raked in a seven-figure sum from performing in Ford Motor Company’s two-minute brand showcase commercial “Just Wave Hello” which was shown in 120 worldwide markets simultaneously in November 1999.

Will has a &£1m recording contract and it has been suggested that he alone could make up to &£3m from sales and deals in his first year. But though he may have captured the hearts and minds of the UK public, will his charms stretch around the world?

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