Message is cool for school

By Published on .

In some 1,000-school assemblies, scores of kids have come charging down the aisles in recent years to listen to talks about anti-drugs, anti-guns or the problems with drinking and driving.

Why the rush?

Students are not just looking to get front row seats for social cause chats but to see short concerts from big or growing pop stars such as Fabolous, Dream or Play.

Richard Ellis, president and founder of 12 to 20, a teen marketing company, has perfected the delicate art of blending pop acts with cause-related efforts and bringing them into high schools and junior high schools.

"We found this really cool way to get into schools with these programs," says Mr. Ellis, who has had senior music marketing positions at AOL Time Warner's Warner Music Group, Sony Corp.'s Sony Music and BMG Entertainment. "It's a way to match teen empowerment issues."

For music companies, his tours, which range from 15 to 30 markets, act as grass-roots marketing for young music acts-for a relatively low cost. "Media are cluttered," he says. "You can't get records on radio. You can't get videos on MTV."

In six years working on about 25 tours, Mr. Ellis has had Ford Motor Co., PepsiCo, Levi Strauss & Co., L'Oreal, and others as tour sponsors for his company, which describes the company's target demographic age group. Sponsors get sampling and signage at the events.

While other marketing agents have put together mall and college tours for the music labels, Mr. Ellis has been the only one in the last several years to market into junior high and high schools. "Richard has cornered the market on promotional touring for developing teen artists," says Kenetta Bailey, VP-marketing for BMG Strategic Marketing Group.

One of the major cause-related participants of his tours is the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has done three tours for artists such as Sony Music's Solange (sister of Destiny's Child's Beyonce Knowles) and Play.


"In a very intelligent way, he figures out how to present the information while still respecting their intelligence," says Peter Klaus, executive producer of, an ONDCP youth-targeted Web site who has worked with 12 to 20. "It's still their choice to make their own decision."

Brian Cohen, senior VP-marketing for AOL Time Warner's Electra Records, used 12 to 20 to for its established artist, Fabolous, for a spring 15-city tour, mostly in boys and girls clubs: "He understands what it takes to deliver to these kids. It's not just a marketing message. They are in that room to be entertained and enlightened."

Some of the bigger names Mr. Ellis worked to help develop include BMG Music's Bad Boy Records' act Dream. BMG has done three tours with Mr. Ellis' company, and next month it's going to launch a fourth.

"It actually helped launch Dream," says Ms. Bailey. "It's going to be instrumental in launching Nodesha in the U.S." Nodesha is a hip-hop/pop artist from BMG's Arista label. Fresh Look, an eye contacts manufacturer, is sponsoring the tour.

The key for music label is building music-brand loyalties early on. "If you remember that Dream came to your school," says Ms. Bailey, "and then you tell someone `look at the autograph I have from Dream,' they are going to remember that band for a long time."

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