75 - Lee Stimmel, Prime Video & Amazon Studios

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This is a podcast episode titled, 75 - Lee Stimmel, Prime Video & Amazon Studios. The summary for this episode is: <p>In our 75th episode of Earned, we’re joined by Lee Stimmel, a veteran of the music industry and the current head of global partnership marketing at Prime Video &amp; Amazon Studios. We start by diving into Lee’s time at Amazon, and learn how he spearheaded the company’s influencer marketing program before taking on his new partnerships role. Lee explains how the lines between traditional talent and socially native creators are blurring, and shares Amazon’s learnings around integrating influencers into its creative processes. Next, we take a step back and dive into Lee’s seasoned career in the music industry. Lee unpacks how the industry has had to evolve from the traditional label structure to the current streaming era—a transition that has put the power back in the hands of the artists. We discuss how social media has enabled artists to connect with their communities in more meaningful ways than ever before, and the strategies behind building “fandoms” today. We then learn why Lee pursued original content creation at Columbia Records and Sony Music, and hear the origin story for “Mike Tyson Mysteries,” an animated series starring boxing champ Mike Tyson. We circle back to Amazon, and Lee explains why he saw influencer marketing as a “white space” in the company, and how Amazon continues to collaborate with and elevate these creators. To close the show, Lee shares what he loves most about working for Amazon, before revealing what’s up next. </p><p><br></p><p>In this episode, you will learn:</p><ol><li>How social media transformed the music industry </li><li>How to build "fandoms" today</li><li>Why Amazon Studios is tapping in to the creator economy</li></ol><p><br></p><p><strong>Key Takeaways</strong></p><p>[04:00 - 7:01]: How Amazon Studios works with celebrities and influencers</p><p>[8:13 - 11:00]: The evolution of the music industry</p><p>[11:00 - 14:15]: How to build fandoms today</p><p>[20:39 - 23:43]: Why Lee pioneered Amazon Studios' influencer marketing program</p><p>[23:43 - 26:27]: Life at Amazon </p><p><br></p><p><strong>Resources:</strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://press.amazonstudios.com/us/en" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Prime Video &amp; Amazon Studios</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Connect with the Guest(s):</strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/stimmellee/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Lee’s LinkedIn</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Connect with Conor Begley &amp; CreatorIQ:</strong></p><ul><li>Conor’s LinkedIn -<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/conormbegley/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @conormbegley</a></li><li>CreatorIQ LinkedIn -<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/company/creatoriq/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creatoriq</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Follow us on social:</strong></p><ul><li>CreatorIQ YouTube -<a href="https://www.youtube.com/@TribeDynamics" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @TribeDynamics</a></li><li>CreatorIQ Instagram -<a href="https://www.instagram.com/creatoriq/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creatoriq</a></li><li>CreatorIQ TikTok -<a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@creator.iq" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creator.iq</a></li><li>CreatorIQ Twitter -<a href="https://twitter.com/CreatorIQ" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @CreatorIQ</a></li></ul>
The Blurring Lines Between Traditional Celebrities and Influencers
03:02 MIN
The Evolution of the Music Industry
02:47 MIN
How to Build Fandoms Today
03:15 MIN
Lee's Transition to Original Content Production
04:08 MIN
Why Lee Pioneered Amazon Studios' Influencer Marketing Program
03:04 MIN
The Amazonian Culture
02:44 MIN

Conor Begley: Lee has one of those magnetic personalities that it is hard not to love, and his background in music is pretty unparalleled. I wish we had more time to go through it. Remember, if you enjoyed the show today, be a friend, tell a friend. Thanks everybody. Enjoy.

Speaker 2: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the creator economy with Earned by CreatorIQ. Here's Conor Begley.

Conor Begley: Hi everyone. Welcome to Earned. Today I've got Lee Stimmel, the head of Global Partnerships at Amazon Studios on the show. Welcome, Lee.

Lee Stimmel: Hello, hello. Thank you, Conor. I appreciate it. Looking forward.

Conor Begley: Yeah, I'm excited. Growing up, I actually used to be a Yankees fan and then felt a little too bandwagony on the West Coast, but I can definitely tell you are.

Lee Stimmel: Well, you're always welcome back anytime you want, Conor. You are always welcome in the fold. No judgment here. But yeah, I've been a Yankee fan since I could crawl or walk, so it keeps it going.

