Marketing Week (MW): Why is Hard Rock Calling such a big part of your marketing strategy?
John Galloway (JG): Music is our differentiator and this is our pinnacle music experience. We’ll see about 160,000 fans interact with our brand in addition to entertaining over 900 business partners, employees and competition winners every day. There’ll be 80,000 people cheering Bruce Springsteen (pictured above right) on Saturday night but backstage we build a Hard Rock Café and a VIP Hard Rock Hotel experience.
MW: How do you make the investment globally relevant?
JG: Hard Rock Rising is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – global battle of the bands competitions, which culminates in the winners performing at Hard Rock Calling.
This year we ran the contest in 86 cities, from Bangkok to Bangalore, and had over 12,000 bands enter. The programme has a significant online element, which is run through a company called ReverbNation, with people being able to vote online to say what bands they wanted to see at the Hard Rock Cafés and which 10 should go through to the final stage. We gained over 950,000 fans on Facebook in little over two months.
The band Hey Monet was the top vote getter and will open the stage for Bruce Springsteen. The other two shortlisted bands – Brass Wires Orchestra out of Portugal, and FOS, who are from Jakarta, will be playing the Hard Rock Rising stage, which showcases up-and-coming acts.
MW: How else do you associate the brand with a current music scene?
JG: We have a campaign called See the Show. It’s a brand unifier that we put together two years ago to make a campaign relevant wherever you are in the world. It’s entirely customisable – so in the UK it’s called See The Show London, while in Thailand it is called See The Show Bangkok. It’s about supporting music and last year we hosted 13,000 live events.
MW: The Hard Rock brand is extending into new types of business. What does that mean for your role?
JG: As chief marketing officer of Hard Rock International, I oversee our global café, hotel and casino marketing, which is also partnered with our franchise operations. Our circumstances are different in just about every country, but you’ve got to have a unifying structure to the brand. You also need to understand the differences market to market. We’ve got to balance being globally compliant with being globally relevant.
MW: How might the brand differ, say, in the US compared with India?
JG: Many of our US venues are about the location. Take the one in Times Square in New York City, where we sit in [the central position of] 42nd Street on Broadway. The business operates very differently in Mumbai, where the Hard Rock Café is more behind the scenes – you’ve got to know where it is. It is more of an exclusive club and night scene. It’s the same menu at both venues but we tailor the experience to each market.
MW: Why has the Hard Rock brand moved into hotels and casinos?
JG: We have 16 hotels at the moment, although four more are due to open this year. One of the largest areas of growth is our hotels and casinos. We are all about delivering authentic experiences that rock.
One of the challenges our brand faces over time is how far do you stretch it? In our history, we’ve put our name on things that, on reflection, we wish we hadn’t. At this point in time, we’re concentrating on experiential rather than products that people consume.
MW: Was the failed Hard Rock theme park one of the ventures that you wish the brand hadn’t put its name to?
JG: That was before my time but I don’t think the theme park was a terrible out of bounds idea. It might have been the wrong marketplace, but I think the concept could fall within a legitimate Hard Rock experience.
MW: You spent 14 years at PepsiCo. How does working at Hard Rock differ?
JG: Hard Rock operates more like a 40-year-old start-up company. It’s a fast-paced environment where you can make decisions quickly. We can sit round the table, make a decision and see it in the market in a matter of days or weeks.
PepsiCo had a longer lead time. My advertising budget at PepsiCo was sometimes in the hundreds of millions, but Hard Rock’s marketing budgets tend to be slimmer than that. For us, our advertising is our location. My 30-second commercials are our servers. But I like that because we control the entire process.
MW: How do you ensure that the brand is kept fresh and doesn’t get stuck in the past and just associated with old rocker memorabilia?
JG: Music moves pretty fast. We need to move at the pace of music because as a brand that’s a pretty good guidepost to staying ahead and understanding culture. This year, we opened a café in Budapest and a hotel in Panama, so the neat thing is we’re seeing newness in front of us at all times – with new cultures, new consumers, and new partners. We’re certainly not stale from a growth perspective and that feeds a lot of energy into the system.
MW: What new initiatives are you working on at the moment?
JG: We’ve recently launched Hard Rock Records. This is another way of delivering an experience with consumers but this is all about staying relevant in the music space.
We pick two or three bands a year and we’ll have a record produced for them. We’ll do a music video, put them in touch with experts within the industry and give them a distribution agreement. After a year, they have no commitment to us and we have no commitment to them but during that first year it’s like a development programme. The best possible news for us would be that a music label signs them up because the band will remember us.
Our first band is Rosco Bandana – seven kids from Mississippi, who took part in the 2011 Hard Rock Rising competition. We had them out in Los Angeles with music producer Greg Collins, who produced their album. We’ll be debuting that in Nashville hopefully to a full house of music folks.
The real story
Founded in London in 1971, Hard Rock Café was a place to eat burgers and fries surrounded by rock memorabilia. In 2012, the brand has a presence in 53 countries but isn’t confined to a restaurant business. Hard Rock has its name attached to hotels, casinos and has recently started Hard Rock Records.
The mission today, however, is to ensure the brand remains relevant, rather than harking back to the rock scene from 40 years ago. The Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park is one way in which the business aims to associate itself with current music.
In partnership with Live Nation, the three-day festival taking place this weekend will see Bruce Springsteen, Soundgarden and Paul Simon headline.
But the festival is not just about musical legends. The Hard Rock Rising stage will be occupied by a number of emerging artists, including the winners of its global ‘battle of the bands’ contest.
Chief marketing officer and vice-president John Galloway claims that Hard Rock acts like a “40-year-old start-up company” and the challenge now will be how far the brand can be stretched under its mantra of “creating authentic experiences that rock”.
A UK perspective
“A lot of people think our brand is focused around old rockers like The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd,” says Marc Carey, European regional sales and marketing at Hard Rock. His challenge, in the UK in particular, is to help the brand be relevant in the 21st century.
As the brand was founded in London, it’s much harder to shake off the old-rocker joint association, admits Carey. But he’s keen for the brand to be associated with new talent.
He says: “In the past few years, there has been a conscious shift to having a commitment to young up-and-coming talent. Hard Rock Calling is our stamp on that.”
A partnership with Absolute Radio helps to broadcast this message, with Hard Rock-branded music sessions aired every month. Up-and-coming bands that are due to play on the Hard
Rock Rising stage have been highlighted in recent months on the station, and this weekend the station will broadcast interviews with some of the bands.
Teaming up with music title NME also helps the association with new music, claims Carey. He says content including a microsite and social media will build perception of Hard Rock as a hip brand rather than a worn-out nostalgia act.