Fifteen-to-34-year-old consumers are an elusive prize for marketers —they are ready to spend and just beginning to form brand loyalties. But reaching young people through traditional channels is tougher than ever.
These days, nobody knows better how to communicate with that demographic than Cornerstone Promotion, a Manhattan based lifestyle marketing firm. Founder Rob Stone, 38, spent his early career in the music business (he was vice president of promotion at Arista Records under the legendary Clive Davis) and started Cornerstone in 1996. He and his copresident, Jon Cohen, also 38, who had been vice-president of Columbia Records’ alternative music department, first ran Cornerstone as a promotional company that did work for the recording industry, but quickly realized that their knowledge of entertainment, pop culture and youth culture could help build business for consumer product brands like Coca-Cola, Xbox, iTunes and Nike.
They have built Cornerstone into a multifaceted company involved in event marketing, online marketing, radio promotion, brand consulting, music supervision (helping obtain music for projects like video games) and public relations. One of the company’s secret weapons is its team of 150 young field marketing representatives (the reps must at least be college sophomores to join) in cities across the country, who can spread the word on new products and ideas among peers at local clubs and record stores and on college campuses.
Cornerstone’s connections in the entertainment industry and its product “seeding” capability means it can place products with influential players in music, sports, fashion and entertainment to build buzz for a brand. The company has seen astounding growth: In 2005, BusinessWeek magazine estimated Cornerstone’s revenues at $20 million. The company currently has 85 employees and offices in Chicago and Los Angeles as well as New York.
But Cornerstone isn’t just a marketing firm. In 1998, Stone and Cohen started The Fader, a glossy music and lifestyle magazine that The New York Times calls a “music and fashion bible”, and in spring, 2003, the duo launched Fader Films, which has released two motion pictures, Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell and On the Outs.
Recently, New York Enterprise Report editor-in-chief Robert Levin sat down to talk with Rob Stone and Jon Cohen about their company:
RL: How did you guys get started?
JON: I think that the key thing to understand is that when we started Cornerstone 10 years ago we had both come from the music industry. We each spent about 10 years learning how a career and an artist is established in the music business. We basically started Cornerstone as an outsourcing firm where record labels could have us supplement their marketing campaigns for their artists. But what we realized is the music industry does a tremendous job of “circling” the consumer —surrounding them with messages.
You know, if you think about the music industry versus any other business, say a major footwear company or a movie studio, a lot of [the latter] businesses spend an enormous amount of money buying traditional media and then scramble to try some smaller things to connect with the consumer.
The music industry works in the opposite way. It knows how to circle the consumer in a lot of different ways and get a lot of mileage out of a much smaller budget. So the philosophy of Cornerstone as a lifestyle marketing company is the same mentality of a record company, and the mentality of marketing music is merged into the mentality of a very edgy, forward-thinking advertising agency.
Coming from the music business, we understand the way that target 15-to-34-year-old consumer wants to be marketed to. Our biggest strength is we understand how that consumer thinks, and then we build a whole infrastructure to reach that consumer through the Internet, through the non-traditional methods, through radio, event marketing, field marketing, PR. Over our 10-year history this has completely evolved. It grew from a few services on a very small scale to being very broad. Now we feel we have a mix that really can connect with the consumer.
ROB: We’ve evolved our services as clients have come to us with their needs. So it’s as we went from having just music clients to having Sprite and Microsoft that we started realizing that there were more needs that these clients had that their agencies weren’t fulfilling. So it gave us a niche. We’ve taken the mentality of “let’s really go down to the influencers and start at that level instead of beginning at the top level and trying to get down.” In effect, let’s reverse the traditional marketing process.
Robert Levin is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The New York Enterprise Report. Levin has extensive experience with midsize and small businesses, having previously held CEO, CFO, and COO positions with companies in several industries. He is also a contributor for The Huffington Post. Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (212) 307-6760.