ADOTAS sits down for lengthy conversation with Rob Stone and Jon Cohen of Cornerstone Promotion, a renowned New York-based music/lifestyle marketing agency, and the parent company of Fader Magazine.
While it wouldn’t be slapdash to observe that entertainment marketing — especially online — has achieved new levels of creativity in the last few years, it’s obvious to Rob Stone and Jon Cohen that there are still plenty of ad agencies that just don’t get it.
The blind dispersion of ad dollars towards traditional mediums, along with the old-hat practices and presentations are elements that just don’t fly with the two Founders/Presidents of Cornerstone Promotion — arguably the hippest agency for music/lifestyle branding solutions. “Cornerstone is essentially taking a lot of the non-traditional market thinking behind marketing music and applying it to brands,” explains Cohen (left). “I think the traditional ad agency is still living and dying by ‘let’s do our traditional forms of media and let’s find some cool ideas.’ But they’re so far removed from what those ideas are. It’s our philosophy that you need these ideas to lead your traditional media campaign.”
The ideas that Cohen is alluding to could be easily represented by some recent, very innovative campaigns attributed to Cornerstone, including the online/offline execution of Nike ID. “We partnered with them and created some great thinking, [including] where we wanted to seed out the concept of ID to the world of blogs,” Cohen explains. “[Along with focusing] very heavily on selecting the right music sites, the right hip hop sites, the right sneaker sites, the right lifestyle sites, on the Nike ID space there was a contest where we basically have all these bloggers compete and they’re able to go head-to-head and design their own sneaker for Nike ID. They then encourage their readers to vote on the best shoe.”
Call it “pimp my shoe”, but the campaign eventually unfolded beyond the blogosphere and into the viral realm. “Essentially it all connected, because you had this great contest where everybody took pride in the shoe they designed,” says Cohen. “There was a great contest going on. There was great press coverage. There were events that happened on a local and national level. It got some really good response, and that was a great organic way to support some up-and-coming websites and give them some support—some shine—and also help Nike get the word out there. It’s an example of the right brands with the right kind of thinking, and us knowing how to execute it created the right partnership.”
Creating “right” partnerships is something that’s seemingly come quick and easy during Cornerstone’s ten-year lifespan. Essentially founded in summer 1996 by Stone (left), a hip-hop enthusiast who spent time working with labels including Arista and Bad Boy (“it was the best time in the music industry, it was parties, it was money,” he smilingly confides), Cornerstone was solely a way to meld art with commerce, and plug into music marketing. Stone, who at that time was working at label SBK (prior to this, he earned cash by hawking jewelry on the Long Island shores), was simply keen on doing his own thing. In turn, he found the ideal partner in childhood friend Cohen, an indie-rock fan who began working in the music biz at the precocious age of 19.
“Jon in junior high/high school was reading Billboard and reading albums,” says Stone, with a knowing, proud grin creeping across his face. “It wasn’t like he just knew artists, he knew the label they were on, he knew who the producer was, he knew who the engineer was. That was his interest. He knew who just fired their manager and hired the next manager. He knew everything.”
For the more soft-spoken Cohen, a family man who at the time was doing A&R work for Sony, a few conversations with Stone led him to believe that not only were record companies missing out when it came to promoting artists, but that there were opportunities to expand into major brands. “We started Cornerstone as a way to help record companies continue that marketing effort,” he says. “Both of us started talking, and said ‘why couldn’t we take that same approach and do that with brands?” Why couldn’t we plug a beverage or a sneaker into that same system? This is way before any of the big agencies, non-traditional agencies were doing this. There was still a time ten years ago when everything was very traditional.” Stone adds, “There was a lot of ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this, if we ran this company this is what we would do… ‘”