Rick Kelly has served at AristoMedia’s Marco Promotions for almost 13 years and currently heads its secondary radio and club promotions divisions as VP Radio Marketing and Marco Promotions. A passionate artist advocate, Kelly came up through the ranks spending time as part of the RCA Records and then Almo Sounds radio promotion departments.
Like all good promo executives he has a strong personality and quick wit which he uses to advantage while steering his three-person department’s mission to obtain airplay for clients from a list of about 250 secondary and tertiary radio stations.
NEKST cornered Kelly who graciously made time to talk about the strategy, costs and benefits of courting secondary stations and two-stepping with dance club audiences.
NEKST: What kinds of clients do you work with and what is the strategy behind secondary radio promotion?
Rick Kelly: There are really two kinds of clients we service. Independent artists or baby acts that don’t have a full service label or team behind them and larger labels that want to be sure they are representing their artists at every level of the radio market. Let’s start with the baby acts. The tendency is for stations on the secondary, non-monitored panels to be a bit more open to new acts and embrace artists who embrace them. It’s one of the last bastions of old fashioned, rubber-to-the-road record promotion. An artist who can be engaging and personable in a conference room or a station studio and sell what they’ve got to these decision makers will feel an impact. In a lot cases these stations are underserved by major labels who focus solely on the 140 monitored stations. Secondary radio is becoming increasingly crowded, but remains a viable opportunity for artists to begin the process of building a career. In the markets they get airplay they can also start to play venues and develop core fans. The entire internet is a record store so there are no longer any sales barriers like there once was when things were dictated by what got into K-mart and Wal-mart. If you can Google their name you can buy their music.
NEKST: How do the secondary markets benefit major label artists?
Rick Kelly: Major labels have a staff of national and regional promotion executives working monitored radio. But visionaries playing in the big leagues realize that focusing exclusively on 140 stations underserves the marketplace. They recognize the value of being in front of every fan that is listening to country radio and buying country music. The good will these labels develop from showing attention to radio stations that are not in markets of 5 or 6 million people, but are in markets of 70-80k people, is gratifying because the radio stations really respond.
NEKST: I imagine the process also builds an artist’s social media profile and email lists.
Rick Kelly: Yes, every impression is now a direct consumer impression and they all have a music store in their pocket.
NEKST: How many secondary stations do you contact?
Rick Kelly: The MusicRow Breakout chart has about 100 stations. We have cultivated and identified an additional panel of about 100 non-reporting tertiary stations because they represent heartland broadcasting outlets with programming autonomy that are not involved in the machinations of a chart. We also contact the Billboard Indicator panel which has 88 reporters (20 of them are cross reporters between MusicRow and Indicator).
NEKST: That’s a lot of stations. How do you cover them all each week?
Rick Kelly: Yes it’s a lot of stations, but we have three full time people. One is dedicated solely to contacting the tertiary stations every week. I don’t think there is any substitute for an actual conversation. Email, social media and texting are all tools we use especially after you already have a strong relationship. But to best talk about a record and an act requires a one-on-one exchange.
NEKST: How does promo traffic today compare with levels 5 years ago?
Rick Kelly: I know it’s a cliche, but it’s more difficult than ever. The charts have more positions, but technology has made it easier than ever to create music. So a lot of attention has turned to secondary radio due to the restrictive playlists, overwhelming cost and difficulty in making an impact at the monitored level.
NEKST: Can you compare the costs between working monitored and secondary radio?
Rick Kelly: I’ve heard promotion VPs throw out figures in the $250k range counting radio tours, marketing budgets, trade advertising, travel, entertainment and listener appreciation shows—not including salaries. A lot of expenses go into getting a record played and fully promoted. A win gets you tens of millions of impressions per week and mission accomplished. But, especially for new artists, the costs can be staggering and success elusive.
NEKST: And via the secondary charts?
Rick Kelly: Building a story at secondary radio can be done for a fraction of the monitored panel costs. With the right record you can make a real impression and stay in for 5-6 months for around $25k. The payoff is not the same, but secondary promotion helps you start to gauge the commercial potential of an artist and whether it pays to make an even greater investment in their music.
NEKST: How does the dance division work?
Rick Kelly: We started Club Connection about 8 years ago in response to what we felt was an under utilization of a key gathering place for P1 country consumers involved in the dance life style. These people go out, sometimes a couple of nights a week, to dance, drink and consume our product. They are the core lifestyle group. They didn’t go away after the last big line-dance craze. There is a niche of uptempo country records with remixes and dedicated line dances that are ideal for this audience. Sometimes however, because we have the attention of these dancers, choreographers and club DJs, we will send them things that aren’t danceable strictly to draw attention or introduce an artist. We also utilize this base to do weekend album release parties. We boost the impact of these weekend events through social media by getting everyone to tweet and post pictures online of their winners with their CD or swag. It reaches some of country music’s most dedicated consumers.
NEKST: What about the future for country radio?
Rick Kelly: Since the ’96 telecom act there has been a lot of hysteria about the death of radio as a music discovery vehicle and how conglomerates will take over and squeeze everyone out. We have seen changes, but the genre and its radio format is as healthy as ever. We have a huge crop of wildly successful new artists and there are still 1700 radio stations playing country music. Despite threats like the Internet, social media and online radio, we are still here, breaking artists and selling a ton of country records.