Conor Begley: I'm going to brag at you for a second, Lee. So when I first met you, you were the head of the influencer program at Amazon Studios, which is really just getting going at that time. And now, I mean, it's the number two streaming service we track. It's grown close to 30% year over year with 16,000 creators, create over 100, 000 pieces of content about it. Something like eight billion impressions in 2022 and generating, I think, north of five billion in revenue. So congrats on all the progress since then.

Lee Stimmel: Thank you. First of all, it was lovely meeting you through that process because we were literally very Amazonian, building as we're flying it. So your intelligence at grounding us was helpful. Again, needless to say, it was a true team effort. I mean, we really ramped up a team pretty quickly that were experts in the field and got us to a space where we looked at a space a little bit differently, at least as the way we saw from a streaming point of view, and in a short amount of time, very Amazonian, were able to scale it. So I get major kudos to the team who are still rocking it as we speak today, as you know.

Conor Begley: Yeah. When you say you guys wanted to approach it a little bit differently, what did you mean by that?

Lee Stimmel: I think at the time we looked at, certainly from a studio's prime video point of view, we were working with craters in a more transactional nature, and I saw this as opportunity to extend our hone- for- talent strategy from the studio side, which is more leaning to the traditional talent, actors, filmmakers, writers, directors, producers, of really being a place where they can do their best work and we can do things at Amazon they can't do anywhere else. And I was like, " Well, how do we apply that special thinking to social native creators in a way that we give them the opportunity to really create something special with us and really come into our fold, content- wise, where we are?" And so I really truly believe that the next round of real transformer creators are to come out of this space. My goal was really just build an environment of a two- way conversation versus transactional only and really figure out a way to mutually benefit each other while also growing their revenue and all the things that obviously are important to everyone. And so that was an attack we took, and from there, with your help and your team's help and others, really looked at it as a way, " Well, how do we track this and manage it, and how do we really make it fruitful for everybody?"

Conor Begley: Yeah, that makes sense. You said head of global partnerships now.

Lee Stimmel: Yeah.

Conor Begley: So what are you overseeing now within Amazon? What's the area of focus?

Lee Stimmel: So in very Amazon culture, you do jobs, and they move you around to get more experience from a career point of view and from interest point of view. In my previous career, in parts, I did a little partnership marketing and brand marketing, and a bunch of other stuff. And so I saw a need to bring together our internal partnership team, so the team that really works with our cross- functional Amazon businesses, so Twitch, music, retail, et cetera, et cetera, Whole Foods, everything else, and then external brand partners. So partners that are looking to align with entertainment, and we offer something a lot of other places can't in that we really are a single destination for entertainment experiences in that it's not just originals, which obviously drive it, but it's channels, it's TIVOD, transactional video, and our AVOD, advertising video on demand, free V service. So we have one area where we really align entertainment in different ways to really satisfy, hopefully, a whole bunch of brand partners. So that's our remit going forward.

Conor Begley: On the influencer side of things, you mentioned more traditional talent, whether it's a director or a celebrity, et cetera, versus the new age social influencer, somebody that grew up in that arena. How did you guys think about treating those two groups differently? Did you have different teams that engaged with them? Obviously, there's different ways to interact. How did you guys think about that?

Lee Stimmel: Yeah, I think from the traditional side, again, these words are somewhat general speaking because I think the lines are getting blurred in all this stuff, but for lack of a better explanation here, I think the traditional creators, we have a very robust, structured environment of how studios develops things, gets pitched ideas and that kind of stuff. And that obviously is a studio system that's been around, in some respects, for a long time, and so that method, whether it be agents and managers and creative and that side of it. I think for the social native side of it, the creative aperture is much wider in a sense that a creator could be a graphic designer, it could be a writer, it could be a photographer or a videographer. These creators are much more multidimensional in nature, at least, again, generally speaking. And so my goal was, " Well, how do we lean into what they do really well and have them use the canvas of our content to amplify that?" So if you're a makeup designer, how do we bring you into the fold to exercise your genius on social via one of our either talent or shows or whatever, which is a little different than an actor, actress, or a writer or producer coming in saying, " I have an idea for a movie or a script or this, and here's the pitch," so to speak. I think it's the same thing. It just comes from different angles.

Conor Begley: Did you guys explore at all original content series with some of the creators, like somebody that's a big supporter, I mean, " Hey, we love what you're doing in social. Have you ever thought about actually creating content for Amazon?"

