Gary James' Interview With
The President Of Atticus Brand Partners
Kathy Armistead Olen
She's the former Vice-President and Brand Agent for William Morris Entertainment. Today, she has her own company, Atticus Brand Partners, a company that specializes in tour sponsorship, product endorsement, licensing, and music placement. She is Kathy Armistead Olen. Kathy talked with us about her company.
Q - If I'm a major company like Coca-Cola or a McDonald's and I want to establish a business relationship with a celebrity, why don't I just pick up the phone and call the manager of that artist? Why do I need to call Kathy Olen?
A - Well, you can do that, but first of all it's not easy to find the person that you need and also, if you are not a peer to peer in the industry then once you have someone take the call you more than likely would not be getting to the manager and by the time you leave messages and get connected to someone, then even if you are an astute marketer for a brand, it's not the same language and so the deal points that you might want to look for and the assets they have on their side, the artist side, would not necessarily be something you'd be familiar with. So, you would be better to have an expert in that field, be in the middle as a liaison between the brand and the agency or the management to be able to help you get the best deal you can and to make the right artist's choice. Often times who you think you might want, and this happens a lot, "We saw so-and-so on television and we want to make a deal with him," something about their touring schedule, lifestyle, album cycle, their personal interests, their limitations and restrictions will not let things lineup, but I might have 20 others that lineup perfectly with what you are looking for. So, it's better just to have somebody that's seasoned in the middle between these deals to help you.
Q - I've heard it said that Taylor Swift has no personal manager. How then is she brokering deals with a record company and a cosmetics company and whoever else? How does she know what to ask for? Is she using an attorney?
A - Well, that's not accurate. She does have an entire management company, Thirteen Management. It's her mom and dad. Her dad is a stockbroker and her mom is very well-versed in general business and then Robert Allen, who serves as more of their day to day, has a long history as a tour manager with Tim McGraw and others, and so he's seasoned in this business. Then they hired a person from the corporate world to come in and just be the deal evaluator and to negotiate. So, he was hired as a consultant and became an employee of their company, recently retired, and so now they let the William Morris agency, my former employer, go in the Brand Representation area and they hired IMG as their primary agency for brand work. I've worked with him a couple of times on opportunities for her already in the past six months. So, she has quite a team. She does make active decisions and she's very involved in everything that happens, but she certainly is surrounded with a good team.
Q - Is it true that the parents own Swift Trucking Company?
A - Not that I'm aware that there's any connection. I know they did buy a bus company and they've got a merchandising company and so everybody that touches her touring, they would like to have a chance to participate in that as owners. So, their circle gets wider with the assets they have. Swift Trucking? I don't think so, unless that's something that secret. I don't know.
Q - You're doing today with your own company what you were doing at William Morris, aren't you?
A - I was from the artist side, so I think I had 128 artists that I would go and try to find brand homes for. It would be tour sponsorships, endorsements, development of product lines, voice-over work, paid PR events, things like that. But, it was limiting in that if a brand called and they wanted a deal with somebody that wasn't on my roster, I couldn't help them and I had to work on headline artists for the most part because it's a 10% house, and 10% of a $10,000 deal isn't very much for the agency. So, it was limiting in that way too and I was in the Country area. So, if somebody wanted a Rock band, it was harder for me to be able to help them. So, it was an easy choice for me to decide to go where my customers always were anyway. The check writers for my deals were brands and their supporting agencies. So, I just moved to the other side of the table and now it doesn't matter to me if you want Mumford And Sons or Lady Gaga. We'll go get what ever you want. It doesn't matter the roster, the genre or the budget level. A $10,000 deal is just fine with me, and also establishing a relationship or furthering one with a brand that may have a larger deal next time. But, I've enjoyed the past year. It's been great.
Q - I never knew William Morris to have a department doing what you're now doing. Did you come to William Morris as a Booker?
A - Well, they didn't. I was on the venue side with the promoter industry. We used to have an amphitheater here (Nashville) and it was part of a chain of amphitheaters and what is now Live Nation. Before Clear Channel, before SFX, it was Pace Concerts. I was the marketing and sponsorship director for the building and then I left there to go to the Nashville Arena to build. And so, as the marketing and director of sponsor sales there, I had the chance to be involved with the arena through construction and the grand opening and the first year and a half or so of operation. It was wonderful to set the first deals, sell the first suitee, decide the first programs for ticketing and signage and all that. But, you're not a promoter. It's just a city building and it's a rental. So, the in-house people run the building and you only participate in the shows and the co-promotes which are the family shows. So, having been involved in Rock shows and big Country shows and all the great concerts that came through, then suddenly to be limited to Sesame Street and Disney On Ice and things like that where I was a small participant, it just wasn't what I wanted to do. So I decided to leave there and just go over to the agent side and because I had been working with all of the agents and managers in town in my years at the venue, everybody knew me anyway. But I kept thinking, why is there not an agent to work on tour sponsorship? Why do managers always call me to help with that? And the answer was, no agency at that time in Nashville had a Brand Agent. So, it was breaking new ground when I came to give it a start. Rick Shipp and Peter Grosslight and Richard Rosenbery where the executives at William Morris that said "let's give it a try." Within three months we had our first sizable deal and eventually we grew to, I think the most were five people in our department. So, it grew quite a bit and now every agency wants to have a Brand Agent because it's been proven to be a success.
