Jenifer Mallory spent years in the Sony system prior to taking her present perch as EVP/GM of Ron Perry’s Columbia. The well-liked exec has since proved an indispensable part of Perry’s Big Red machine, with a strong reputation as an artist-friendly marketing wiz. The L.A. native’s diverse background has given her a granular understanding of the marketplace; she also has considerable experience in international, and her global perspective has been vital as the label navigates the new ecosystem.

After graduating from Cal Berkeley, Mallory moved to London and became intrigued by marketing as a copywriter for IAC division eToys. The company bought Ticketmaster in 1998, whereupon, back in the States, she became part of a team that created a marketing arm within the ticketing business just as the technology was taking off. She was hooked.

“I knew I liked consumer interaction and brand marketing, and Sony Pictures was looking for a consultant to do Spider-Man marketing, so that was my way in the door at Sony,” Mallory explains. “I was doing digital marketing as mobile was coming into play. At the time it was Facebook and MySpace and the early days of how do you reach kids on the Internet?

“But my real dream was the music side, so I moved from the film side to the music side by way of the Spider-Man soundtrack, which was on Epic. And I got to help blow the whole thing up. Everything had just gone down with Napster; everything had just been disrupted. So there was this drive to build out an Internet marketing team, a digital marketing team. We didn’t necessarily know a ton about music, but we knew how to convert consumers. Samantha Saturn [now CMO at SESAC] was brought on to run the team. She gave me my chance, and I’ll forever be indebted to her for letting me in the door.

“So I’ve spent the last 15 years moving around at Sony Music Entertainment, starting in digital, then going into proper product management, then, in 2009, jumping to international on the Columbia side, running the Columbia team and ultimately working with Sylvia [Rhone] and Peter [Edge], then running international for all of Sony Music, reporting to Rob [Stringer], which was incredible. I got to travel the world and learn the idiosyncrasies of the different markets. Of course today it’s imperative to understand the global marketplace, so I’m extremely grateful that I was able to do that.

“Then Ron [Perry] came in the door, and we really hit it off. We’re a great team; we complement each other in a wonderful way. In 2018 he just said, ‘Let’s do this together. Get off the road and come back and help me run Columbia.’

“I’ve never worked with anyone who has such an incredible understanding of the Internet, consumer behavior and where the marketplace is going,” Mallory says of her colleague. “He has been way ahead of the curve, and I mean even before the pandemic, before everything shut down. So despite everything that was going on, we were in a wonderful position structurally to handle the fact that the Internet was the only thing we had to do our jobs with.

“Couple that with an undeniably commercial ear. Ron’s incredible at the music side—that’s his superpower.

And the fact that, frankly, he hadn’t worked at a major label before. He would look at things and say, ‘Well, why would we do it that way? Let’s do this; this makes more sense.’ And I love that about him. He had no problem blowing things up, saying, ‘It doesn’t matter that that’s the way you always did it.’

“The fact that he came from SONGS, on the publishing side, where he was really close with his artists and very much at the nucleus of the creative conversations, has allowed him to change the relationships we have with our artists in the best possible way. It’s a very different energy—Ron’s running a family operation.

“I’ve learned so much from him. I’ve never worked for a CEO with such a deep understanding of youth culture—where the kids are consuming things, how trends start, how that impacts streaming… We use data to see when things are working and when things aren’t working, and I had a good understanding of that going into it, but it’s even better now. He’s really raised the bar for me.”

Mallory gives some specific examples of Columbia’s marketing approach. “Every campaign is different, obviously, but it’s always led by the artist,” she notes. “It starts with us asking, ‘What does this album mean to you? What does this song mean to you?’ And then we consider how do we build that out? How can we touch other parts of the culture to create the narrative, the world of this project? How do you get that world to come to life on the Internet so that it becomes part of the zeitgeist? Then it’s what’s the demo? Where do they live? How do we find them? Is it Twitch? Is it Fortnite? Is it Twitter? Is it Facebook? Is it by way of television or press? You have to be very methodical about where you’re trying to find your consumer. And when you’re working with an artist like Lil Nas X, so much of it comes from him.

“Ron and I joke about that all the time—if Montero ever decides to stop making music, he could just run the show. I swear he could do my job in a second. He gets the Internet more than any other artist I’ve come across.

“When we’re talking about a Lil Nas X or a Harry Styles or a Tyler, The Creator, those artists know what they want, and we just help construct it.

“Tyler may not necessarily think about every little pocket of the Internet, but with Call Me When You Get Lost, there was just so much to dig into. Same with Harry; Fine Line had such an incredibly beautiful narrative arc. Then you see something like the video for “Adore You,” which gave us so much to work with. We did a bunch of really innovative, exciting things with Harry on the one-to-one marketing side that we’d never done before.

Daft Punk was like that, too. I’m thinking of the campaign for [2013’s] Random Access Memories, which was hugely influential on me. The robots [frontmen Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter] are incredible marketers, with a really keen sense of what moves the culture, and they had a really strong vision for their campaigns. I learned a lot from them about thinking globally but marketing locally and making sure things feel authentic in each of the different marketplaces. Like this AC/DC campaign we did last year; we started it with snipes and billboards across from Angus Young’s high school in Sydney.

“But we’re not always given the keys to the kingdom. There are developing artists who need a lot more from our creative team; the creative team has to tease everything out of them. It’s much more difficult when an artist doesn’t really have a vision for themselves yet.

“The things you think are going to be huge sometimes aren’t, or the opposite happens, like, wow, we didn’t see that coming,” Mallory acknowledges. “We just have to be nimble, and if it isn’t working, don’t force it. And if it is working, whether you expected it to or not, you lean in. Every Friday we say, ‘OK, what’s going to work?’ We have a good idea because we have the data and metrics that help us know what Friday is going to look like, but we can still be surprised by what we see, which is exhilarating.”

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