SAN FRANCISCO Emmy-winning concert producer Kevin Wall, best known as the executive producer of the Live 8 anti-poverty concerts in 2005, has a new gig: Live Earth, a worldwide series of benefit rock concerts July 7 to fight global warming.
Partnering with Al Gore and a team of thousands, Wall, 55, has signed artists such as Madonna and The Police, and rounded up high-profile sponsorships. The concerts will be shown live via TV, radio, Internet and wireless phones, and will generate funds for Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection.
Wall talks about the task of creating a global entertainment brand.
Q: The world's a different place than when you produced Live 8. What's it like producing a global event in this digital era?
A: We're platform agnostic. We're using every form of media available. When you wake up on July 7, we want to be wherever you are. When you turn on your TV, your radio and when you go online, we'll be there. And thanks to the Net we can talk to you as you are making pledges and we can instantly show the result of your pledges on the concert stages and on electronic screens behind the stages. We're also underwriting the cost of text messaging us [on wireless phones], so there's no barrier for people to communicate with us.
So it will be like a very sophisticated telethon?
Not really. The pledges we're talking about are not money, but behavior actions that people promise to take. For instance, you can pledge to replace four old lightbulbs with energy efficient bulbs, or to ride your bike to work so many days a week. We want to get people to make behavioral changes that will combat climate change. That's what our Live Earth brand stands for.
Who's your target audience?
We have 10 concerts on seven continents and the demographics are different in every country. Here in the U.S. 18-34 is our sweet spot. We're trying to be hip, but not exclusionary. Some of the groups, such as The Police, will appeal to the young people as well as the 50-plus audience. But in China all the generations watch TV together, so we are offering a wide spectrum of music from classical to pop. Seventy-five percent of the performers in each country are local artists who can activate that particular territory.
Did you have a turning point that led you to take on this cause?
Yes. I saw Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, and I asked myself, "What could I do to help?" I produce concerts, so I called Al and offered to do that. Also, now my family and I drive Priuses and [energy-efficient] Smart cars. At work we recycle, use efficient lighting and half my staff uses public transit and bicycles to come to the office.
Do you work closely with Gore?
We talk weekly on the phone and I see him two or three times a month. We seem to be in sync. He helps with the messaging and the artists and he doesn't try to produce. He doesn't make it all about him; he likes to share credit and ideas-and that empowers other people. When Al and I met with Madonna in London, he talked about how he and I work as partners and about my work, and Madonna was blown away by that and agreed to write a song for Live Earth. People know Al is smart, but he's also a very generous guy. He fully understands that this is a team effort.
How big is the team and how big is the task?
This is like trying to produce 10 Super Bowls in one day. Six months ago we had three fulltime people on the team and at the end of May we had 150 people. At the time of the shows we'll have up to 4,000 people on the team. In January people had never heard of Live Earth. Now we're a global brand.
What motivates your sponsors?
The sponsors are making a commitment that goes beyond [seeking exposure]. They're deciding to answer the call. Pepsi, for instance, is using its billions of cans as a form of media to provide messaging about helping the environment. [Other sponsors are Microsoft, Philips, Chevrolet, Mercedes-owned Smart cars and Stonyfield Farm yogurt.] The decision to be a sponsor is not necessarily an economic decision, but sponsors do know that cause-related events like this resonate for years with consumers after the event is over.
What motivates the artists?
Musicians always answer the call to address global issues. Music crosses borders easily. A great piece of music makes you feel great. When we transfer that emotion to the message, then the message lasts long past when the show is over. Also, when artists attach their names to social causes and are pure about it, their careers have more depth over a period of time. Finally, artists, emotionally, want to help with this cause.
What advice do you give to someone who is trying to mix entertainment and marketing with a social cause?
Be pure about why you're doing it. Commit to follow through every day. There are lots of distractions and noise you have to ignore. You have to be willing to take the positive and the negative. When you're pure, others respond to that. Microsoft was one of the first [companies] we talked to and ... in two days we had a contract. I told Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, about our plans and in 10 minutes he asked me, "What do you want?" [The concerts will be streamed online by MSN and broadcast by NBC.] The thing is, I'm not that unique. I'm just a private citizen. I believe we're running out of time and when I asked myself what I can do to help my children, I thought, well, I can give my time and I can produce concerts. So I am.