MIDEMNet Blog: The Next Chapter At EMI

The following appears courtesy of MIDEMNet’s Blogs. See all of Ted Cohen’s blogs for MIDEMNet at MIDEM.com.

March 24, 2009

I’m currently in Margaret River, a resort town 3 hours south of Perth, Australia. It’s a sleepy place, the Napa Valley of Western Australia, where broadband is considered to be 256k, not fast enough to keep up with the latest YouTube media star! I’m woken at 7am this morning by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal asking, “What are your thoughts on Douglas Merrill’s departure from EMI?”

To be honest, I hadn’t heard about it yet, the announcement came out on Monday afternoon, I’m 16 hours ahead here, so I think it hit the wire at 3am Tuesday morning, my time. So, I leap out of bed, fire up the the MacBook, and start digging around.

I haven’t learned much yet, nothing earth-shaking to report, but I am troubled by what’s happened, as I continue to believe that, while EMI & the other major labels will suffer further ‘lumps’ during this transitional period, they can ultimately survive, IF and only if they work smarter and become more nimble.

In May of 2000, I joined EMI to bolster their global digital business development efforts, recruited by Jay Samit, then SVP of New Media.

Over the next six years, my role evolved as Alain Levy & David Munns took over EMI in 2001, replacing Ken Berry, John Rose joined as head of Strategy from McKinsey in 2002, Jay then left in 2003 to helm Sony Connect, John departed in 2004 to join Boston Consulting, followed by the arrival at EMI of Adam Klein in January, 2006, a real mistake in a nice suit, but just my personal opinion. After I declined to move to NYC in late 2005, it became clear I needed to move on. In December, we agreed to agree that I would depart on June 1, 2006 & be of counsel through the end of that year. I launched my consulting firm, TAG Strategic in July 2006, and life went on.

Subsequently, Barney Wragg, a very savvy digital exec, came on board for 13 months, departed in the TerraFirma take-over and Douglas Merrill came on the scene in May 2008, debuting at the NARM retailers convention in San Francisco. This appeared to be a great move for EMI, as Merrill was poised to be a great change agent.

But, now he’s gone, no one really knows why, I’m not even sure it really matters why, it’s done.

What does matter is what happens next at EMI. They need to get past the chaos at Terra Firma and maximize the opportunity at hand. The brain trust is in place, management needs to let them do what’s needed, with MINIMAL interference. Some of the current talent includes:

Cory Ondrejka, who was named yesterday to the newly-created position of EVP, Digital Marketing, a very out-of-the-box thinker.
Syd Schwartz , absolutely the brightest guy I know in the digital world, loves the technology, but loves the music even more.
Mark Piibe, heading up biz dev, gets what needs to be done, joined by Andrew Perlman and Samir Housri, who both seem to want to explore the possibilities.
They need to be empowered and trusted, there’s no time left for complex financial modeling and five-year forecasts. Change needs to happen now!

Why do I care about EMI? Because, despite what some of my industry friends may think, I believe that organizations like EMI still nurture great music. Not just in the past but even today. Look at Lily Allen and Katy Perry, Coldplay and The Decemberists. Would they have succeeded without EMI, maybe, but not to the degree that they have. Even somewhat wounded, EMI has provided both financial and creative resources, sorely needed when you’re competing against 100,000 bands on MySpace, FaceBook & iMeem.

An un-named major label digital executive asked me how I thought they were doing, I replied, “you’re still 18 months behind, you don’t have another 18 months to figure it out.” None of us have any more time to ponder, reflect, or wait. We all need to move forward at an accelerated pace, create new, sustainable partnerships, empower new models, help 3 guys in a loft in San Francisco or a flat in Shoreditch to succeed.

As I’ve said many times over the past five years, stop over-thinking it, be brave and experiment.

The opportunity is at hand.

Posted by Ted • Tuesday, March 24, 2009 .