CS went to have a chat with Alex Lavery and Simon Robinson, founders of P&S.
Can you tell us a little bit about what P&S does, and why it was created?
Simon: We’re a creative music agency. We use music to tell a brand’s story. That can range from music supervision, placing or creating pieces of music on content, pitching and synching; through to working on various kinds of campaigns using music to authentically speak for a brand through different communication channels. We get used as a creative resource to help plan for using music in the best way through to delivering and working with talent to executing whatever plan has been set. We changed the name to P&S, because Pitch and Sync becomes less relevant as our work has moved beyond straight up syncing.
Alex: We get to do what we do because most of the team have backgrounds in music, some running or working at respected indie labels, some in studios, some as promoters, so we have real relationships built over time with the people in the music game who can actually make things happen. As we’ve grown, the team has developed with people bringing disciplines from advertising and PR backgrounds, which I think has now sharpened us to a point where we’re able to communicate and manage with clients well.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey, how you guys met, and how you got to where you are today?
Simon: We met at a record label called Wall of Sound, which is an independent label best know for its electronic artists such as Royksopp or Propellerheads. The idea for Pitch & Synch got born because we were doing more and more brand and licensing activity, which was becoming more important for the label because record sales were diminishing and the advertising side was seen as a way of making money. There was so much missed opportunity between the brand and advertising world connecting properly with the band and the label side of the equation. So many things were misaligned on the projects we worked on; the advert would be out and then up to nine months later, the record would be released, missing these simple timings of an engaged audience clucking for music on a good advert was crazy. The blueprint for Pitch & Synch was born out of witnessing these missed opportunities time and time again. We saw a gap between these two industries and figured it was time to try and bridge it.
Alex: Another thing that was interesting when we were working at record labels, in particular Wall of Sound, was that we would really struggle fighting against Major labels at getting regular promotion such as radio play. But in the advertising space we’d be seen as quite the cool cucumbers, so we would have a lot of assets to engage advertising creatives, like the fact that we had a residency at Fabric each month or label tours around the world, and I think our records were often picked up by creatives who in turn put them to picture when at work. We had a much more level playing field in this area than we did trying to get a record on Radio 1 against the Majors. We had so many bands that never made it because we didn’t ever have the muscle to get them that break they needed, which is a very unfortunate disadvantage of a lot of great indie labels that have great music. In the advertising space of music it felt like, arguably, we had the upper hand, which was rather nice.
The way that you guys work and what you do seems quite new and quite fresh. Are there a lot of other people doing this sort of thing?
Alex: The word clusterfuck springs to mind. There was a trend about five years ago, when people started getting laid off from jobs at record labels, in particular from Majors, to start a synch company and say that you represent this artist or that artist for licensing. Synch was a buzz word, record labels had diminishing sales so everyone wanted to put their eggs in the synch basket. What that actually created was saturation for the sync market. People would do deals under market value just to get the work, they’d strive just to get into the game I suppose. Our plan was never to just be a synch agency, it was to be doing creative campaigns that involved music. It took us a while to get there and to find the right opportunities to create some case studies. We always had an ambition that was very different to saying ‘we want to be a synch agency and do deals to make money’.
Simon: We do it in a very different way, there are a lot of companies who do synch work, there are a few companies that do the music marketing work, but our approach is always about the creativity and bringing our kind of independent spirit from the record company days into how we approach campaigns. It’s often about the best fit between the artists and what the campaign is about. It’s not about paying Lady Gaga a million dollars to be the face of what ever for a week; it’s about creating genuine stories with music and brands, stories which surpass their sell by date and are still told by the artist involved as they were personally engaged and often proud of the project.
Alex: There are communication’s agencies or entertainment marketing who create good work. Some of them are part of bigger groups which give them easier wins on getting their hands on certain opportunities. Our ethos has come from being indie, and I think that that sets us really differently from others who you might call competitors. I think that coming from an indie space gives us a different take on things. We had to play very differently as an indie because we didn’t have money. We had to find other ways to make it work for our artists, and I think that’s fairly true to say about our approach to our work. You could say it’s like the difference between editorial and advertorial.
Can you talk a little bit about how you work with your clients and what the creative process is like for you guys?
Simon: It varies, it’s a mixture of everything really. We can be brought on board with projects where the creative root is very mapped out, and they’re just looking to us for fitting music ideas or artists that are relevant to the creative roots. Basically finding the talent and matching it to what they’ve got already. We can also get brought on board as a creative resource earlier in the process. Our client can tell us what they are trying to achieve, we look from a music angle and develop creative early on. Sometimes there’s an idea already shaped, sometimes we can totally shape the idea. We work with all sorts of clients, agencies from the above the line through to smaller digital agencies, PR outfits and design studios. We sometimes work direct with brands, with brand managers and marketing departments. We’re pretty flexible and are open to trying any way of working.
Alex: Our mantra and ideal scenario is to become involved with the creative and planning process. That way we can explore opportunities in advance, instead of ‘let’s find the right track for this thing’. When you’re involved the process early on, I think it opens out a lot more opportunity in how you engage with music in whatever capacity that is.
Is there a perfect example of how music and advertising or branding has worked?
Simon: There are a few that spring to mind; Converse, Redbull and Intel. The vision behind them all is that of great long-term strategy.
