Jeff Dandurand is the San Francisco based Director of Partnership and Promotions for Ubisoft, a French video game publisher based in Paris and the #3 publisher of games worldwide. Up until he started working at Ubisoft, Jeff’s resume consisted of music industry jobs. Read on to see how it prepared him to go from records to replay value:
I went to the University of Buffalo in New York and, as a student, made myself available for any kind of music industry work. I was a DJ at the College radio station, did college concert promotions, worked at a record store and interned at a rock station in Buffalo. I was lucky enough to know someone who was a College Rep for Capitol Records, and when he was leaving, I asked him to recommend me. I loved music, and knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living.
After graduation I utilized all the connections I made while being a Capitol Rep and connected with someone from CMJ (College Music Journal), which, at that time, was a well-known music trade magazine focusing on college radio. CMJ, which was based on Long Island, NY, hired me to work on their yearly music convention, the CMJ Music Marathon. At the time, it was a direct competitor to New Music Seminar, and both were a big deal. Upon getting the job, I left Rochester/Buffalo and moved to the New York metro area.
At CMJ, I was at the right place at the right time because bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Moby, etc all started to chart on mainstream radio, following the lead of college radio. At the Music Marathon, I was responsible for creating, and then booking panels. Lucky for me, Atlantic Records was trying to build up their alternative roster, and since I had some experience, was offered a job with their retail marketing team. I would service independent record stores to make sure they received copies of our records, as well as promotional items like posters and stickers. I did that for two years and then moved over to Product Management. With that position, I was sort of like the quarterback for the artist I was working with. I was in charge of marketing plans, which would include artwork, touring, press, and at that time, video. Some of the artists I worked with were Sugar Ray, Collective Soul, Stone Temple Pilots, Pet Shop Boys, Phil Collins, Led Zeppelin (re-release) and Jewel.
I had/have a passion for music, so I became good at coming up with different approaches to get an audience’s attention. I wasn’t convinced that just because you bought a record by an artist, you’d buy their next one, so it was important for me to think of different ways to connect with consumers. I started to work on partnerships – one of the first ones I did was with Pepsi, where if you made a specific purchase, you got a CD compilation featuring Atlantic artists. I also worked on a partnership with AT&T wherein you bought a new service and were offered a free record of your choice by an Atlantic artist. Keep in mind this was still when many artists thought working with corporate America was selling out, so these types of partnerships were still new.
As listening to music online became more of a reality, working at a label began to change. I always liked pop culture, and video games have become a huge part of popular culture, so the thought of moving out of music to this line of work appealed to me. I interviewed, and got a job at Ubisoft, which necessitated a move to the West Coast. When I first started, Ubisoft wasn’t a huge publisher, and the marketing of video games was somewhat unsophisticated. I was able to bring the successes I had at Atlantic Records to my new job.
I’d say one of the biggest changes in marketing over time is that a great deal of marketing is digital. When we have a new game, we start to preview them online a year out, drop frequent content updates and engage with fans on social media. I went to an early Comicon and had a little booth with monitors and games; now when we go, we set up fantasy worlds that have a huge budget behind them. Marketing is still about appealing to fans, just on a more specific level. You want to develop more of a long-term plan, courting customer loyalty via social media and email. Games have trailers, and they’re dissected like movie trailers are; people let you know if something isn’t right! One positive thing about that is we have the chance to change things in the game based on early feedback. Something like that wouldn’t exist in the music industry because an artist probably wouldn’t take such broad opinions under consideration.
I work on a few of our music titles like “Just Dance” and “Rocksmith.” I’ve done some big promotions and partnerships for “Just Dance,” as well as sponsorships with Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers and Little Nas X. I definitely had a better understanding on how to work with radio stations, artist managers and record labels because of my previous experience.
Ubisoft has a music licensing team, and their job is to get music in our games. The team who does that are based in Montreal. They do a tremendous job in finding new music and working with labels on new artists. Ubisoft also has an in-house label called Ubisoft Music. It’s sort of like a farm club. We always look at social media numbers for artists we work with. You don’t need to be signed to a label to get attention anymore, if your social numbers are big enough, and you’re global, that’s all that matters. There are so many stories of people who create their own music, get a decent social media following and get their music in a video game.
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