Note: The original version of this post has been corrected to reflect airplay for the entire album. Apologies for any confusion caused by my error. – FJ
The #1 album in the U.S. this week, according to Billboard, is not from Eminem, Drake, or Ariana Grande. It's not a pop, hip-hop, country, or Christian record.
It's Paul McCartney's “Egypt Station,” ringing up 153,000 album sales without the benefit of a whole lot of radio airplay. In fact, compared to almost every other artist that reaches this coveted chart position, Sir Paul's recent effort (his first #1 album since 1982) more than likely set a record for limited national radio airplay.
Now, you might conclude that as a former Beatle and a world-renowned celebrity, McCartney has an edge in recognition and certainly time in grade. And that, of course, is true. He's got a better track record than Adele or Bruno Mars by virtue of his rich history and the many years he's been on the big stage.
But none of that will take a Classic Rock artist to #1 on the album chart in 2018. You can check that with the Stones, Bob Seger, and pretty much any timeless rocker with the guts to actually release an album more than a half century after they first debuted.
In fact, “Egypt Station's” road to the top was done the hard way. The brainiacs at Nielsen's BDSradio tell us that total U.S. radio play for the album comes to 6,141 – respectable, but not even in the ballpark when compared to other #1 albums.
Airplay at Classic Rock/Hits stations has been paltry, if not nonexistent. Oddly enough, most of the spins have been been generated by Adult Contemporary and AAA where the single, “Come On To Me” ranks #16 in both formats.
But streaming? Sir Paul earned nearly 1 million streams last week, a better showing. And for the entire project since release, “Egypt Station” has netted 11 million+ streams.
Satellite radio has been more reliable than broadcast radio, led by two channels, the Spectrum and the Blend.
By the numbers, broadcast and satellite radio have not been in the lead when it comes to championing this project.
But what explains its massive success, without mainstream radio support?
This, according to Will Burns, CEO of Ideasicle.com, who penned a recent Forbes story – “Sir Paul McCartney, The Master Of Content Marketing, Strikes Again,” Burns thoroughly explains just what content marketing is all about and how the former Beatle has become one of its smartest proponents.
He notes how Sir Paul has become an expert content marketer, especially since the breakup of the Beatles nearly half a century ago, even though “It wasn't called content marketing back then.”
I had a similar revelation a few years ago when we brought Seth Resler on board. Seth's official title is “Digital Dot Connector,” but his foundational strategy is content marketing.
After spending time with Seth back in 2015 when we first hired him, I discovered that I (and Jacobs Media) have been engaging in the practice for years – albeit with a number of flaws. I just didn't know what it was called. And I didn't understand that with a real content strategy in place, we could grow Jacobs Media's footprint.
I won't bore you with the details, but Seth has grown our email database (which was pretty impressive to begin with) by 7x in just three years. It requires both content and marketing to enjoy this type of growth, whether you're a consultant, a morning show, a radio station, or a rock star.
You can watch one of Seth's nifty videos on content marketing here.
In McCartney's case, with the help of Seth and Will Burns, I've mapped out 9 content marketing strategies (#9, #9, #9….) the former Fab Four member has used in the past several months to pull off this amazing Billboard milestone:
1. Have a goal – Seth preaches this constantly. You cannot lay out a content marketing strategy that is cogent and effective unless there's an underpinning goal that drives your efforts. In the case of “Egypt Station,” the aim was to clearly have the best-selling album in the country. I'll bet that when Paul and his team articulated that lofty hope, there may have been quiet laughter in the room, and many WTF texts. Not anymore.
2. Get real – It's one thing to set a goal. It's another to set a realistic one. Oftentimes, iconic brands often get caught up in their own hype, thinking they're bigger and more successful than they really are. It can be helpful to do a S.W.O.T. analysis with the core team, honestly mapping out the initiative's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Only then can you develop a smart strategy. For McCartney, it had to be the realization his single (and the album) would generate very little radio airplay. So, the content marketing play focused on working other media to draw attention to the record.
