Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Big Buttons

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Big Buttons

Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.

June 1967

As Warner + Altantic + Elektra grew bigger, the labels felt self-conscious about their power-image. They’d not been “the big guys,” and big, established labels like Columbia and RCA began pooh-poohing WEA. Called us a “flash in the pan,” and like that.

Hearing such scam-talk made Warner’s labels upset. They wanted an answer, one that acts and managers would remember. They wanted to show that WEA executives had real big-guy power, the kind where all you had to do to make a hit is just “push the button” and up the charts you’d fly.

We came up with our own “buttons,” BIG buttons, in a series of ads that would shut up those old fogey labels in tall buildings.

We made a few BIG buttons. Our executives got photographed with Big Buttons on their desks, and ads with copy to make our guys Commanders in Chiefs.

For instance:

How Mo Ostin Controls America’s #1 Sales Force

The ad copy under Mo’s photo told “how,” with phrases like –

* There are those who suspect that Mo Ostin’s thumb has been blessed by the Good Fairy. They are probably right.

* What Mo’s Enormous Button Has Been Known to Do: Clear supremacy on breaking the most beautiful debutants of the last season. Warner’s list includes Gary Wright, George Benson, Candi Staton, Emmylou Harris, The Bellamy Brothers, Elvin Bishop, Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band, Michael Franks, Al Jarreau, and Leon Redbone, all of whom are ending with big tax headaches.

* * * * *

Through the second half of 1976, the Big Button campaign gathered momentum. Following the Mo-Button came, as you might expect, the Joe-Button, with the headline:

Joe Smith Can Push The Biggest Button In the Business

The ad copy included: It sits on his desk at Elektra/Asylum Records. It is always ready. It loves to be pushed.

* Who Cares if WEA is Number One? The trades do. Billboard computerized its charts for the first half of ’76, and found Warner/Elektra/Atlantic came in first with 24.3% of the LPs and singles action. (The nearest competitor came in second at 16.8%).

Elektra/Asylum may claim to be a cozy, artist-developing, small-number of releases company. Which it is. But out back, it’s comforting to have that tiger in your tank.

* * * * *

Why Ahmet Ertegun Can Sell More Records Than Anyone Else in America

Body copy included:

Ahmet’s Sales Army last year delivered 55 gold records in 52 weeks for W/E/A, for a new American (and, we presume, world) record.

Not only do Ahmet’s records go gold, they go platinum. So far this year, Ahmet’s Army has conquered the platinum plateau for four Atlantic-distributed acts: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and The Bee Gees.

Some Secrets of WEA’s Album Sales, Too:

* Seven full stock warehouses in the U.S. Sales offices in 11 other cities.

* A total of 92 salesmen, plus another 88 support sales troops, plus Atlantic’s own eight home office musclemen.

* * * * *

How Greg Jones Helps Sell 23,899 Singles Every Hour

He is one of WEA’s eight Singles Action Specialists. Greg’s in Washington/Baltimore.

He makes sure that every crucial retail outlet in the area has copies of the hit-to-be singles for sale.

Through the first six months of this year, W and E and A sold an average of 191,192 singles (and 220,227 LPs and 78,527 tapes) per day, or 23,899 per business hour.

* * * * *

The Biggest Push On the Biggest Button, Ever: The Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Fall Combination.

It is the biggest sales program in record business history.

It comes from the Number One distributor (and seller) of records in America.

It gives record retailers broader discounts on more hit albums (over 300 titles) than ever before.

Plus merchandising, displays, and advertising.

It is started. As of now. Call the WEA HOT LINE: Bill Biggs @ WEA Atlanta (404) ... Don Dumont @ WEA Boston (817)...

* * * * *

George Harrison And Dark Horse Couldn’t Resist Mo and His Big Button.

George Harrison’s Dark Horse label wanted to be distributed by Warners Worldwide.

Harrison explained: “There’s no doubt in my mind that Mo Ostin pushes the biggest button in the business. I’ve seen Mo’s button. I’ve actually touched it, and he uses it well.”

“Every year for five years they’ve broken their own sales record … can’t be bad, Squire,” says George.

And Harrison, who just turned 33 & 1/3 years old, leans back on Mo’s sofa and asks, “Did you know MO spelled backwards is OM?”

* * * * *

What Joe Smith Was Doing On the Beach Alone with Linda Ronstadt.

And the body copy for the ad read:

What’s in it for Linda, did someone ask?

Linda Ronstadt loved the chance she got to discuss her next album or next European tour, with someone as sympathetic, full of know-how, and all-around funny as Joe. Linda loves that better than another Holiday Inn.

So that’s our love angle.

Joe Smith returns his artists’ phone calls. First. Even before he pushes his big button. He can because he has the time. There’s a good deal of other executive talent at WEA’s three labels.

Enough to go around. Enough to handle 8-track return problems.

Almost a glut of good executives. It’s what they used to call in school a good teacher-pupil ratio.

At W/E/A as on Malibu Beach, the ratio’s often one-to-one.

* * * * *

Eventually, “Corporate” chose to compile these ads into a booklet that came out of 75 Rockefeller Plaza, where WCI even persuaded Santa to pose with a Christmas button. Thanks, Corp. More to come!

- Stay Tuned