Music Brand 'Genius' Names New CRO, Plans Deeper Brand Expansion

Founded in 2009 as Rap Genius, a website that annotated popular rap lyrics, today’s Genius has an even wider music and audience reach. According to newly hired CRO Robert Elder, Genius’ expanded website and collaborations “turned it into a music brand that gives fans the deeper meaning behind all kinds of music and exists wherever they’re interacting with music and pop culture.” counts 100 million users each month and has a healthy social-media following. (Genius has 2.4 million viewers among its YouTube fans alone.)

In 2017, the company began to officially work with brands and advertisers, among them Adidas, Dropbox and Spotify, to further stake its place in the digital publishing arena.

In March, Genius hired Elder, previously of Group Nine Media, Time Inc. and Live Nation, as its new CRO. Elder and Ben Gross, Chief Strategy Officer, spoke with Publishing Insider about where Genius is headed.



Publishing Insider: As the new CRO, how will you continue to promote Genius as a brand? 

Robert Elder: Genius began working seriously with brands a little over a year ago, and it’s had a great reception in the marketplace so far. 2018 is about taking that to the next level.

Look at the video piece we recently did for Nike Air Max. We traced the history of the sneaker’s cultural ties to the hip-hop community, locating one of the very first references by KRS-One over 20 years ago. We find the Genius angle in everything we do.

We also see tremendous value in experiential programs. We have a 4,000 square-foot event space at our HQ in Brooklyn where we host concerts, live talks and screenings—and where we plan to put on our second annual IQ/BBQ festival later this summer. We have multiple artist video series—VERIFIEDDeconstructedFramework—already garnering significant audiences online. It’s now really a matter of taking what we’re already been doing and inviting brands to participate.

Which collaborations to date proved the most successful? How do you measure the success of a partnership?

Ben Gross: One program that sticks out recently is our Lyrics to Life partnership with Dropbox. Lyrics to Life was a pop-up art exhibition inspired by song lyrics that ran in the Downtown L.A. Arts District over a long weekend in March. 

Creatives like the rapper Aminé and visual artists Peggy Noland and Devin Troy Strother turned famous lyrics from Nicki Minaj, The Weeknd, and Radiohead into original installations music fans touched and interacted with. Every inch of the exhibition was concepted using Dropbox Paper. Over 4,000 people attended Lyrics to Life in the four days it ran.

We measure success in collaboration with our partners—is this program truly moving the needle for our client in the ways they’ve told us they want it to? In the case of Lyrics to Life, the event and the content did an amazing job highlighting what a great tool Dropbox is for creative collaboration—all the artists really used it! We’re looking to bring it to new markets soon.

How has Genius's collaborations led to greater visibility or to new or deeper revenue streams?

BG: Our work with Spotify is a good example. Genius’ popular “Behind the Lyrics” integration within Spotify has led to close, cross-departmental relationships at both companies (product, engineering, sales, marketing), which leads to cool brand collaborations—like live artist panels where we go behind Spotify’s flagship RapCaviar playlist. 

Genius and Spotify share a common goal — to more deeply connect fans with the artists and music they love.

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