ANALYSIS: Client Profile - Clear Channel's 'big isn't bad' acttakes center stage

Clear Channel Entertainment, the Goliath of live entertainment

promotion, has to deal with sniping from the Davids of the industry,

while still promoting its brand. Thom Weidlich reports.



The two major goals for the public relations team at Clear Channel

Entertainment present it with a mirror-image challenge.



On the one hand, the company - the world's largest promoter of

live-entertainment events - needs to show marketers that, because it

produces so many events and runs so many venues, it offers opportunities

aplenty to build brands and businesses. On the other hand, because it

has gotten so large, rivals are accusing Clear Channel of monopolizing

the industry.



Yes, the Clear Channel PR team has issues to deal with.



Clear Channel Entertainment produces about 26,000 events annually, and

sells roughly 70% of all concert tickets (tours this year include U2,

Madonna, and Janet Jackson). It owns, operates, or exclusively books 135

amphi-theaters, arenas, theaters, and clubs. It had $2.3 billion

in sales in 2000.



In addition to music, the company produces Broadway shows (The

Producers), touring theater productions (Kiss Me Kate), and

family-entertainment shows (Blues Clues Live), as well as TV programs

(HBO's Arlidollars dollars ) and movies (Hardball, Varsity Blues).

Through its sports division, it represents athletes Michael Jordan,

Roger Clemens, and Kobe Bryant, and produces specialized motor sports

events such as Monster Trucks.



Last month, Salon.com won an Online Journalism Award for a withering

series of articles chronicling the rise of Clear Channel Entertainment's

parent company, Clear Channel Worldwide (which owns about 1,200 radio

stations), in part accusing the entertainment division of controlling

the country's rock and pop touring business.



And in August, Clear Channel was hit with an antitrust lawsuit by an

independent concert promoter in Denver.



Clear Channel Entertainment's VP of public relations is Howard Schacter,

a 15-year PR veteran with agencies Golin/Harris, Kemper Lesnick, and

Draft Worldwide. He joined the sports group of what was then called SFX

Entertainment in 1999. At the time, SFX Entertainment was building

itself by gobbling up some 60 independent promotion outfits, concert and

theater venues, and sports companies. SFX wanted to offer marketers

one-stop shopping for sponsoring tours and venues. That was hard for

marketers to do in the past, because the shows were handled by different

promoters in each city.



Rebranding twice over



Schacter's first job was to help retire the names of the acquired

companies and build the SFX Sports Group brand. After only a few months,

he moved to corporate to do the same for the company at large. Then in

August 2000, Clear Channel Worldwide, based in San Antonio, TX, bought

SFX Entertainment for $4.4 billion. In June 2001, a year after

Schacter had worked to brand SFX Entertainment, it decided to rebrand it

as Clear Channel Entertainment.



Schacter was going to have to go through yet another renaming

exercise.



"With Clear Channel, we felt marketers would much more easily get the

synergies between our company if they were all branded the same," he

explains.



He was given only a month's warning on the renaming campaign, and it had

to be done in July - smack in the middle of the concert season. His team

hit the entertainment business and marketing press, such as Billboard,

Variety, Sports Business Daily, Advertising Age, and BrandWeek. Schacter

deems the campaign a success because the media has adopted the new name,

and "has included in parentheses 'formerly SFX,' as we have tried very

hard to educate them to do," he says.



"It was a difficult thing, because SFX had made such a big deal about

wanting to brand their name," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of

Pollstar, a concert business trade magazine. "They bought some legendary

companies in the concert business, like Bill Graham Presents. Then SFX

made the decision to supplant those strong brands with the SFX name. It

created a hue and cry with people who didn't think that was a great

thing. Then they turned around and sold to Clear Channel. It was pretty

clear they would change to the Clear Channel name eventually."



Getting it right was especially important in reaching marketers. "We're

constantly reinforcing to the marketing community that, at a time when

they have to think unconventionally about their marketing resources,

live entertainment is a platform that they should be thinking about and,

in particular, us," says Schacter. For example, this summer at Clear

Channel amphi-theaters, Procter & Gamble had booths in the shape of

large Pringles cans so early arrivers to the events could participate in

the Pringles Pop Quiz. And at certain Clear Channel concerts, Levi's

sponsored a second stage featuring up-and-coming and local bands.



Goliath takes a shot from David



Schacter leads a four-person staff, and also works with 40-plus local PR

executives in the individual venues, as well as with outside PR

agencies.



His team handles the corporate brand PR, including media relations and

issues management. An important goal is to raise the profiles of senior

management by having them quoted as entertainment-business experts. Last

year, his team lobbied to land Clear Channel Entertainment chairman

Brian Becker in the Entertainment Weekly Power 100, and succeeded, at

number 82. This year, in the October 26 issue, Becker moved up 55 places

to number 27. "For us, that's not an ego placement," insists Schacter.

"That is a strategic business opportunity."



As for issues, Schacter says his job is "communicating to the industry

that big is not bad. Now that we're an established brand, and most folks

at least know who we are, there's a sense that we're the big, bad

wolf."



And that has presented challenges. In August, a Denver concert promoter,

called Nobody in Particular Presents, filed a lawsuit charging, among

other things, that the company penalizes artists who hire promoters

other than itself by keeping those artists off Clear Channel-owned radio

stations.



Clear Channel has a pending motion to dismiss.



In late September, Schacter took COO Steve Smith to meet with Denver

publications to combat what the company viewed as misleading

articles.



He says the message was that Denver had several dozen promoters

competing this year, and that by all measures, Nobody in Particular

Presents' business is up since the SFX/Clear Channel merger. "It's very

easy for an independent concert promoter, who we didn't acquire for

whatever reason, to jump up and down and throw stones and play the

David-versus-Goliath card, and say they can't compete because we're

big."



Denver Post staff writer Diane Eicher was one of the journalists

Schacter met. "It was no-holds-barred for about an hour, and I could ask

them anything I wanted," she says, "though they wouldn't speak directly

to the allegations of the suit."



Schacter was pleased with the articles that followed the interviews.



"The stories were fair portrayals," he says. "We're very happy that our

story has been told."



But because the company is so big, Schacter has no illusions that the

accusations will go away anytime soon. As he continues to work to

promote the company's marketing opportunities, he is geared to take on

those issues.



"They present a very big target, and their detractors will always have

something to chip away at," says Pollstar's Bongiovanni. "They've done a

reasonably good job of fending that off."



CLEAR CHANNEL ENTERTAINMENT

Vice president of PR: Howard Schacter

Senior director, music PR: Rachel Gary

Director, marketing and PR: Laura Schooler

PR coordinator: Nia Rudasill

Agencies: Rubenstein Associates (corporate); Rogers & Cowan (music);

Susan Elmore PR (music); Barlow-Hartman (theater); Winuk Communications

(speechwriting); Tellem & Associates and Lobeline Communications (family

entertainment)

PR Budget: undisclosed



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