What’s Next For Entertainment Marketing

By Paul Talbot, Forbes

At the Nashville-based entertainment marketing agency FlyteVu, cofounder Laura Hutfless has a box seat for the shift from physical to digital campaign execution. I recently asked her to share her thoughts on these changes.

Paul Talbot: What sort of significant entertainment marketing innovations has the pandemic triggered?

Laura Hutfless: Simply put, the pandemic accelerated the industry’s journey to digital and innovative tech solutions. The industry has quickly adopted livestreaming, augmented reality, virtual reality, virtual meet and greets and more. The shift was always inevitable, but Covid has officially transported the industry to a digital-first economy.

 Can we gauge to what extent the Covid pandemic has put the brakes on entertainment marketing?

Traditional forms of marketing are not delivering the same results due to shifts in content consumption and the obstacles presented by experiential marketing. Brands are looking for innovative ways to reach consumers. The Covid pandemic has poured gasoline on entertainment marketing, as brands are turning to it as a solution. 

The entertainment industry has quickly shifted to virtual offerings that reach millions upon millions of fans who are passionate and loyal. Brands have recognized this opportunity, and forward-focused brands are shifting spends to align with relevant voices (talent, artists, influencers) who have engaged followings.

 Activation challenges aside, has the pandemic altered the basic value proposition of a relationship between brands, music and entertainment?

 Artists, talent and more importantly, brands, are willing to take risks, try new technology platforms and engage with innovative partners who have the capabilities and following to help them reach consumers/fans in a new way.  

Artists have lost revenue from touring due to the pandemic and are looking for opportunities to stay relevant and use their creative talents.  We’ve found that the cost/fee structure has now shifted to a value-trade. Brands who create experiences, stream content, or distribute content like Fortnite, Twitch and TikTok are able to align with creators and entertainers by providing value and tools for them to reach new fans.  

The artists who recognize the need to engage on these platforms and invest the time to develop followings while they are off the road are the ones who will find the most success in the long run.

 With venues shuttered and artists embracing new ways of connecting with their audiences, how are the brands which value entertainment marketing making similar adjustments?

All brands are turning to virtual solutions. For our philanthropic clients, we’ve hosted virtual galas with performances by A-list stars to continue fundraising efforts.

For Carter’s, a children’s and baby apparel brand, we hosted a virtual baby shower hosted by Kelly Clarkson for moms who missed their showers due to Covid. Bumble promoted virtual dating and chat functions, connecting celebrities with consumers. A brand first needs to understand the needs of their consumers during this unprecedented time and fill that need. Stop selling products; start selling solutions. 

 When we look back on the year 2020 and are able to put changes into perspective, what do you think some of the noteworthy observations will be?

 When we look back on 2020, we’ll recognize that it was a pivotal year that separated the industry’s innovators from the coasters. 

This year has made way for new, innovative and optimistic leaders to rise who will carry this industry forward over the next decade, who aren’t afraid to take risks, fail fast, learn and grow.

Power shifted from major industry giants to the small, innovative teams who could route a new course and adapt quickly.

 Any other insights on entertainment marketing you’d like to share?

 Brands are no longer resigned to the role of a passenger on the culture bus, they have an opportunity to step into the driver’s seat and affect change. There is a unique opportunity to unite pop culture, advocacy/philanthropy and brand and we’re seeing that come together now more than ever. 

Consumers buy from brands who align with their beliefs and values. Brands who stand for integrity and trust will be more effective in reaching consumers and will earn respect in the long game.

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Jeff Bezos just sold $1.8 billion worth of Amazon stock. Here’s why

New York (CNN Business) — Jeff Bezos has sold more than $1.8 billion worth of stock, as the world’s richest person continues to sell his Amazon stake to fund his space venture.

The Amazon CEO offloaded roughly 960,000 shares, each worth around $1,900 on Wednesday, according to the company’s regulatory filings. Bezos sold the stake after Amazon reported weaker-than-expected profits in its quarterly earnings. Amazon’s (AMZN) stock is up 25% for the year.

Even with the massive stock dump, Bezos remains the world’s richest person, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s worth $117 billion.

Bezos has said he sells roughly $1 billion worth of stock a year to fund his space company, Blue Origin, and he pledged to sell more than $1 billion this year as Blue Origin gets closer to commercial operations.

Bezos has lofty expectations for Blue Origin. He unveiled a new rocket engine and a mockup of a lunar lander to use for shuttle cargo in May. He also said he wants to build giant orbital structures that could host self-sustaining colonies. It’s also close to selling tickets to send people to space.

Airbnb just debuted on Wall Street. Now it’s worth more than Marriott and Hilton combined

(CNN Business) — In the first half of this year, with its business decimated by the pandemic, Airbnb cut a quarter of its workforce and reportedly slashed its valuation as part of a deal to secure more financing.