Alex: It’s not just a ‘quick attach yourself to cool music talent’ cut and run, looking at the longer term play. Something like Red Bull’s Music Academy for example, has been going for fifteen years I think. I was a student of the academy in the year 2000, and it’s come so far since then. It’s one of the most respected musical institutions around electronic music and there is so much love in the artist community for the programme. It’s actually quite an anomaly of all of the Red Bull activities, most of the others are associated with high adrenaline type activities, and this is just aligning itself very credibly and supporting real music across various genres. It educates and provides real passion for those wanting to tread a path in music. Obviously if you’ve done that for fifteen years then the people that you supported early on that are now doing well in music are going to have a lot of love for you.
Simon: They are adding to the story and nurturing talent, Red Bull are getting all of these like minded people together and inspiring them. Then there is Converse who have got their studio and are allowing artists to go in and record properly for free. They also saved the 100 Club from closure in London and continue to run it credibly as a live venue. Intel’s Creators Project is all about giving designers, artists and bands the platforms and money to think of big ideas and then create them. They’re not trying to stake claim to it or own the rights to it, they’re just letting them do it and that’s the nice thing about all of those projects.
What work have you guys done that you’re most proud of?
Simon: We did a Radox campaign last year which is a really good example how we work and how you can use music to tell a brand’s story. Radox couldn’t afford to do an effective TV campaign so we worked with an above the line agency and a PR company to create a campaign around music. We created the most relaxing track in the world ever, which was scientifically proven, and then used that PR story to promote the Radox Spa range. We worked with a leading sound therapist and also with a band called Markoni Union who are a chill out, ambient band. Through collaboration with the sound therapist, the band created a track with parameters that should make up a relaxing song, from time between introducing new frequencies through to applying a BPM which would match a relaxed rate of your heartbeat. It was taken into a test environment by an independent research agency, which measured the electronic pulses of your body, and compared it with other relaxing music, such as Mozart and Adele, and also to a physical massage. The track came out tops by 6% which is statistically enough to say that it’s the most relaxing track in the world.
Alex: It gave us a killer strapline for the PR and got the campaign a huge of coverage across press, TV and radio including various tabloids, BBC’s Have I Got News for You prime time TV show even Jarvis Cockers Sunday Service radio show on BBC 6Music. It gave a really interesting point of view to talk about music in a way that was totally relevant to the brand, and it took the brand to places it would never normally get coverage. They also nailed sales targets in a fraction of the time anticipated.
Simon: Our first break came after we’d been working with Y&R on Bacardi supervision for some time. That led to the idea of what it would be like for Bacardi to release a record. There was a track placed on a TV spot, which was a clubby dance track, commissioned by us and produced by dance music artist, Freelance Hellraiser. Research had been particularly positive around the music used in the spot so we released the track supported with a bunch of remixes and some music focused PR. It was a test to figure out what you had to do to release a record as a brand and what internal issues would arise. It was low scale, released just in the UK, yet it picked up a few radio plays, club plays and some press but most importantly, learnings taken from the experience were applied to the Groove Armada and Bacardi partnership.
We were the music agency working with Bacardi’s experiential agency on the GA project and we used the same label created for the previous project for the GA release, which was called B-Live Recordings. Bacardi’s role in this relationship was very much as a facilitator, much more than a badging exercise or straight up sponsorship type of thing. The project nailed it with positive PR for Bacardi, generating loads of heat around the subject of ‘are brands becoming the new record label’ and that was a very positive side of the campaign, which won a lot of awards. The downside was that Bacardi had grown their footprint in music beyond the live activity they were best known for and they could have gone on from there and created a rather nice legacy for themselves within the music arena, but they stopped after that year. The only regret of that project is that they didn’t continue the story, which could have been something exceptional. But thank god for a brave and fantastic client at the time who went for it.
Are there any buzz words that you hear from working with clients and agencies that you would like to erase forever?
Simon: Any abbreviation is a bit no-no. I hate it when people expect you to know what they mean.
What are the biggest challenges facing P&S at the moment?
Alex: Honest collaborative behavior.
Simon: Not taking a longer term approach to engaging in music. We have lots meetings where prospective clients tell us they want to be doing things like Red Bull or Converse, but when you explain what that takes there is just no way to get the required commitment. That is the real struggle, you have to have commitment as well as ambition to do something like Red Bull.
If you could collaborate with anybody alive today on any project, what would it be?
Simon: Damon Albarn or James Murphy.
Alex: One of the dudes from Flight of the Concords.
What has been your biggest learning throughout your careers?
Simon: A yes doesn’t mean yes.
Alex: Don’t sing until the fat lady has signed.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Alex: Be yourself.
Simon: Believe in what you’re doing.
If you could be somebody else who would it be?
Simon: Donald Duck, he can quack.
Alex: I’d quite like to be an animal. In fact, I’d be Animal from the Muppets maybe for a day.
Where do you do your best thinking?
Simon: I do it when I’m running.
Alex: Often in bed, one idea leads to another and then it keeps me awake.
What do you think the future of advertising is?
Alex: Killer content and experiences. Stuff that people genuinely want in lives.
Simon: I concur.
Alex is curating our next Fanboy event Bass, how low can you go?. He’ll be joined on stage by Tony Andrews, the founder of Funktion One, the world’s most respected loudspeaker manufacturer, and Jim Angell, who is one half of Sancho Panza, the legendary London DJ group and Notting Hill carnival sound system, as well as a soon to be announced special guest artist. This one is going to an absolute banger and tickets are selling out fast, pick one up now while you still can.
TICKETS ON SALE NOW:csfanboybase.eventbrite.com/