The power of brand-artist partnerships

An interview with CLIO music juror Camille Hackney.

A commercial catches your ear—suddenly you have a new favorite song, or you do a happy dance to hear an oldie but goodie.

Such brand-artist collaborations don’t happen magically. Behind the scenes, Camille Hackney, EVP of brand partnerships & commercial licensing for Atlantic Records and head of global brand partnerships council for Warner Music Group, has the wheels turning as to what celeb and campaign make the perfect marriage (case in point: singer Janelle Monae, a CLIO Music juror in 2015, jamming her way through not just one but two successful Pepsi campaigns).

We spoke with Hackney, a 2016 CLIO Music juror, about fine-tuning such collaborations beyond the traditional.

When you’re in matchmaker mode, what are some signals that clue you in to a good match?

The first clue is that both sides are fans of each other’s work! Whenever we sign a new artist, we typically ask them questions about which brands they use and which campaigns they like. This gives us a good target list of brands to approach for each artist. We try to work with brands that the artist already has an affinity for—that just makes all of the deal’s deliverables that much easier to execute.

Can you share any behind-the-scenes details on the NFL-Bruno Mars deals?

We were highly involved in orchestrating his first appearance at Super Bowl Halftime 48. Back then, he was not quite the global superstar that he is now, but he has always been a superstar showman and performer, which is why the NFL worked with him only having had two albums out. Every bit of that performance was Bruno’s creation (in collaboration with an amazing director, Hamish Hamilton). From the timing of the dancers and the pyro to the close-up shots, Bruno knows how to create a dynamic and memorable performance. He is truly a remarkable talent in many disciplines.

What defines the most successful or powerful brand-artist partnerships? 

The testament to a successful and powerful partnership is if both parties work together again. I think of our artist Janelle Monae who has worked with Pepsi on two, high-profile campaigns within the last four years—one for soccer around the World Cup in 2014, and then this past year for Super Bowl 50. They were two very different campaigns, but Pepsi chose to work with her again given her love for the brand and the great relationship that we were able to form with them.

I also believe that a great partnership is defined by the things each side does for the other, which arenot in the contract. When a brand decides to support an artist’s philanthropic initiatives, works with them on a passion project or helps the artist when they are going through a hard time, I think that is the sign of true partnership and loyalty.

What do you think are some of the most epic brand-artist partnerships of all time?

This is an old one, but a partnership that defined the category was the Pepsi/Michael Jackson partnership. It really defined what a music/brand pairing could look like.

Another oldie but goodie was when Converse gathered a trio of super-hip, uber-cool artists—Santigold, Pharrell and Julian Casablancas from The Strokes—for their “Three Artists X One Song” campaign. I think it was a great way to engage artists who are wildly creative and who would not typically engage with brands (at least not at that time), and get them to collaborate on a new song that is made for a brand.

The other that is more current that we make reference to often is the Amex Unstagedplatform. I think that was a brilliant way for a brand to deliver real value to labels and artists during a critical time of a project (the week of album launch), allowing the artist to express their creativity through a live performance in collaboration with a top director with whom they would likely never have worked with in such a manner.

What are some misperceptions brands may have about this process? 

The most common misperception is that when a brand does a partnership deal that they “own” the artist and can dictate what the artist can, should or will do or say in all aspects of their life. “Brands with a brain” have strong opinions, feelings, habits (good and bad) and most of all, are expressive by nature and trade. Anyone who represents “human brands,” like artists and other celebrities, should be honest about the fact that having 100-percent control or influence over them is a fallacy. Sometimes artists are going to do what they want to do, period. Smart brand executives should assess their risk tolerance for dealing with a celebrity and do their homework on the artist to gauge the potential upside or downside of the partnership. I always encourage brand executives to execute deals with trustworthy partners who won’t go silent on them in a crisis. Legitimately, there are numerous individuals within the artist sphere who can execute a deal with the brand on behalf of the artist. It is up to the brand executive to determine who they think can deliver the best results.

What are some misperceptions on the artist side? 

The biggest misperception is that brands are banks, and are willing to give them money with no expectation of deliverables. A savvy artist will take the time to understand the brand executives’ goals and objectives (and it’s my job to articulate that to the artist and their team) and be willing to help them achieve success. That’s how you engender loyalty and commitment from a brand over the course of several campaigns.

As a CLIO Music juror, what kinds of work will you be looking for? What does winning work mean to you?

I am looking for something that goes beyond the traditional deal or artist/brand transaction. Something innovative and hopefully something that serves as a reference for other brand deals that come after it.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate and recognize excellence in music and advertising?

Selfishly, it is what I have spent many years doing and trying to master. It is wonderful to have been a part of the artist/brand partnership and commercial synch business since its infancy. It feels good to see the discipline get the recognition that it deserves.

The Clio Music Awards, in partnership with Billboard, underscores the visceral power of music to connect consumers and brands. Clio Music, presented by Citi, was highlighted at the 56th annual Clio Awards in 2015, with host Melissa Etheridge and performances by X Ambassadors and Salt-N-Pepa.  

Entries for the 2016 Clio Music Awards are now open. The deadline for submissions is May 20. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit



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