Q - Looking at it from the artist's perspective, I'm paying a percentage of my earnings to a personal manager, a booking agent and now a brand agent, unless you're working on a flat fee. Are you another percentage to add onto an artists career?
A - Well, because the brand or the agency is my client, usually I'm paid before the artist ever sees their offer. So, I'm taken care of from the brand or agency side. Now, where that budget is made up, it's not really about me, so if that's consulting money or just out of that budget for the project, I don't know. If I have to disclose every dollar on the offer that is in the budget to use for this project, then sometimes I have to say "here's the offer, but when the check comes, it's going to be for 10% more than this, so I'll have to send you an invoice along with the check to get the 10% back to me." And everybody has been fine with that. So, 90% of something you didn't have is a lot better than not having it at all. So, it has worked out to be just fine throughout the year and a half almost that we've been in business.
Q - The first Rock act to associate themselves with a brand would have been The Rolling Stones, wouldn't it?
A - Probably. I think so.
Q - I don't remember Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple or Jethro Tull doing something like that.
A - No, I don't think so. I think The Rolling Stones may be it.
Q - Your company specializes in licensing among other things. By licensing, do you mean merchandising?
A - Or the opportunity to use a piece of music in a commercial or a campaign or to use the artist's image or likeness in a digital commercial, in a print and things like that.
Q - And music placement? You're trying to place the artist's music in a TV or radio commercial or a film.
A - That goes both ways. My area is more the brand, not TV and film. We certainly could do that, but it's not the world we've been working in. So, ours is more commercials. Sometimes a brand or agency will call me and say "we need a piece of music that sounds like so-and-so or about so-and-so" and then I have to go source it and come back with a list and say "here's six. Give it a try and see if it's something you are looking for." But then on the other hand, an artist may call or a manager and say "we've got a song that's perfect for Budweiser. It's perfect for Chevy." Then they want me to send it up the chain and see if anyone cares as a brand to use it. Most likely if they haven't thought of the idea or if it comes out of left field somewhere, it doesn't have a placement, but every once in a while it may. So, we send it both ways.
Q - You had or maybe still have Kirt Webster as your publicist.
A - Kirt is a good friend, but not as an official publicist. He sent my initial release out about the business, but I really haven't needed to publicize after that. On purpose my website
(www.AtticusBrandPartners.com) is more a placeholder website. I don't talk about my deals. I don't show the company I'm working with because we haven't needed it for business and I really don't think I want anybody to know what we're doing unless they need to. I think that our brands and our artists really sort of appreciate that we don't capitalize on our relationship with them as an advertising tool. I know that many companies do and that's fine. I just wanted to run under the radar on purpose. Everyone that we have worked with has appreciated that as well.
Q - I just wondered when I received the press release, why you needed a publicist?
A - Well, it's because leaving William Morris and putting out your own business, there were always questions of "what is she doing now? Is it different? What do we call her for? Is it only still Country? Can she only still work with William Morris people?" So, it was more announcing "Here's what we are doing and here's how to reach us." And after that we were off to the races.
Q - Do you have any competition? Are there others doing what you are doing?
A - Well, there are outside sponsorship companies and certainly some of size. They generally also represent sports deals or they also do executions. They're not only going to make the deal, they're going to go on the road with the team and execute it at every level. That is not something I want to do. I don't want to carry a big team. I more want to be the broker and then if someone would like for me to find the activation arm to help with the deal after we're ready to hit the road with it, then I have plenty of strategic partners that I would plug in and let them have the opportunity to present their work to the brands I work with. I just have a little specialty of just having done this for so many years that I'm just a good secret weapon to help artists and brands make a connection. Sometimes on the artist side they'll come and have a specific album watch, a Christmas record, "If only we could have a department store help with a big launch. Can you help us find that?" I will sometimes work it from the artist's side like I used to.
Q - Is it important you like the artist you're working for?
A - It is now! (laughs) I was not able to make these choices when I was an agent at a big agency, so you have to accept all personalities and all treatments and all manners of business, but I don't now. I based our company on the character values of Atticus Finch and with that there are just certain criteria that people need to meet in order to feel happy to work with us. So I work with really nice people, people that appreciate our efforts and that do good business back and forth. It's been a real pleasure.
Q - How much would you like to see your company grow?
A - Well, I'm just letting it follow its path. I thought if we became the source for tour sponsorship, we'd go in that direction. If we became an additional tool for agencies and brands to be able to get in and find pricing and research and availability and interest and bring it all back and let them do their internal work and come back to us to negotiate the money, we'd do that, and all matters in between. It's just found its own way so now I'm at a growth point. I have one employee and I am about to hire more. We're just going to see how it happens, so eventually I'll go live on the beach and enjoy my twilight years, but I'm having a vibrant, fun business right now and I don't know when that day will come.
Q - Be careful what beach you retire to. You and your house could be blown away.