As a part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Clayton Durant the founder and CEO of CAD Management, an entertainment consulting company that focuses on event, tour, and strategic management for indie artists and brands. With over 7 years of leading the firm, Clayton has worked across industries such as beauty, technology, consumer goods, music, and fashion working with brands such as Hershey, Sour Patch Kids, Ulta Beauty, Equity Residential, Zappos, Lovesac, Olympus Camera’s, MAC Cosmetics, Red Light Management (Hit Command), HyperX, iBuyPower, Live.Me app, Treble FM app, and more.
Clayton currently contributes to Entrepreneur and has written for Hypebot, SynchTank, CelebrityAccess, and The Hype Magazine. Additionally, Clayton has been featured in publications like CNBC, DigiDay, Footwear News, Fortune, USA Today, The Recording Academy, Mashable, and Reuters. Clayton is also currently attending New York University where he will be earning his Masters in Music Business (22’).
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got started in the music business in my sophomore year in college while attending Roger Williams University. I set up my LLC and signed my first band, Tyler & Ryan in 2015. From there, I ended up expanding CAD Management to be more of an entertainment consulting firm and won RISD as a client for a few years where I led a team in building out their fashion show marketing strategy. To gain a little more experience, I ended up taking a job in the mailroom at UTA out of college which was a great learning experience, particularly around brand partnerships and touring. I took a lot of what I learned there and was able to really scale CAD Management. Within two years, we were able to work with artists like Jacob Latimore, Guordan Banks, and brands like Live.Me and Equity Residential.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
One mistake that always sticks in my mind was when I started independently booking shows, and made a major error in setting the capacity for the tickets available in the market. For background, I booked a show with a local NYC venue and we set up our own ticketing through Eventbrite. I accidentally added 100 more tickets than what the venue capacity could hold. The issue was, we noticed this error 2 days before the show was supposed to take place. So within 48 hours, I had to figure out how to move spaces to accommodate 100 more people because I had a typo in the total number of allotted tickets. The stressful process of having to rebook a venue taught me one important lesson — always double-check your work!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are a few people who I am grateful for. First, is Jesse Kirshbaum, CEO of NUE Agency. He not only gave me my first internship in entertainment but for years he has been a trusted mentor who has helped guide me through various ups and downs of my career. The mentorship has now come full circle as he and NUE agency are clients of CAD Management, where we build his corporate image and executive brand. Second, I want to thank Mark, Judi, and Tricky Sewart of Rz3 Recordings. They gave me and my team at CAD Management our first major opportunity to work on a major label artist campaign with MK xyz. They have been such supporters of CAD Management and have opened so many doors for us. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without them.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The purpose of CAD Management since day one has been to be a trusted organization where we can successfully grow artists, brands, and their respective businesses. We have also always prided our “on the ground” style of work, where we help clients through the biggest and smallest details. As our organization has expanded to consult beyond artists into brands from startups to Fortune 500 corporations, we continue to take that same approach as we did in the early days of the company. Overall, our purpose is to help clients whether that be Fortune 500 companies or emerging artists navigate the shifting landscape to give them the best chance to succeed in a marketplace that is ever changing.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Prior to the pandemic, a sizable chunk of our company’s revenue came from commissions of putting artists on tour. When COVID-19 hit, we had to cancel over 75 shows across our entire roster which to our company was a major blow to the mouth. The day that we canceled our shows, we had a full company meeting to talk about what services we would need to develop in order to remain competitive in the market. So, we ended up doubling down on digital services since everyone would be spending a tremendous amount of time on social as well as streaming content and playing games. We ended up building a whole service offering overnight and the next morning rolled it out on our company website. We also ended up building a ton of insights around the subject to drive our site’s SEO around what we thought were going to be hot topics in search. This decision ended up paying off big time, as we won clients like Red Light Management’s portfolio company Hit Command and gaming companies like IBuyPower.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I remember looking at our balance sheet the night we canceled summer/fall’s show and thinking to myself how in the world are we going to make up this revenue loss. That night was hard because I had a fiduciary responsibility to my partners to keep us profitable. That week, outside of getting our new services up and running, I did a lot of self-reflection through surfing to really think about the future. What I discovered during my self-reflection time was that this “uncertainty” could be viewed as inevitable destruction or an opportunity to create a better live touring business. The week after this reflection period, I ended up holding an all-staff meeting and I shared my perspective on this as an opportunity to innovate rather than just survive. I think that struck a chord with everyone and really kept our whole team motivated during this uncertain time.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most important role as a leader during this time is to remain optimistic about the future. Negative energy can spread fast throughout an organization and can put barriers upon the creativity that can drive organizations to survive in turbulent times. My message to leaders, especially in entertainment, is to look at this as an opportunity to inspire your workers to be problem solvers rather than parts of a corporate machine to keep a company afloat.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
