It is well established that large parts of the music industry, the magazine industry, and any other industry targeting young, urban influencers are quaking in their boots, fearing an inexorable decline of their revenues as diffuse communications techniques savage their traditional business models.
So Ed James is poised in a pretty precipitous niche of the PR industry: music, magazines, music magazines, and young, urban-influencer targeting.
Not to imply that James is feeling any pressure. As founder and head of Cornerstone Public Relations, the PR division of the catchall marketing powerhouse Cornerstone Promotion, James is ensconced in a dream job for anyone who loves music, events, and a low-lying mist of coolness. He shares office space with The Fader, the arbiter of "what's next" in music, which is owned by Cornerstone.
James came out of school looking for a career in film, scoring a job with Troma Entertainment, the company that produced schlock classics like Toxic Avenger. He ended up as its director of marketing and publicity. He was hooked.
He moved on to the digital entertainment division of LaForce & Stevens - "right around '98, '99, not the best time to be doing Internet," he says. He then was a founding-team member at Morris & King, a broad-based New York midsize firm. There, he began working with the range of clients that would become his niche, if you can call it that: luxury firms like MarquisJet.com, urban magazines like The Source and Giant, nonprofits, tech clients, and others.
Two years ago, The Fader and Cornerstone, which were his clients at the time, approached him about moving in-house there to handle PR duties for the magazine.
"I said, 'If you're thinking of in-house for just that, I'm not your guy,'" he says. But as discussions went on, Cornerstone - which offered just about every marketing service outside of PR - warmed to the idea of having its own PR arm.
"Here you have all these clients [who] were occasionally outsourcing PR for all these clients," he recalls. "I had the ability and I had been considering founding my own company... The idea of being able to build a company utilizing the Cornerstone brand means a lot." Also tempting was "an office, an IT department..."
Now clients come from both directions. Existing Cornerstone clients turn to James for their PR services, and he brings in PR clients that can tap Cornerstone for other marketing needs. The advantage, he says, is the very broad base of specialized media skills that his set-up brings to the table.
"If you take any given client, how do you get them into Harp, but also into The Wall Street Journal, into MediaWeek, and on CNBC and Entertainment Tonight?" he asks. "It's really about being as broad as possible, not just stuffing gift bags. You have to do things a little differently to get noticed."
The approach is quite appealing to companies or media properties that want to establish themselves with the aforementioned music-driven urban influencers.
While James is quick to note his abilities to handle the most traditional PR duties for companies, it's clients like the MTV comedy show Human Giant, which he helped push out to the indie music crowd; or Diageo, for whom he is working on making Johnnie Walker Blue a bit cooler with targeted events for young achievers in music, fashion, entertainment, and the media; that seem to comprise his sweet spot.
James' client list ranges from tech ventures like Concert.tv to the comedy broadband network Super Deluxe to consumer-focused brands like Smirnoff and Boost Mobile. All of them are, to some extent, buying a connection to a particular culture.
"Music is still the way to connect to people," James says. "It's not about taking a song and throwing it on a commercial. It has to go deeper than that."
President, Cornerstone Public Relations
SVP, Morris & King Co.
VP, LaForce & Stevens