by Cameron Baker
Andrea C. Martin, CEO of PRS for Music, is a distinguished business leader who has spent time at Reader's Digest and ADT Security. PRS for Music helps major performers and songwriters receive compensation for their work and appearances. Andrea preaches communication and transparency with her team in order to accomplish their goals. We at ELEFense were very excited for the opportunity to speak with Andrea and allow her the chance to share her inspiring and impressive story.
Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What led you to your current position as the CEO at PRS for Music?
"I was originally born near the small town of Quebec City, which is in the province of Quebec in Canada and I have a twin sister. I was very lucky that my father brought my twin sister and I up like boys so I had to do a lot of things that boys had to do like cut the grass and go on very tough canoe trips. I think it helped me a lot to get to where I am as a woman and having a twin sister made me very competitive.
I struggled to go to university. I wasn't very good at school because I'm a little bit dyslexic, but I was always very good in mathematics so I ended up going to university finally and studying statistics and computer science.
I started off as an analyst at Reader's Digest. A lot of people think Reader’s Digest is a little magazine, but a big part of what they do is booking music and video on direct marketing with big databases and a lot of statistics and algorithms, which predict what products we should be selling and selecting the people that should be promoted. I moved up quite quickly at Reader’s Digest, but eventually I kind of stayed in the same position for about seven years to bring up my children because we couldn't afford a nanny because my husband was starting his own business.
I was able to reinvigorate my career once we could move closer to the office and my children were older, and I quickly became president and CEO of Reader’s Digest Canada, the first woman to hold this position. I helped transform Reader’s Digest’s digital presence, and we were the number one division in the world out of 45 countries. We ended up being bought out by a private equity firm because they saw how profitable we were and how we had transformed the company.
I've got three things that I've learned throughout my career as the CEO of so many diverse companies in different countries and industries: I call them PPE, meaning internal people, external people, and execution, in that order. I put a lot of emphasis on running the company in a people-centric way, facilitating communication and getting the employees involved. A lot of people say ‘customer first’, but I say ‘employees are first’ because they have to serve the customers, and if they are motivated they will do a great job serving the customers and delivering results. Execution is of course important because you can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if you don't execute it properly then it's not going to go anywhere so I always use the PPE mantra.
When we were bought out at Reader's Digest, they created a job for me, so I became president of both the Canada and Latin America divisions, before being promoted to president of Asia Pacific. At this point however, I was ready to leave. I went back to Canada and joined a startup company, but I realized that that wasn't really me, so I moved to London and was in charge of the data division of Royal Mail, helping with the data strategy and adding value to the company by monetizing the data they had for fraud and ID protection. I did that for three years before I was approached about becoming president of ADT Canada.
ADT is a very big security company in the US and Canada, both for homes and for big companies – we worked with the government of Canada. We bought a company called Protect Call, which doubled our size by merging the two companies.
Now I am the CEO of PRS for Music and what we do is represent artists, composers, and publishers, negotiating their deals around the world. In the music industry, there's a lot of incumbents now on the digital side, so I did a lot of system and people changes. That’s what I’ve been doing for years now and we’ve done very well."
Talk to me a little bit about PRS for Music and what it does.
"PRS for Music has around 160,000 members, including some very big writers like Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeren, Elton John, Paul McCartney; all the big ones. It's music that travels around the world and we negotiate the deals wherever their music is played. We handle big negotiations with BBC, Netflix, Apple, you name it.
When I arrived we had a two and a half year project moving data from hardware to the cloud. We crunch the data because we need to figure out, for example, royalties to songwriters. Most songs have co-writers, about four writers to a song. In the past, it was more like one or two. We sort out the rate because each different channel has a unique rate. Live is very high versus digital which is a little bit lower. We have to figure out who to pay the royalties out to so everyone is compensated fairly. For example, when we got the money from Bad Habits from Ed Sheeran we had to figure out who we pay that out to and how much we pay out. Once we figure that out from the data, we pay it out. It's really getting money in, figuring out how it's going to be distributed, and paying the money. The more efficient we are as a company in terms of our cost to income ratio, the more money that our writers get because essentially our profits go to our members."
How has making meaningful relationships with your employees helped you throughout your career both at PRS for Music and just in general?
