Paul Jankowski founded Access Brand Strategies in 2002 and took the title of Chief Strategist. His book “How To Speak American: Building Brands in the New Heartland,” gives a detailed blueprint of his company’s marketing approach to engage this cultural segment that comprises over 60% of US consumers.
Jankowski’s resume includes being CMO for Elvis Presley Enterprises, doing pop radio promotion for MCA Records and working with SFX Entertainment (Live Nation). More recently, his ABS located in Brentwood, TN has worked with top artists such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum plus brands like Pepsi, Mountain Dew, FedEx, Lipton, Tractor Supply and more.
Jankowski is also well known for being the co-founder and Chairman of the T.J. Martell foundation for cancer research.
What exactly is the New Heartland and why is it especially important for country music artists? Why are non-traditional artist initiatives more important than ever to “break through the media clutter? Read on…
NEKST: Why is the pairing of entertainment and corporate brands becoming so important?
Paul Jankowski: The change in the dynamic of the music industry has amplified the need to partner with brands. Back in the day someone would slap up some banners, give away free tickets and call it a sponsorship. Now everything needs to be measurable. Once artists understand how brands operate they’ll be in a much better position to appeal to them. Our company acts as translators because we understand brand-speak and are deeply involved on the artist side as well. That means being familiar with planning cycles and recognizing what moves an artist and where they are trying to go in the trajectory of their career. The label also plays a key role. Meshing everything together isn’t always easy, but we’ve had a pretty good success rate of making those relationships work.
NEKST: How do you differentiate between strategy and tactics?
Paul Jankowski: You need a map to get where you are going and the strategy is that map. If you get off your course and go very tactical you won’t reach your destination. You must have a strategy, a core foundation that every member of the team is working on. Unfortunately the music business is very tactically driven and that can create an unsustainable artist brand.
NEKST: Blair Garner mentioned your book in connection with his new radio show saying, “We couched the show, or at least its filtration process based on a book by Paul Jankowski…called “How To Speak American.”
Paul Jankowski: I was humbled by Blair’s recognition of the book. We’re the only agency that focuses on helping brands connect with the underserved and dismissed cultural segment I call the “New Heartland.” This group contains about 60% of U.S. consumers and is defined by its core values—faith, community, family and hard work. If you are a brand reaching out, then your messaging must be culturally relevant. Brands need to understand that the Heartland speaks a different language—“American.” That’s what we do, we help brands speak American.
NEKST: So when we see deals your firm put together like Lady Antebellum and Lipton Tea or Blake Shelton and Pepsi or Jason Aldean and Mountain Dew these are instances where both the corporate and music brands were pursuing the heartland consumer?
Paul Jankowski: Each of those campaigns is unique and we are not preaching that core values have to be part of every campaign or necessarily drive your strategy. However, when engaging the Heartland you have to be aware of those core values to be sure that your messaging doesn’t alienate them. We are a retainer-based agency which means we sit down with a brand and help develop and/or execute their strategy. Lipton’s campaign was Drink Positive and we could’t think of a better partner to bring the campaign to life than Lady Antebellum. It was massive and included television, digital, retail and radio. There were 12 agencies involved. We sat between the brand and the artist helped get all those moving parts working together. The artist has to bring value to the brand and understand what that brand needs in order to form a lasting relationship. We are different from the kinds of brokers that put a deal together and then go away. We are strategists who get involved in putting the deals together and then helping to make them grow.
NEKST: That’s reflected in your company name and tagline; Access Brand Strategies– Consumer Engagement Agency.
Paul Jankowski: A brand is compiled of hundreds of perceptions. The more levels on which a brand gets involved with someone, the deeper the engagement and the connection. Country music does a phenomenal job by making artists accessible. If you have an opportunity to see an artist or get an autograph you get a closer affinity. The CMA’s Sheri Warnke and her team do an amazing job telling the story of the value of country music to the brand partners.
NEKST: What exactly is the New Heartland geography? The eastern half of the nation, minus New England?
Paul Jankowski: That’s pretty close. It includes the Midwest, the Southwest and parts of the Southeast. Other areas are excluded because, for various reasons, they aren’t part of this cultural group. For example we carve out Miami, Arlington VA, and most of New England, New york, New Jersey. (See map)
NEKST: Conventional wisdom says radio is the country format’s biggest driver. But having a brand partnership provides a different door that also leads to great exposure.
Paul Jankowski: Now more than ever there must be non-traditional initiatives to truly break through the clutter. I did pop promotion for 10 years with MCA and understand that radio is vitally important. But to build a sustainable artist brand takes a focused strategy—sustainable is the key word. Last year, for example, we did a campaign that generated over one billion impressions through TV, radio, social and retail. Now that managers, labels and artists are venture partners, partnering and borrowing that equity is a necessary tactic.
NEKST: What’s ahead?
Paul Jankowski: My first book was a cultural observation, a social immersion which said, “Hey this group exists as a cultural segment so take it seriously.” The next one, due at the end of the year, will be an actual branding manual with specific case studies, so brands will have a resource to identify how to best connect with the Heartland.