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What does an ad agency’s head of music actually do? Publicis’s Josh Phillips explains

By Josh Phillips, Head of music

November 15, 2023 | 7 min read

Is he in charge of the office Spotify? As part of our series unpacking the industry’s many job titles, Josh Phillips of Publicis Sport & Entertainment tells us how a head of music spends their time.

A man in a black jumper standing against a beige office wall. He has styled brown hair and a beard.

Josh Phillips of Publicis Sport & Entertainment explains what a head of music does / Publicis Sports & Entertainment

I started my career in music. I was always messing around in bands. I did heavy metal for quite a while and then acoustic boy band for a bit after that – that was probably the final nail in the coffin of my career.

When it became apparent that that career was not going to happen, I thought: what’s the next best thing? And that was going to work on the business side.

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I moved to London 13 years ago and my first job was as an intern at Universal Music. I went from that intern position to a permanent role then I moved to Warner Music, where I spent four years. I worked in global marketing for its catalog, essentially working with the more established eyes there on the Phil Collinses, Fleetwood Macs and Pet Shop Boys of this world on a global scale. It was international marketing with a big focus on artist PR.

I had a bit of a career change about five years ago when I became an agent. I was looking after mostly sports broadcast talent. It’s quite fun being an agent. If your clients aren’t earning, you’re not really earning. It is quite a lot of pressure, but a good experience. That led to working directly with brands and agencies, which helped me get to where I am now.

I joined Publicis just over a year ago and it was initially on a three-month consultancy period because it was getting more and more music briefs in and wanted a bit more expertise in that area. Three months became six and then six months became permanent. I’m still in contact with folks from the music business – WhatsApp groups and drinks and all that. My music background is super relevant and a good capability that we can offer to brands and agencies.

Effectively, it is as simple as managing a relationship between a big client and a superstar artist, which I’ll try and add value to, or use my expertise of how record labels work, how album release campaigns work, how music marketing works and lean into that to maximize the potential for our clients. If something comes in with the ‘M’ word on it – whether that’s a pitch response, whether that’s someone in another agency that wants to pick my brain – it gets put on to my desk.

A lot of brands out there decide that they want to activate in the music space. Often, they don’t always understand why – they just decide it’s cool and want to do something there. I try and add a strategic layer to that. Why do you want to activate music? And if you do, what’s the best route? Do you want to work directly with an artist or sponsor a festival or sponsor an award? What about a long-term ambassador piece? It can be quite overwhelming.

I’ve worked with a lot of creative agencies and directors. While they bring a slightly more artistic viewpoint, I’m in regular dialogue with them just on practicalities. We might want to remix a track from an artist in a piece of creative, so I’ll work with them to figure out how they’re going to do that. Have they contacted publishers? Are they in touch with management or the label? All the things that occasionally get missed to make sure everything flows smoothly.

At the moment, I’m managing an automotive brand and an A-list artist. Meanwhile, we’re doing significant work around marketing at the Olympics.

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This was a newly created role for me; the ambition is to grow it. We’ve worked on some great music campaigns and we want to do a lot more. Part of my remit is to get new business in, not just from agencies within the group but also externally – to get more music partnerships and projects through the door. I want to try and really hammer down a channel for music and really make that a strong capability of the team.

In Covid, the live music industry was decimated. A lot of people left the music industry because of that. It depends on how they view their artistic integrity versus the commercial opportunity, but I think there’s going to be more and more partnerships involving artists that you might have thought would never feature on ads. They’ll need that revenue and they’re not getting a fair bang for their buck from streaming – although that’s a problem way above my head to solve.

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