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Published in the Milwaukee Business Journal by Jeff Engel – July 14, 2011

Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik doesn’t like to call fans consumers, but he understands the business realities and importance of marketing the band’s product in the dynamic music industry.

Before rocking Summerfest crowds on July 8, members of the Goo Goo Dolls spoke to GMR Marketing employees in New Berlin about reaching fans and their brand partnerships.

“It’s important to make fans feel like they have a vested interest in what you’re doing, and they do,” Rzeznik said before the trio played a few tunes for GMR staff. “The more interactive you can become with them — within limits — it only helps you out, and it only grows your audience.”

The informal interview and performance was one of GMR’s Ignition Sessions, a program it began more than a year ago to gain insights from music industry insiders and communicate artists’ marketing experiences to current and prospective GMR clients.

The company has brought in artists such as Cheap Trick, Dropkick Murphys and Los Lobos. Emerging country act Thompson Square also dropped by before opening July 8 for Jason Aldean at Summerfest. GMR held its first sports-themed session this week with NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth.

GMR spent more than $20,000 building out an intimate studio inside its New Berlin headquarters, said chairman and chief executive officer Gary Reynolds. It also pays Milwaukee-based Mindpool Productions to help produce and film the sessions, and the clips are later edited and posted on GMR’s website and disseminated to clients.

Although GMR makes no money from the program, Reynolds said the production costs are worth it.

“I think it’s valuable to our clients. They use (the sessions) as sparks of creativity,” Reynolds said. “It’s a great exercise, a great investment on our part.”

GMR also puts on the sessions to drive website traffic and flex its muscles in the music marketing world, the company’s bread and butter since its founding in the late 1970s.

Reynolds said it’s typical for advertising agencies to bring in bands for such performances, but GMR’s program is unique in its production scope and the company’s investment in it.

GMR doesn’t use sessions as a “direct sales tool,” said Jonathan Norman, the firm’s director of sports strategy.

“We don’t do it as an infomercial,” Norman said.

But officials did cite a couple of examples where companies partnered with bands after viewing their appearance at GMR, such as when Jim Beam Brands Co. enlisted Grace Potter & the Nocturnals for its Live Music Series, an online campaign.

“We hope there will be some transactions and interactions with our brands over time,” Reynolds said. “But it’s more interesting (hearing) where the industry is going” for artists and brands.

Thompson Square’s Keifer and Shawna Thompson used to answer every comment on the band’s Facebook page, but that’s been more difficult since one of the married duo’s singles from their 2011 debut album was featured on a May episode of “American Idol.” Their sales spiked 140 percent overnight.

“It’s not just about the money, unless it’s a lot of money,” Keifer Thompson jokingly told GMR staff.

Meanwhile, the Goo Goo Dolls have marketed themselves in a variety of formats over their 25-year career, including sponsorships with Miller Lite and former racecar driver Rusty Wallace as well as recording songs for movie soundtracks.

But the band has never been approached by marketers or companies to pen music for a product, which Reynolds said surprised him. Rzeznik said he would be interested.

“Not like, ‘Hey, I drink a lot of Miller,’” Rzeznik said, making up a quick jingle. “But I was thinking more of an instrumental sort of thing that represents the band and the client as well.”
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