Now, following a remarkable comeback, the home-sharing company is soaring in its long-awaited Wall Street debut just as the pandemic worsens and once again throws the state of the travel industry into question.

Airbnb began trading on Thursday at $146 per share, more than doubling from its IPO price and valuing the company at more than $100 billion. Airbnb stock closed the day slightly lower.

The $100 billion market cap represents a huge leap from its previous valuation high of $31 billion in a 2017 financing round. At its current trading valuation, Airbnb is worth more than Uber, and more than Marriott and Hilton combined.

Airbnb’s strong showing is just the latest sign of investor demand in what’s shaping up to be a good week for technology companies going public. On Wednesday, delivery app DoorDash saw its shares surge 85% in its public market debut.

<img alt=”DoorDash and Airbnb lead a parade of unicorn IPOs ” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201113085358-doordash-delivery-worker—stock-large-169.jpg”>

In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Thursday, CEO Brian Chesky said he “could have never imagined” the course of the rollercoaster year the company has experienced.

Chesky believes there are “two explanations” for the company’s stronger position today: one is that “people still do yearn to travel,” and the other stems from advice from his father.

“I’m also reminded of something that my dad used to tell me growing up — and I had to tell myself this a lot during the depths of our dark days. He said that things are never quite as good as they seem and as bad as they seem. You kind of have to remind yourself of that to find the midpoint between these highs and lows,” said Chesky.

While DoorDash has benefited greatly from people staying at home, Airbnb stands to benefit from a successful vaccine rollout that helps end the pandemic and allows people to travel more.

Founded in 2008 as Airbed & Breakfast, Airbnb upended the hotel industry by popularizing the once unthinkable idea of renting out rooms in the homes of strangers. Its platform is used to find and book accommodations in 220 countries and regions around the world. Airbnb now offers full apartments, homes, and hotel rooms for rent as well as travel experiences.

The pandemic rattled Airbnb’s business and many of the hosts who power it. The company was hit hardest in March and April when it had more cancellations than bookings.

In early May, the company cut 25% of its workforce, or 1,900 employees. Chesky told CNN that the company “would absolutely welcome people back” if it is in a position to do so, but added, “I want to see how the storm continues to play out.”

<img alt=”Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201208141847-03-airbnb-ceo-brian-chesky-file-large-169.jpg”>

Airbnb saw improvement in bookings the following months, driven by those using its platform for long-term stays as well as domestic and short-distance travel. Its business outpaced that of competitors like Expedia and Booking.com. In the third quarter of this year, Airbnb’s revenue fell just 18% as it managed to turn a rare profit; Expedia’s revenue fell 58%; Booking.com’s revenue fell 48%.

Then came another surge in coronavirus cases.

“During the fourth quarter of 2020, another wave of Covid-19 infections emerged. As a result, countries imposed strict lockdowns, in particular in Europe. Similar to the impact of the initial Covid-19 wave in March 2020, we are seeing a decrease in bookings in the most affected regions,” the company wrote in its prospectus.

The company’s valuation had been reportedly slashed to $18 billion when it raised debt financing during the pandemic.

Unlike many other highly-valued startups, Airbnb previously said it was profitable, excluding some expenses, in 2017 and 2018. But like other sharing economy startups, Airbnb has faced a number of regulatory battles over the years with local and state governments over how it operates in their jurisdictions. The issue remains an ongoing risk to its business.

In its filing, the company outlined that it is “subject to a wide variety of complex, evolving, and sometimes inconsistent and ambiguous laws and regulations that may adversely impact our operations and discourage hosts and guests from using our platform, and that could cause us to incur significant liabilities including fines and criminal penalties.”

Airbnb has also grappled with the misuse of Airbnb rental properties for house parties. In August, it announced a global ban on all parties and events at Airbnb listings, capping occupancy to 16 people. Over Halloween weekend, Airbnb prohibited one-night reservations of entire home listings in the United States and Canada in a move to stop parties that could contribute to the spread of coronavirus. It is deploying a variation of this for New Year’s Eve reservations in some regions.

During the pandemic, some cities temporarily cracked down on short-term rentals, and hosts were forced to pivot rentals to 30 days or longer.

As Chesky waited for Airbnb’s stock to officially begin trading on Thursday, he recalled to CNN a piece of advice given to him by former president Barack Obama, one of his many high-profile mentors.

According to Chesky, Obama told him, “It is just really important before you go public that you institutionalize your intentions so that even as a public company you can minimize what conflicts with your vision.” Chesky told CNN that means “trying to be really thoughtful about what kind of company we want to become.”

Taliban-Afghan talks paused until new year

The News.com.pk – DOHA: Peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government held in Qatar will be paused until January 5, both sides said on Saturday.

The insurgents and the Kabul side both tweeted they had exchanged “preliminary lists of agenda items for the inter-Afghan talks and held introductory discussions on the topics” to be covered when the meetings restart.

