Commentary

'Doing' Content For A Cause

Steve Butcher, the CEO of Seattle-based global ticket vendor Brown Paper Tickets, says he’s had “a lot of love and respect for traditional marketing” dating to when he discovered Adweekmagazine at his first job when he was 14. Not that his company does any.

Instead, what Brown Paper Tickets does — and has since its inception in 2000 — is do things that aim to make a difference. “As we were growing the company, we decided that instead of putting money into marketing, and normal stuff like that, we were going to put it in the service level,” Butcher says. The company gave its employees “a lot of training, flexibility, power and control,” he continues, and that in turn “empowered” its customers, leading to positive word of mouth, more growth and enough cash in the treasury for a “real” advertising budget. But it decided not to go in the direction of what Butcher calls “an [un]genuine and artificial means to a temporary end.”

For a while the company — which now sells about $100 million worth of tickets in 27 countries for more than one million events — just made direct donations to the causes and communities it served. But $20 here and a Franklin there wasn’t having any notable impact. Instead, in 2012 the company invested about $2 million into the asset that it feels has set it apart from the beginning — people — creating a program called “The Doers” and committing to dedicating at least 5% of it profits for donations and community-building for more than 10 years.

Brown Paper Ticket employee "doers" are charged with using the passion-driven expertise they’ve acquired in a particular area to help others in the field. Period. No ROI is involved. Billy Geoghegan helps independent artists, labels and promoters in the music industry. Bob Noxious’ passion is for all things roller-derby.

Enter stage left, Sabrina Roach, who had been working full time as development and community engagement director for Seattle community radio station 91.3 KBCS and in her spare time was advocating for media reform and justice issues. Now that’s she on the Brown Paper Ticket payroll, she can combine her organizing work with creating events and generating content, such as National Radio Day Thursday.

Events, on air and off, took place in more than two dozen locales across the country. They spotlighted noncommercial radio in all its forms — from larger NPR-affiliated stations, for example, to full-powered community radio stations such as KBCS to the nearly 2,000 new low-power FM “neighborhood” radio stations that are booming since the FCC opened an application window for hyperlocal licenses in late 2013.

“A low-power FM radio station is like community glue,” Roach says, but they really have little in common with each other besides the fact “that they are low-powered.” Part of her self-defined mission is to unite them in mutually beneficial endeavors. To that end, seven new LPFM stations that will soon be broadcasting to 90% of Seattle’s neighborhoods did a live broadcast yesterday from a pop-up station on the plaza of the Seattle Public Library. It featured local youth radio hosts and national recording artists.

Roach is also spreading the word about Sonic IDs, innovative snippets of audio content created by independent producers (or the kid down the block) that “weave the broadcast day of [Massachusetts-based public station] WCAI,” which originated their use.

Contrasting Brown Paper Tickets’ business philosophy with the “purposeful Darwinism” ascribed to Amazon in a controversial New York Timesarticle Sunday, Butcher says “there’s another theory in biology that basically talks about the cooperation that happens both inside and with other species.” Its principles, he points out, are embodied in what is called natural capitalism. “I think you can be just as competitive and bring out the best of people, if you have that layer of cooperation," he says.

And as the curtain comes down, let’s gives props where props are “do.” This story grew out of an intriguing email from Barb Morgen, who Roach says has helped her to articulate her mission on an ongoing basis. Morgen’s title, I discovered after several exchanges back and forth: chief storyteller for Brown Paper Tickets’ five-person content marketing crew.

1 comment about "'Doing' Content For A Cause".
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  1. Francis Battaglia from Green Rocket Digital, August 21, 2015 at 2:12 p.m.

    Inspiring and empowering post! Thanks, Thom! Love what Brown Paper Tickets is doing there. Adapting strategies which embrace healthy competition and collaboration will only become more necessary and relevant on a finite planet still swinging the wrecking ball of limitless growth capitalism. Keep putting a light on those brilliant doers like Sabrina Roach and Barb Morgan too. Brilliant.  

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