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The PR Industry’s Biggest Deadheads

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Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott and Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan just released their new book, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.”

The authors provided PRNewser with an exclusive excerpt from the book, which we’ve posted after the jump.

Also, to coincide with the release, we thought it would be fun to compile a list of the PR industry’s biggest Deadheads. This list is according to our 100% un-scientific ranking system.

Click through to get the full story.


The executives are ranked in no particular order, and PRNewser thanks them for sharing their stories with us. Note: their inclusion on this list does not imply an endorsement of the book, although we’ll guess that they may like it.

If you’re not on this list, and would like to be added, we will consider updating it with a “second edition.” Email us or add your thoughts in the comments.

Shel Holtz, Principal, Holtz Communication + Technology

What was your favorite Grateful Dead experience?

My favorite experience would be the last show the boys ever played in California, at Shoreline Amphitheater on June 4, 1995. We brought our kids and friends who attended with us brought theirs. Ben was 14, Rachel was 6, but they can both say they saw the Dead, which performed at a higher level than usual that night for this late stage of their journey.

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My daughter had her hair braided by some girl wandering the crowd offering braids for $5. It was a beautiful night in Mountain View, California and all was right with the world. Oh, and the friends we were with were printers whom I’d met because they handled some of my work at the time.

A lot of people say to companies: “Be like the Grateful Dead, give something away for free (the live show recordings) to entice people to buy other products (tickets to live shows). Can you give an example that sticks out to you of where this can, or maybe more interestingly can’t, work for other companies/organizations?

One of these days I’m going to write a post titled, “Everything I know about business I learned from the Grateful Dead.” I don’t know if you saw the Atlantic Monthly piece, “Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead.”

There’s a lot more to the Dead’s business savvy than giving music away. The connection with the fans, the special accommodations (like selling tour ticket packages for the tour-heads), these are things a lot of working-class artists have discovered in the social media era. The Dead did it with printed publications, post cards and telephone hot lines in the days before computers infiltrated the household.

In any case, I once heard John Perry Barlow speak. Barlow wrote lyrics for Bob Weir and is part of the Grateful Dead Family.

He’s also a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which was the focus of the talk he gave at an International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) international conference in the early days of the Net. He made little reference to the Dead until somebody asked about the risk to copyright in the digital world. Here’s what he said (from memory, not a literal quote):

At some point, the Dead decided to let Deadheads tape concerts. It wasn’t a hard decision. We were a hippie band, it wasn’t about the money, and it was bad karma to throw a Deadhead out of a show. But people started trading and playing the tapes, which exposed our live music to a lot of people who’d only heard the studio version of “Truckin” on the radio. That brought a lot more people into the shows, and we moved from clubs to concert halls to arenas to stadiums. We all became millionaires because we gave the music away.

There’s a lot to be said for this model, which has been adopted by the likes of the cultural ministry in Brazil, which organizes large shows of artists whose music has been given away online. Money for the artists comes from ticket and merchandise sales.

It also works for a lot of businesses, as explained in Wired Executive Editor Chris Anderson‘s book, “Free.” The software business is a prime example, where you can download a free version of software and pay if you want to unlock special features.

For me, I’ve always found that giving away intellectual property in my talks and articles has not cost me money but rather brought me business.

I don’t believe the model can work for every business in every circumstance — Rolls Royce Engines, for example, probably has nothing it can give away in order to cell jet engines — but it’s something most businesses should at least explore as a model.

Have you ever scored a client/business opportunity based off a “Grateful Dead connection?”

Not that I recall, but I’ve certainly solidified some relationships with clients or co-workers after we discovered the common affinity and attended some shows together. Here’s one I’ll never forget:

I had just started work at a new job. My boss was a very intimidating guy — he reminded me of Professor Kingsfield in “The Paper Chase.” I’d been there about two weeks when I stuck my head in his office to let him know I was leaving for the weekend.

“Any plans for the weekend?” he asked.

“I’m going to a concert,” I said.

“Me too,” he said. “The Long Beach Blues Festival. Where are you going?”

I hesitated, but then admitted: “I’m going to see the Grateful Dead, at Ventura County Fairgrounds.”