Javid Faisal, an adviser to Afghanistan´s National Security Council, confirmed a “couple of weeks” pause, adding that Kabul was keen for the next round of negotiations to be held in Afghanistan. “Bring talks home, the important proposal of the Afghan government to the Taliban,” he tweeted. “Peace talks between Afghans should be held within Afghanistan (anywhere the Taliban pick) and impacted by the Afghan realities,” he said, rather than “being affected by foreigners and the conditions outside”.

The meetings, which began in September, had until recently been bogged down by disputes on the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations. But earlier this month, both sides announced they were ready to proceed after a period of concerted diplomatic effort that saw outgoing United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit both teams.

The breakthrough was heralded by the US as an “initial major step”.

“Since the agenda items need further consultations, the two sides agreed for a recess and to resume the 2nd round of talks on January 5, 2021,” tweeted Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted an almost identical statement, but added that from December 14, there would be “consultations” on the agenda items.

The warring sides have been engaging directly for the first time in talks following a landmark troop withdrawal deal signed in February by the insurgents and Washington.

The US agreed to withdraw all foreign forces by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban pledge to hold talks with Kabul.

Despite the talks, there has been a surge of violence in Afghanistan in recent weeks. Since signing the deal with Washington, the insurgents have launched near daily attacks against Afghan forces, primarily in rural areas.

Spanish police rescue 21 ‘exploited’ migrant workers from warehouse

BBC.com – Spanish police say they have rescued 21 migrants who were being forced to work long hours in poor conditions at a second-hand clothing warehouse.

Video showed several people being freed from a secret room hidden behind heavy trolleys piled high with clothes.

A father and two sons who ran the business in the south-eastern province of Murcia have been arrested.

Police said the business sourced and distributed clothing to African countries for sale.

In a statement (in Spanish), authorities said the migrants had been forced to work long days in poor conditions and were paid only two euros (£1.80; $2.40) per hour.

When officers raided the business in Fuente Álamo, the manager began to shout at his workers to run and hide, the statement said.

Four of them jumped an outer fence while others locked themselves in the warehouse. When officers gained entry they found eight workers had been placed inside a “den” that was hidden behind heavy trolleys full of clothing.

They said the secret room had been built to hide people in the event of police intervention.

“The detainees recruited foreign citizens in an irregular situation to force them to work without any legal guarantee during long hours,” police said.

“They took advantage of their vulnerability, and their situation of need, to subject them to harsh working conditions.”

The statement said there was a “total absence of occupational safety and hygiene measures” at the warehouse.

The three arrested are due to appear before a court in Cartagena.

Nigeria school attack: Hundreds missing in Katsina after raid by gunmen

BBC.com – Bint’a Ismail: “I have a child and younger brother who’ve been taken”

Hundreds of students are feared missing after gunmen raided a secondary school in north-western Nigeria.

The attackers arrived on motorbikes and started shooting into the air, causing people to flee, witnesses said.

They targeted the Government Science Secondary School – where more than 800 students are said to reside – in Katsina state on Friday evening.

On Saturday, the military said it had located the gunmen’s hideout in a forest and exchanged gunfire with them.

The outcome was unclear but officials said there were no reports of students being injured.

Meanwhile, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack and ordered the school to carry out a full audit of students to find out how many are missing. Parents who dashed to the school to take their children home were also asked to notify the school authorities.

Residents living near the all-boys boarding school in the Kankara area told the BBC they heard gunfire at about 23:00 (22:00 GMT) on Friday, and that the attack lasted for more than an hour.

Security personnel at the school managed to repel some of the attackers before police reinforcements arrived, officials said.

In a statement on Saturday, police said that during an exchange of fire, some of the gunmen were forced to retreat. Students were able to scale the fence of the school and run to safety, they said.

About 200 students who had fled – and were initially deemed missing – later returned. However, witnesses said they saw a number of students being taken away by the gunmen.

You might be interested in:

• The Nigerian town that lost its girls

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Inside abducted Chibok girls’ school in Nigeria

One police officer was taken to hospital after being shot and wounded, police said.

Several local residents on Saturday said they had joined the police in searching for the students who remained missing, while many parents said they had withdrawn their children from the school.

“The school is deserted, all the students have vacated,” one witness, Nura Abdullahi, told AFP news agency.

“Some of the students who escaped returned to the town this morning, but others took a bus home,” he added.

The governor of Katsina, Aminu Bello Massari, has ordered the immediate closure of all boarding schools in the state.

Katsina is the home state of President Buhari, who is currently there for a week-long private visit.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly bandits’ attack on innocent children at the Science School, Kankara,” he said in a statement. “Our prayers are with the families of the students, the school authorities and the injured.”

