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
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
"With Clear Channel, we felt marketers would much more easily get the
synergies between our company if they were all branded the same," he
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
PR Budget: undisclosed