The best way to boost morale is to shift an organization’s mindset. As I mentioned, there are two types of mindsets I saw across the entertainment industry. One was to survive while the other was to innovate. If you make this an opportunity to innovate and challenge your people to reimagine old business models, leaders can inspire a purpose in their workforce. At CAD Management, we focused our entire corporate mission on being innovators to solve the crisis impacting the music and entertainment landscape.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way to communicate hard news is to always be direct with your team and customers. Stakeholders across the board whether they be customers, investors, or employees can always smell when something isn’t being told in a straight-up manner. Truth be told, not being honest and direct can put a long-lasting ding on an organization’s reputation. My advice to leaders is to always remain as transparent as possible because even though it may seem difficult in the beginning, in the long term it will pay dividends to one’s corporate brand to be transparent and honest about uncertainty.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I think it is impossible for a leader of any company to make plans due to the uncertainty around COVID-19. What I do see leaders doing, including ourselves here at CAD Management, is doing scenario planning. We plan out various scenarios for the next quarter to ensure that our thinking has covered as many variable shifts as possible. Although we reevaluate our scenario plans day by day, it gives our leadership team a level of comfort knowing that we are thinking through all the changes that could happen and how it could impact our business.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle that I would recommend is to ensure that your organization has a great level of diversity. Diversity is the most important tool an organization has to survive turbulent times. I recommend organizations continue to invest in people and seek out those with various backgrounds. Diversity brings new schools of thought and new ways of attacking issues and turning them into opportunities.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I think the first mistake I see business leaders make is to stop investing in their people. Human capital becomes even more important during turbulent times, and leaders must double down on upskilling their people. Secondly, leaders need to really evaluate their businesses and consider the long term effects of COVID-19. For example, I look at the touring space and think that every show no matter how big or small needs to add an element of live streaming. Businesses that don’t make adjustments for the long term in the hope that things will return “back to normal” may be inadvertently putting themselves in danger of failing long term.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Right now, there is no question that marketing budgets are being slashed across the board and the number of organic RFPs has gone down. One strategy that has really worked for CAD Management in keeping up momentum for winning new business and clients is to double down on producing informative content to the marketplace. For instance, CAD Management partnered with AUSTERE to build a panel series called, Fast FWD which is streamed exclusively on LinkedIn. We brought on thought leaders across the entertainment and consumer landscape to talk about the issues and opportunities. For instance, one of our most viewed episodes was on the future of gaming and music which featured Will Morris, CEO of Hit Command (a Red Light Management Company), Toa Dunn, Head of Riot Games Records, and Stephanie Winkler, Marketing Manager at HyperX. To date, we have done an episode each week since the beginning of March. This content has been a big reason why we have been able to win new business and stay top of mind with clients and potential prospects. I highly recommend that business leaders double down on their executive brands during this time and be a light of information when so many people are looking for perspectives to solve their most pressing problems.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five most important things leaders can do during turbulent times is to first spend time reading and reflecting to keep new ideas coming down the pipeline. Secondly, listen to your team and customers. Some of the best ideas come from junior staffers and the people on the ground so build a model of free flowing information that allows the organization to be as flat as possible. Thirdly, build a team around you that is much smarter than yourself. Leading is not about you making all the decisions. Allow your team members to shine and make decisions without friction or lines of red tape. Lastly, don’t be afraid to innovate. It is okay for your business to be first to market and if you fail, so what? Tweak what you put out into the marketplace and try again. This is the time to be as inventive as possible as traditional business models are being flipped upside down.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that really resonated with me is, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying,” by Micheal Jordan. This is relevant to me in life because this is how I run my business and I hold everyone who works for me to a very high standard. I always tell my team that I am less concerned with success and more concerned about our level of effort and willingness to try new things.
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