“The Dead!” he exclaimed. “My God, I haven’t seen the Dead in 15 years.” He pondered for a moment, then asked, “So you’re into the Dead, huh?”

“Yes,” I confessed.

He asked, “Can you get me any acid?”

I wasn’t much intimidated by him after that. (And by the way, no, I
couldn’t.)

Nettie Hartsock, Principal, The Hartsock Agency

What was your favorite Grateful Dead experience?

Seeing them in Vegas when Garcia was still with us and STING was their opener. It was 103 degrees and while Sting was playing a bride and groom came down literally in wedding gown and tux – and the whole crowd parted and let them go all the way to the front of the stadium while Sting was singing “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”

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The remarkable piece of it was that it would only happen at a DEAD show that thousands of people dancing would perfectly and beautifully make a path for a bride and groom to walk down and that the entire audience would clap and cheer in unison as they were making their way down.

It was beautiful to watch and I had my boyfriend with me at the time and I really think because of that event, he asked me to marry him. We’re still married, two kids, and a Deadhead decade and a half later. We also just saw an amazing show in Hartford, CT last May.

A lot of people say to companies: “Be like the Grateful Dead, give something away for free (the live show recordings) to entice people to buy other products (tickets to live shows). Can you give an example that sticks out to you of where this can, or maybe more interestingly can’t, work for other companies/organizations?

I think folks try to replicate what the DEAD did in terms of giving away things for free, but too many people try to do it for the gimmick of it or because they know it worked with the DEAD. I think it only works if the generosity is real and literally without strings and if it in turn inspires more generosity.

The Dead were incredibly generous not only because they let people plug into the soundboard and trade the tapes, but because they provided this really fantastic, safe, inspiring atmosphere that in turn generated more generosity way beyond just the tapes. If a company does that well, it really becomes a collaborative community of buyers/sellers/partners with true and generous intention of benefiting everyone not just itself or its bottom line.

Here’s an example, I think the way Seth Godin gave away “Linchpin” is an incredible example of how free works and how the generosity grows in proportion to the initial act.

Have you ever scored a client/business opportunity based off a “Grateful Dead connection?”

Yes, I’ve had an author who was a Deadhead and I feel that is one of the reasons why we were able to work so well together, and I’ve had two referrals from an amazing editor in California who is a long-term Deadhead and specifically refers folks to me because I’m a Deadhead.

Rick Murray, President, Edelman Chicago

What is your favorite Grateful Dead experience?

My favorite Dead experience had to be their first retirement – they played six nights at Winterland in San Francisco in October 1974; I went three of the six. The Grateful Dead Movie and the Steal Your Face live album came out of those sets. The Saturday night show was particularly memorable (or not). A group of us from the Peninsula went (I lived in Hillsborough at the time).

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One of my friends – and the guy who taught me how to play guitar – was Owsley Stanley’s nephew. The twirlers were out in force – outside and inside. Winterland had an amazing vibe. Once you got in, black lights provided the only lighting, so when you were all decked out in fluorescent paint, you glowed. We were standing about a third of the way back on the floor…right next to one of the film crews. The music never stopped.

A lot of people say to companies: “Be like the Grateful Dead, give something away for free (the live show recordings) to entice people to buy other products (tickets to live shows). Can you give an example that sticks out to you of where this can, or maybe more interestingly can’t, work for other companies/organizations?

I think the Dead pioneered a very communal business model, and it worked for them until Jerry died. Once they couldn’t tour anymore, they lost the ticket and merchandise revenue stream that afforded them the luxury of giving certain things away to keep you coming back for more.

When that happened, they did what most businesses facing a revenue shortfall do – they cut costs and managed a much tighter ship until they could figure out what to do.

Today, telco carriers all but give away smartphones like RIM’s Blackberry (a client) to get you hooked on coverage. But there’s another great case of that proves this out involving the Chicago Blackhawks.

