Stealing Madonna

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

Madonna played a show in Saint Petersburg, Russia not that long ago. You may have read about it. It was the concert where she wrote “Pussy Riot” on her back. She also spoke out in support of gay rights, which sparked a lawsuit against her by local whackos. As reported in The Associated Press, “…plaintiffs claimed that Madonna’s so-called ‘propaganda of perversion’ would negatively affect Russia’s birthrate and erode the nation’s defense capability by depriving the country of future soldiers. At one point, the judge threatened to expel journalists from the courtroom if they laughed too much.” Oh, Madge, you’re still so controversial!

It was a number of months earlier when I got a Skype call from my clients over there informing me about the show and expressing their disappointment that they didn’t get the ‘presents’ on it. That really wasn’t a huge surprise since the competitor that did has a major Eurasian presence with stations in numerous markets. For the promoter, it was a no-brainer. The concern, though, was that our research showed that not only was Madonna a core artist, but an argument could be made that she was THE core artist. Now, for us in North America that’s never been much of an issue since we learned long ago that a listener doesn’t differentiate between who has the ‘presents’ and who only ‘welcomes’ an artist. All they know is what you do from a promotional standpoint. Simply put, the station which makes the most noise gets the most credit.

I didn’t realize until that call that the concept of ‘hi-jacking’ a show is still fairly new in Russia, but I’m happy to say it’s not anymore!

During our talk I explained to the PD the ABC’s of stealing a show. He’s a rather smart cookie and it wasn’t long before I saw the light bulb appear over his head. We then spent the rest of our chat coming up with a plan that left me somewhat confident of success. I admit being slightly wary, since things sometimes get lost in translation and don’t always work out as I had envisioned. That wasn’t the case this time, though, and what he managed to accomplish was truly extraordinary.

The plan had three components – an on-air promotion, a web-entry contest, and the on-site promotion. The Sales Department was also brought in for numerous revenue-generating opportunities and to help defray costs.

The on-air promotion was nothing new. They did normal ticket giveaways, but with the number of the tickets they managed to squeeze out of the promoter and ones that they bought they ended up with a contest frequency that was greater than the presenting station’s. Step one went as planned.

The name for the web contest was “Live One Day Like Madonna” and the Grand Prize would be just that – an entire day of life as a superstar that included a stay in the Presidential Suite at one of the city’s most fashionable hotels, dinner with their significant other at one of the top restaurants, a full makeover at a beauty salon, limousines to and from everywhere, bodyguards (yes, REAL bodyguards – a nice touch, I thought), photographers (superstars don’t just settle for one, after all), assistants, screaming fans to welcome the winner at each stop (Again, it’s the little things, don’t you think?), a battery of stylists, makeup artists, an incredible dress from an eminent designer, and of course, tickets to the show. To enter, listeners filled out a form on the site and wrote why they would like to “Live One Day Like Madonna”. The response was tremendous.

They promoted the two contests through normal station promos, but to preach beyond the choir they also used banners on local dating sites and social networks (with links back to the web-contest), ran ads in the major paper and the TV guide (still very relevant in Russia), partnered with a restaurant chain and put table talkers in all their locations, and ran a sizable amount of outdoor. I admit, this did seem excessive for a concert promotion and I wasn’t even aware they had gone quite so full tilt until afterwards, but they explained that between barter, media collaboration and sales take outs, they really didn’t end up eating into their budget except for the on-site component. This thing was blowing up!

When the day of the show finally arrived, the promotion went from outstanding to the borderline surreal.

They purchased 1,000 t-shirts with a picture of Madonna and the station logo on them, got some branded flags, and then rented and bannered two trucks. The plan was to park the trucks on the sidewalk outside the entrance to the concert facility, but when they went to do so, two policemen told them to get lost. The PD was quick on his feet and offered each of them a t-shirt and the next thing you know the cops actually stopped traffic to let the trucks park exactly where they wanted. Ah, Russia! Also, is there no limit to the power of the t-shirt?

At that point they started blasting the station from the trucks and sent out the flag bearers to stop people on the way in and let them know there were free t-shirts at the trucks. I’m told it took about 10 minutes before they were completely mobbed. Announcements were made over the PA instructing the people to wear their shirts into the show because someone was going to win front row seats if they did. Yup, they even pulled out the old ticket upgrade for this one.

Once inside, they found a winner, sent them to the front and wouldn’t you know, Madonna pointed the person out and commented on their shirt. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

Now, as often happens with stations that normally get the lion’s share of ‘presents’ packages, the competition was complacent and did nothing besides their on-air ticket giveaways. Their presence at the venue was non-existent. They simply didn’t bother to show up and that’s why my client station ran caller audio every hour for the next week from people thanking them for bringing Madonna to Saint Petersburg!

Now that’s “Stealing Madonna!”