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"It’s all about patience. As we grow with radio, alongside our marketing initiatives, we have the ability to make people aware of Robbie, his sense of humor and ability to perform. This is a world-class artist; it’s not something you can capture in a sound bite."
——Virgin chief Matt Serletic
THERE’S NO ESCAPING
ROBBIE WILLIAMS
Virgin Prepares to Conquer the Last Bastion of Resistance to the Worldwide Superstar—the U.S.
Question: When is a global pop icon who’s sold more than 20 million albums treated like a new artist?

Answer: When he’s Robbie Williams, whose worldwide superstardom has yet to translate to the U.S. But EMI is determined to change that, and soon.

On April 1, Virgin Records America will release Williams’ new album, Escapology, which has already sold more than 5.5 million copies since its European release in November, spending 10 weeks at #1 in Britain.

Last year, the 29-year-old artist re-upped with EMI for a reported $80 million, six-album deal after a protracted bidding war that involved sizable competing offers from others in the Big Five. The innovative pact gives the U.K. music company a stake in Williams’ merchandising, touring and publishing revenue.

This is the first stateside release for the cheeky, larger-than-life performer since his 1999 Capitol album The Ego Has Landed, which featured songs from his first two European discs, Life Thru a Lens and I’ve Been Expecting You, including the modest U.S. radio hits "Millennium" and "Angels." Swing When You’re Winning, his 2001 homage to Frank Sinatra, which included a duet with Nicole Kidman on "Something Stupid," was a worldwide success, but has yet to come out in America.

"It’s all about patience," says Virgin Records head Matt Serletic. "As we grow with radio, alongside our marketing initiatives, we have the ability to make people aware of Robbie, his sense of humor and ability to perform. This is a world-class artist; it’s not something you can capture in a sound bite."

To that end, Virgin promotion queen Hilary Shaev will take some time off from following her beloved Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament to oversee an eight-city radio promo tour that will take the charismatic star to Boston, San Francisco, Denver and San Diego, among other markets, starting later this month. The first single, "Feel," went to Hot Adult stations three weeks ago.

Said Shaev: "We feel very strongly that his primary appeal would be to 18-34-year-old women, and that point of entry corresponds to Hot Adult, which can be a very loyal, artist-friendly format. We want to form partnerships with these stations, not just promote the fact that he’s big everywhere else, so he should be big in the U.S. Once we build a hit profile at one format, it will allow us to cross to others."

The video strategy mirrors the radio plan, as the label went first to big-playlist MTV2 and adult-skewing VH1, both of which have added the clip.

The album release will be accompanied by TV appearances on Carson Daly (4/1) and ABC’s Good Morning America.

The marketing plan also includes TV advertising "with an edge, that’s irreverent and fun," according to Serletic. "We want to get across Robbie’s personality. It’s just widening that circle of fans he already has by allowing the perception of the artist to be communicated naturally."

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