The attack on Friday came two days after the kidnapping of a village leader and 20 others in another part of the state.

In 2014, more than 270 girls were kidnapped by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram from a school in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Chibok.

No group has yet said it carried out the raid on the school in Katsina, which is far from Boko Haram’s usual area of operation in the north-east.

Post-Brexit trade talks have entered their final day but sources say there is little sign of agreement.

Gunmen kill TV cameraman in northwestern Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a journalist in the northwestern Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, police said Tuesday.

Police officer Aslam Khan said gunmen riding on a motorcycle opened fire on Qais Javed near his home after midnight and fled from the scene. Khan said Javed was shot multiple times and was rushed to the city’s main hospital but died on the way. Javed, 37, previously worked as a cameraman at a top local television station and had recently started his own web channel.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killing and police said they were investigating to determine the motive. Javed was Christian and extremist groups have targeted members of religious minorities in recent years. Islamic militants have also targeted journalists in the region.

Pakistan is considered to be one of the most dangerous places for journalists as 70 have been killed in the country in last two decades, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Billy Porter to join New Year’s Eve show from Times Square

Associated Press – Last New Year’s Eve, Billy Porter was working in New Orleans. This year he’ll still be working — but in New York City.

The “Pose” star will join Ryan Seacrest and Lucy Hale on ABC in Times Square on Dec. 31 for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020.” The broadcast is closed to the public due to the pandemic.

“2020 has been a trying year for the world and I’m thrilled to have Billy and Lucy join me in ushering in a new year with fresh beginnings,” said Seacrest in a statement. “We look forward to making sure it’s a night for everyone to remember.”

Porter made his debut on the program last year, taking over from Hale as co-host in New Orleans and performing several songs. As with last year, Ciara will once again oversee the Los Angeles festivities.

Last year, Porter became the first openly gay man to win an Emmy Award for best actor in a drama series for his role in “Pose.” He also has a Grammy and a Tony for his work on the musical “Kinky Boots.”

US attorney general troubled by Mexican limits on agents

MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Friday the United States is troubled by legislation pending in Mexico that would limit foreign agents and remove their immunity.

In a statement, Barr said the proposed law that before the lower house of congress would hurt cross-border cooperation and would benefit drug cartels.

The measure “would have the effect of making cooperation between our countries more difficult,” Barr wrote. “This would make the citizens of Mexico and the United States less safe.”

“The passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction from Mexican officials.

On Wednesday, Mexico’s Senate approved the proposal from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to require all foreign agents, from any country, to share all information they gather with Mexican authorities. It also would require any Mexican officials they contact to submit a full report to Mexican federal authorities.

The bill includes a vague promise to keep secret any information shared with Mexico. Mexico has traditionally relied on U.S. agents to generate much of its intelligence information on drug gangs, but it has history of officials leaking such information and even at times sharing it with drug cartels.

In most countries, the chief Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the country often has full diplomatic immunity and other agents have some form of limited or technical immunity. The bill would eliminate all immunity.

Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations, predicted this week that the information is “going to be leaked, it’s going to compromise agents, it’s going to compromise informants.”

The history of leaks is well documented. In 2017, the commander of a Mexican police intelligence-sharing unit that received DEA information was charged with passing the DEA data to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in exchange for millions of dollars.

The proposal also specifies that any Mexican public servant — state, federal or local — who has as much as a phone call or text message from a U.S. agent would be required “to deliver a written report to the Foreign Relations Department and the Public Safety Department within three days.”

Warning that would make for a cumbersome system, Vigil said: “It is going to hinder bilateral operations; it is going to hinder bilateral exchange of information. This is going to be much more detrimental to Mexico than to the United States.”

Authorities in Tennessee, Kentucky look for escaped inmates

PARIS, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities searched Saturday for two Tennessee inmates who escaped prison, kidnapped a Kentucky highway department employee and stole a resident’s truck, officials said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Robert Brown and Christopher Osteen escaped Friday morning from Northwest Correctional Complex in Lake County, Tennessee. The state police agency said the inmates were considered armed and dangerous.

Brown is serving an 18-year sentence for aggravated rape and Osteen is serving an eight-year sentence for burglary, authorities said.

Later Friday, an employee of the highway department in Fulton County, Kentucky, was kidnapped from a boat ramp on the Mississippi River, the sheriff’s office in Henry County, Tennessee, reported on its Facebook page.

The employee and his department truck were later found in Henry County, the sheriff’s office said.

Early Saturday, deputies found a Henry County resident who had been tied up in his home by the inmates. The sheriff’s office said inmates stole the resident’s red 2009 Chevrolet Silverado extended cab pickup truck, which has not been found.

Law enforcement agencies were searching for the inmates on Saturday. The Kentucky State Police advised residents in the far western part of the state to check on their loved ones and report any suspicious activity after the inmates committed burglaries and thefts in the area.