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Behind the 'pseudo agency' informing Universal Music's marketing campaigns

Jack Fryer of Universal Music UK

Jack Fryer runs a "pseudo agency" department in Universal Music UK tasked with understanding - and striking a chord with – audiences, a service he affords to brands and musicians. But, in the age of big data and internet noise, there are more sources than ever before informing his decisions.

As director of audience research and planning at the studio, Fryer runs an agency-style team of nine people.

He said: “We want to be more service orientated and we imagine the people we work with as our clients. We want to be deinstitutionalized. We are in the music industry but necessarily of the music industry, the moment we become like everyone else, is the moment we cease to have value.”

Half the team is composed of data analysts, the other half, creatives, all coming together to deliver a strategy “founded in brand marketing science and audience understanding”.

Aiding this understanding is the "myriad of data" at his disposal, speaking at The Drum's Future of Marketing event, Fryer admitted that data is a powerful tool to call upon but there are some things that just can't be predicted by numbers on a screen.

“We try not to talk about data, or methodologies, we talk about outcomes and objectives. If data in all its myriad of forms helps us get there, then great, but at no point do I pitch to the president of a major label ‘I have some data for you’."

It’s human data that gives colour to the cold, hard numbers that’ll at times cross his desk. The opinions of people, gathered through special WhatsApp groups, and on social media, help dissect the latest sounds and trends .“You get the idea of the internet as the world’s biggest, free-est, most unprompted focus group,” he added.

However, in music, research can only take you so far, the industry is in the unique position of having to supply consumers with a product they want, but not necessarily one they know they want. Music remains art and therefore it is important to tread carefully around data and research linked to any one definitive answer. Which makes Fryer’s position ever more nuanced.

“We are constantly flexing and responding to what the industry wants from us, we bring a strategic way of thinking about things, but we are constantly thinking of the best time to step back. When do we shut up, when is it beneficial for us to leave the room. That's the most stressful part of the job.”

For a campaign to work, he has to find the “honest truth” at the heart of the brand – authenticity is what lands with audiences, “if it is not rooted in truth, it is not going to fly”.

“Great ideas come from the interface between a brand truth and an audience truth,” he concluded.