3. Make sure you have plenty of content – Seth reminds me of this all the time – you have to actually create compelling content – and a lot of it – to succeed at this game. For Jacobs Media, we produce and present free webinars on a regular basis, as well as produce a lot of industry research. But it's this blog with fresh content every weekday that's at the heart of our content strategy. McCartney has his own arsenal of great content, created over the years and in just the past few months in preparation for the release of the album. From his recent gone-viral TV appearances to a slew of high profile interviews, as well as surprise concerts, McCartney has made sure he has a lot to work with – and that's the core of building a great content marketing strategy.
4. Get ahead of the curve – Content marketing for this record started nearly three months ago when McCartney appeared in that memorable performance on James Corden's “Carpool Karaoke.” That video has earned 32 million views to date, and featured the first single, “Come On To Me” (with “I Don't Know” on the flip side). Oftentimes, radio starts promoting events, specials, and contests a week or two out – not nearly enough time for content marketing to take hold and works its ways around the Internet.
5. Do epic stuff – For promotional launches, it's easy to check off the boxes – the press release, the party, the perfunctory interviews. Sir Paul attacked the mission to promote this record creatively and with force. His “Elevator Surprise” with Jimmy Fallon was a memorable way to draw attention to McCartney, his stardom, and his joy of using his celebrity to blow people away. It's one thing to be a guest on the biggest talk shows in all of media – it's another to come up with treatments that are original, compelling, and must-see.
And it's interesting the only station McCartney showed up at was Grand Central Station to play an amazing surprise concert for thousands of excited commuters.
6. Stay true to your brand – From the beginning, Paul McCartney became known as “The Cute Beatle.” As hard as it is to believe, at the ripe old age of 76, he hasn't lost that title. Sir Paul leverages that image – in concert, in interviews, and in these promotional performances and events. Of course, he's aged. But McCartney still exudes that cute persona, and as part of his content marketing efforts, it works. He's also perceived as human and approachable – and those qualities come across in just about everything he does.
7. Program in a bombshell (or two) – All these fun stunts aside, McCartney managed to make news with a number of big revelations, including telling Howard Stern that, in fact, it was John Lennon who broke up the Beatles. He admitted that to the London's Sunday Times that during an acid trip, he saw God. These are the moments that go viral, as well as finding their way onto TV and radio prep sheets, creating content for hundreds and hundreds of shows. Clearly, McCartney's calculation was to roll out these zingers over the course of the past few months, keeping his brand (and the upcoming album) top of mind.
8. Humor is often part of a content marketing strategy – Think about what ends up being shared the most on Facebook, Instagram, and emails. More often that not, it revolves around humor. In much the same way, you're hard pressed to think of a great radio show that doesn't have a strong comedy component, much of the most-shared material on the web is often rooted in humor. None of that is lost on McCartney. In spite of their obvious conflicts, the band's videos, films, press conferences, and antics were usually irreverent and often funny. That same Liverpudlian attitude is still very much alive and well in just about everything Sir Paul says and does.
9. Don't miss a beat – When you're going all-out with a big campaign with a lofty goal, leave no stone unturned. In looking back at the last 90 days of activity from McCartney's camp, it's hard to think of many missed opportunities. His team put together an attack plan covering all media outlets in a tireless effort to promote the project (and its artists), in spite of the expected dearth of radio airplay. The big checklist that is best brainstormed with a strong team is at the core of a content marketing strategy designed to to promote, expose, and ultimately sell and market a product.
Many of you have seen Steve Jones' presentations about how all businesses can learn about marketing from the best and the brightest in the rock n' roll community. His “Brand Like A Rock Star” book and accompanying conference presentations draw analogies to the ways that companies promote themselves.
Something tells me McCartney's “Egypt Station” content marketing strategy may end up being a chapter in Steve's next book.
Actually, Sir Paul could teach the master class.