Interview: Dana Harris

Napster senior director of corporate communications

Napster senior director of corporate communications

Dana Harris has spent nearly her whole career handling communications on the digital music scene. She started working at Fleishman-Hillard on its PressPlay account, the digital music service created by Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group in 2001. PressPlay was acquired by Roxio and subsequently became Napster, offering a digital music subscription service with over one million songs in its catalogue.

She talked to about her experience during that tumultuous changeover, how the industry has grown, and how to work with a Apple-enthusiast media.

Q: Where do you see the overall consumer recognition of online music and, more specifically, subscription-based services like Napster?
Things have come a long way in a short amount of time. The entire industry moved forward very quickly. Many people know what we're about and what the subscription offer is like. But we still think it's still in the early adopter phase, and there still is a lot more education to do.

Q: In the earlier stages of the digital industry, did you sense there was a collaborative communicative environment as you and your competitor sough to highlight the industry? Has it changed now?
I've been working with this service ? [including] Napster predecessor PressPlay ? for five years now. There is a community aspect, where the majority of the services are in the space are all cognizant that we still are in this education process. If one of us succeeds, it benefits all of us. At the same time, there are a lot more people who are into digital music. So it is important to capture that audience by differentiating ourselves and speaking very clearly about our offerings so we can capture those people who are already in that world.
Q: How difficult were the communications challenges during the rebirth of Napster? While the rogue-service-to-corporate-entity storyline was probably palatable to the media, was it difficult getting them to focus on the future?
A: It was absolutely challenging, and, to a degree, it still is. [It's tough] going from a free file-sharing service to being a legal, for-profit service. We've come a long way, but there are still people out there that don't really know [about the change]. When I tell people where I work, some say, "Oh, what are you guys doing these days?" or "Oh, the free one or the legitimate service?" Ninety-five percent of the time, the media has an absolute understanding of who we are. From a consumer perspective, it's taking a little longer to permeate. When we did market research around the relaunch, we asked people to choose what the number one word that described Napster was. You would think it would have been "free." "Free" was up there, but the number one brand attribute was "innovative." So our task is to not just to communicate that we're not free anymore, but to communicate innovation to the community.

Q: Are there markets that you assume will not be interested in digital music, or are you going after all ages and demographics?
We have to communicate simultaneously to some many markets, while, at the same time, we spend the majority of our time on the lowest hanging fruit: internet-savvy people interested in music. With the growth of our recently released to-go service [where people can listen to their digital subscription on portable devices], the demographic has shifted a little lower. For whatever reason, younger people are more interested in digital music now that that portable subscription is there. We also cater a lot to older people, who find that digital music is a great way to keep up with today's music. They may not have the time or the desire to go to rock shows, but everyone likes to thinks they're still hip. We have to focus on everybody. At the same time, it's definitely challenging. Our university program [where the company partners with colleges to provide the service at a deep discount] demonstrates how we have chosen one demographic and age group that we are going to devote a lot of time to, even thought they might require more education for less ROI. They're not buying as much as people who are older. But their potential to [buy subscriptions for years] is enormous.

Q: Does Napster do outreach on those campuses?
A: Absolutely. We have campus representatives now that we have signed a big number of colleges. They're responsible for helping us market our service and get more people to utilize it. I'm constantly working with school newspapers.

Q: What is one theme you wished the media would cover or one thing you think they focus on too much?
It can be a frustrating environment. PressPlay has been doing this for so long, but then the 800-pound guerilla [Apple] comes along two year ago and the media [acts like] they invented digital music. Apple makes brilliant products and definitely deserves credit for its marketing. But it's frustrating for the other services to know that we've been working at this for so long and were doing this well before the iPod or iTunes. The media is enamored by [Apple]. Napster and other subscription services are doing something that is of great value to the consumers, but it's undervalued a lot of time by the media, who are often pro-Apple. I've gone to a lot of reporters' offices over the past couple of years, and it's very difficult to demo the product because all of the newsrooms run on Macs. We've done a great job in making the media and consumers aware that there is another option, and it doesn't require that you pay 99 cents for every song you want to hear. It's also frustrating when reporters don't think something is valuable [personally], and they forget that other people out there might enjoy for one reason or the other. I don't always see as much balance as I'd like to.

Q: How do blogs affect you job? Do you approach them?
I don't think they've been really one of our primary targets historically, but they are something we're getting into fast because we recognize the power they have.

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