"What I've learned throughout my career, and why we have succeeded is with a very people-centric approach, both externally – with your stakeholders and shareholders – and internally because the employees are really important too. Let me give you an example: when I came into PRS I did not know a lot about music. I did a little bit at Reader's Digest because we did compilations of “The Best of…”, but that's about it. I'm a big believer of surrounding myself with people that compliment me and are even better than me, so when I came in, what I did right away was I created the next level leadership below the Executive Leadership Team and we built the strategy together because I’m a big believer that the employees have the answers to what we need to do for the next five years. External sources help with the trends coming out and new trends coming in, but the employees have a lot of knowledge and a lot of ideas and by doing that, they take ownership of the strategy.
I came in and did that, but I also redid my team, keeping the people who wanted to be on the new trip but also bringing in new blood and the combination of the two was very powerful. The executive team and the whole team in general is like a football team – either American Football or European. You need to have people that work together with a clear strategy so everyone knows what to do. That's how we're going to win and that is really the way I approach things.
I'm also a big believer of communication, communication, communication. For example, going through COVID-19 was really hard for us because in the UK and many parts of the world, there were a lot of lockdowns so the live gigs that pay the most to our members weren’t bringing in revenue. Live was down 85 percent for us, so every week I had the employees ask me whatever question they wanted, and there were some really tough ones, but I was always very honest with them and when I started working with them, I said I'm going to be very transparent. They might not like to hear some of the news, but I think it's really important that they know so they can be part of the solution and understand where we're going. During lockdown, I talked to them every week.
I'm a very accessible person – I do what I call “town halls” where I talk to everybody, as well as smaller meetings focused on getting employees’ ideas, their concerns, and their tough questions. We had 106 strategic objectives and I boiled it down to 28. Every time we have town halls, we report back to the 28 objectives and we've got key performance indicators that measure them – either a timeline or another metric – so we know whether we're on track or not and we've done really well. In 2021 despite having lockdowns, our revenues went up by 22 percent. In 2020 when we were really locked down due to the pandemic, we paid out the most royalties ever at PRS.
When you've got employees that are engaged and inspired and I give them responsibility and ownership, they're empowered to deliver and do what they need to do to perform really well. I know this because we do engagement surveys. Every year in September, we ask employees what they think of the leadership team and what they think of the company. We've got about 70 questions that are done by an external firm. When I came in, we had an engagement score of 63 and last year, we had an engagement score of 83. I’m very focused on the employee and showing them that I'm human. I'm not perfect, they know I'm not perfect. I've got my strengths but I have areas of weakness and I have no problems showing that. I try to connect with the employees, listen to them, and ask questions. I also try to show a lot of appreciation. I'm thanking them a lot and giving credit where credit needs to be given."
How would you describe the culture at PRS for Music?
"We've got 5 values: customer first, collaboration, integrity, pioneering , and inclusivity. I'm a big believer of getting the team across the company involved, so when we did a project with Oracle, we had 200 out of 450 employees involved. We also implemented a brand new sales force because we had a very old system to provide services to our members. We had 140 people working on this new sales force. I like to see the employees working as a team because that's how we're going to win, so collaboration is really, really important. Just as important as collaboration however, is integrity. When I say integrity, I mean really being honest in our actions and having that customer focus."
What advice would you give to somebody who's just starting out as a new CEO?
"Always take the time to connect to your employees. You’ve got meetings, you've got clients, you've got the members that benefit from the royalties paid out; You have so much to think about, that it’s easy to overlook the importance of taking the time to connect to your employees. If your employees don't deliver and they don't get that service to customers or members, everything falls apart. It takes a lot of time to make these connections, but it pays back. You have to take the time to talk to your employees and have the guts to make changes. I’ve seen many people lack the courage to make changes. I made big changes to my executive team and I encourage them to make changes. We live in a world of constant change so always keep in mind the human aspect of being an executive. It's not about being friends with employees. They respect executives more when they are decisive and they explain why they have to make those tough decisions."
What is the one thing that you're the most proud of in your career?
"I've done quite a lot in my career, especially for someone who's a little bit dyslectic, but I think the thing I’m most proud of is that I stayed in the same position for seven years when I was raising my kids and that was really tough because I had had a lot of promotions beforehand was doing quite well, but I had to press pause on my career because I wanted to bring up my children. It was a very tough decision but I'm very proud and I'm very proud of what my children have done. They have very good careers and I'm very proud of who they are even though they're very different."
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Cameron Baker works as a Sales and Marketing representative at ELEFense, specializing in
content creation. He is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and attends the University of
Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is studying Economics and Political Science and is working towards a career in Marketing, Investment Banking, or Public Service.