Mark Graham: How to Pitch and Execute a Music Marketing Campaign

In Chapter 16 of 17 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Mark Graham answers "How Have You Learned to Adapt When Things Have Not Worked Out as Planned?"  Graham notes the importance of timing, especially in the context of working across resources in a corporate media company.  By understanding timing, he learns not to get frustrated and to use perseverance to bring resources together to get a project off the ground.  He shares the story of a concept he came up with at VH1, "Song of the Summer", made initially as a trial, with Katy Perry accepting the award for her song "Last Friday Night", and the how we was able to transition the program into a six-figure plus marketing campaign concept adopted formally into VH1 programming. 

Mark Graham is currently a managing editor at VH1, an MTV Networks company. Previously Graham worked in editing and writing roles at New York Magazine and Gawker Media.  He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.


Erik Michielse: How have you learned to adapt when things have not worked out as planned?

Mark Graham: Things always work out as planned. No. Things don’t always work out as you plan them to. I think that more than anything else, at least for me, is learning not to get frustrated when things don’t necessarily work out. Sometimes you have great ideas and it’s just not the right time. The thing that I’m sort of learning the most about corporate life right now in this particular organization is the importance of timing. Really sort of having a keen understanding of different groups, where they’re at in certain processes, like for us to get big projects green-lit, which means that we can get budget and resources allocated to be able to tackle things, both from a staffing perspective, from a technology IT perspective, all the different pieces that you need to sort of coalesce to get a project off the ground. Timing is really, really important. 

And so making sure that, you know, I sort of keep a close eye on different people in our organization and keep in close contact with them to understand where they’re at in their timeframes, like for example, last summer I had an idea for a program called Song of the Summer, which would sort of track in a way that other places hadn’t done before, which song is the most popular song of that particular summertime, every summer has its song of the year, at barbecues, at parties, blasting out of car windows, and there are different places that track these things, there are your Billboards of the world, there are YouTubes of the world, there are Spotifys where people stream music, there are iTunes where people buy music. No one had really thought to put all of those pieces together into one sort of composite place. You know, different audiences consume music in different places and so there hadn’t really been a consensus of something like that and admittedly it’s sort of frivolous, but I think something that also people find interesting. 

So last year I put this idea together, we weren’t able to sell it but I did it anyway, I ran it through our entire summer, we ultimately ended up crowning Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night as the best song of last summer. We were able to get her to accept a trophy, do all this cool stuff, which was great, which ultimately became sort of our marketing materials, if you will, to be able to present this to an advertiser this year. And we were able to attach it to an advertiser this year, sell it for a nice 6-figure sales number and it became something that you know funded a lot of profit into our department. So, you know, last year, it didn’t—that particular project didn’t go my way but I sort of persevered, pushed through it, made sure during our couple of sales periods that, you know, our sales team knew that this idea existed, that we had proven success with it in the past and really sort of helping to frame it in a way for a certain couple of advertisers that we were really pushing it to in ways that made sense for them and their brand and really being able to come together. So things don’t always go your way but when you have an idea that you think is good, and that you can ultimately I think would resonate with people, understanding when to re-push things through, just because someone says no once doesn’t mean that that means no forever. So that’s sort of a way that I deal with things that—one example of something that didn’t go my way before, but ultimately ended up going the way and benefited our whole organization.