Bill Wirtz – who owned the team until his death a few years ago – refused to broadcast local games for fear that it would cannibalize ticket sales. And the Hawks were perennially average. After he died, his son Rocky took the helm and immediately cut a local broadcast deal, giving the team back to the city. He re-invested the fees he got from that in talent, and voila – two years later Chicago has a Stanley Cup, and a fan base that approached 2 MILLION at the celebratory parade.

Doug Simon, President & CEO, D S Simon Productions

(Channeling Jerry Garcia in his picture.)

What was your favorite Grateful Dead experience?

Sitting five feet from Bob Weir when he did an acoustic solo performance from the Sirius Booth at the Consumer Electronics Show after I had finished directing a CES satellite media tour. It was a complete surprise.

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A lot of people say to companies: “Be like the Grateful Dead, give something away for free (the live show recordings) to entice people to buy other products (tickets to live shows). Can you give an example that sticks out to you of where this can, or maybe more interestingly can’t, work for other companies/organizations?

That wasn’t really the Dead’s philosophy. That came about because they signed such a bad record contract they couldn’t make money until late in their careers by selling records. They needed to tour constantly to earn a living.

A better lesson for business is how well they took care of their customers–they always started concerts on time, they allowed fans to identify where they wanted to sit and get advance tickets in specific sections, provided a long break during the show for friends to connect, etc.

Have you ever scored a client or business opportunity based off a “Grateful Dead connection?”

We have. Our music on hold is an excerpt from a Grateful Dead concert (an instrumental portion of “Eyes of the World” for those of you scoring at home). Recently, at the Big Apple Awards, a long-time client told me he decided to work with us the first time because of our music on hold.

Feel free to call 212.736.2727 and ask to be put on hold. I’ll give you a $1,000 off an Internet media Tour of Video Press Junket if you can name the album it’s from.

David Meerman Scott, Marketing Strategist and co-author, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.”

What was your favorite Grateful Dead experience?

October 11, 1984, New York City: My first job after graduating from college is on a Wall Street bond trading desk. I’m excited because I’m meeting my friend Mason at Madison Square Garden to see the Grateful Dead. But I’m a very junior employee and don’t want to attract attention, so I don’t tell anyone where I’m going after work.

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Mason and I are both in suits at the show (fairly common at a city show on a weeknight in the 1980s and 1990s). But then I sees a colleague, a well-respected trader who is so senior that I has never spoken directly to him. He’s in jeans and tie-dye.

“YOU’RE A DEAD HEAD?” We both laugh, high five one another, and from then on become fast friends over the shared interest. It’s sort of like a secret society, a shared interest in something that others in the office don’t know about. The band creates and then cements ties between people that wouldn’t normally exist.

A lot of people say to companies: “Be like the Grateful Dead, give something away for free (the live show recordings) to entice people to buy other products (tickets to live shows). Can you give an example that sticks out to you of where this can, or maybe more interestingly can’t, work for other companies/organizations?

The key with the “give it away” model of allowing fans to record shows was that each show was unique. Since the concert tour was at the heart of their business model, the Grateful Dead invested heavily in their light show and sound systems, both of which were the best in industry, and in doing made the musical experience much more powerful for their fans.

Due to these factors and others, the Grateful Dead developed a following of people who would see show after show. These followers became part of the concert experience. The taping policy (giving away the ability to record) worked for the Dead because people collect the different shows and have hundreds or even thousands of recordings.

This strategy only works if you have remarkable content to give away. I see many companies (especially B2B companies) that try the Grateful Dead model, but have nothing of value to give away. They offer some crappy white paper that’s really a product pitch for example.

Without being gratuitous, mediabistro.com does this model very well. (I actually interviewed [mediabistro.com founder] Laurel Touby and made a chapter about mediabistro.com in an early book about online marketing). You have great free content that drives people to the paid content. Perfect.

Have you ever scored a client or business opportunity based off a “Grateful Dead connection?”

I have a riff about the Grateful Dead at every speech I deliver (about 50 a year). I have put a section about the Dead in each of my 7 print books. And I frequently blog and tweet about the band. There is no doubt that this has led to business (especially book sales). Many people know I am a Deadhead and they engage with me over the common bond of a shared experience.

“Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History” chapter eight:

MLGD Chapter 8

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