Lee Stimmel: Yeah. So we did a TikTok series called Show Me Yours, and the premise of it was basically a dating show. It was loosely a dating game, but basically you match people on what they watch. So for instance, would someone who likes comedy want to date someone who likes comedy, or is it more like you're a horror person and you like to date... So we used Your Watch List as the mechanism, and we employed three big creators to go on the dates, and they were IRL dates, and it was pretty fun. I think what we found was you really need to be careful of how you communicate that in that environment in terms of the balance between being a brand vehicle, a brand entertainment, and real entertainment. And that dance for us, we couldn't necessarily get right, and we spent a lot of time with TikTok, postmortem, of really finding a way to narrate that voice. I think, going forward, if we had to do it again, we'd probably lean more into the creator themselves to bring the idea to fruition versus us bringing a format into the conversation. Again, hindsight is always 20/ 20 in this respect, and one of the great things about Amazon is you can test these things and learn and iterate. And so we are doing a lot of work now with creators like Guy With A Movie Camera and others where we found him early and we bring them into sets and we bring them into red carpet environments and places that already exist where he can build creative around his voice versus us saying, " Here's our format. Fit into it." And it took us some learnings to really play with that, and I don't think we've perfected it still. But the team is moving in that direction.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I mean, I think the creative enterprise in general is just incredibly difficult. I mean, to a much, much, much smaller degree, I started creating content. I was like, " I want to try this out, see what happens. So I'm going to post something every single day, Twitter and LinkedIn, just to see how it goes." And I ended up getting a lot of exposure. It's done quite well, but I'd say 80% of the time it's just a total flop, and then 10 or 15% of the time it's pretty good. And then five percent of the time it goes weirdly viral. I just thought those similar stats, and you obviously have a background in the music industry, but they were showing number of songs released by Drake, Taylor Swift, et cetera, and about 25% were hits, which means 75% were not hits, right? We're failures. And I think Red Hot Chili Peppers was five percent. Yeah, it's just tough.

Lee Stimmel: It is tough. And I think it's difficult, in this case, to be really listening more in terms of creators and coming up with their ideas and then see how we can amplify those. And I think the team now is doing that with the prime video creator community and other things that we've put into place where it really is an environment for those creatives to have a voice of creating, whether it be static, video, audio content, that kind of collateral up to some of our initiatives.

Conor Begley: I actually want to take a step back. I want to talk about your music career a little bit because we had somebody else who was right in the middle of that digital revolution, more on the publishing side. And obviously, I mean, you were executive vice president of Sony Music, Atlantic, Columbia Records during the rise of Napster, LimeWire, Pandora, eventually Spotify. One, what was that period to have such rapid disruption? And then second, what did you take away from it? What were the learnings that you had?

Lee Stimmel: It was a interesting time, yeah, because when I was just joining the industry, it was on the upswing in a big way. CDs were still having their moment. And then, obviously, as you mentioned, the great disruptor came in, in terms of file sharing and other ways of trading music. Hindsight being what it is now, it really was the writing of the ship in a sense of customers taking control versus where industry, and in this case, the record business had control of how consumption was dictated. And it was a real transformative time, and in the middle of it, at the time, leadership was quite entrenched on making sure every quarter that we were holding onto the old model as much as we could. And I think it's interesting because I think the music industry has changed drastically, clearly, but when I was there then, it was really quarter to quarter results. There was no long term thinking. It was really like, " How do I make sure I maximize revenue in that quarter to make sure I hit a certain number, therefore get a bonus?" And so the old guard really held on to what the customers were saying. I think, ultimately, what came about that was that great tension of customers saying, " We want flexibility and access," and the labels, obviously, going down that road kicking and screaming until they ultimately got there. I think that has to do a lot with disruption in entertainment. There is this, you want to hold on to revenue streams that are current until you really understand the new revenue streams are going to be there. And I think they were the first group to be that digital disruption where you really didn't know if that$ 15 CD sale can be replicated anywhere else. You have to take a leap of faith. And I can understand from their point of view and from a shareholder point of view, it was a little bit concerning. But from an artist's point of view, I don't know if they were prepared yet to what that meant in terms of how you rethink output. So I think they all went through their own struggles. Nothing that I would fault them for. I think that's just the nature of change. There are people just really adverse to change, and certainly when numbers are good and things are good, you don't want to change things. But ultimately, the overall thing for me that came out of it is the power of the customer, the power of the fan. And ultimately, when you really boil it all down, it really becomes like, " How do you build fandom and how do you service fandom?" With new medium and new technology, how do you do that versus in the old days when you had to press a CD, put into Best Buy? It's just a very different thought process, and I can understand why it'd be challenging for a lot of people who were not prepared for it.

Conor Begley: What's interesting about social in this concept of fandom that you talk about is that you, as an artist or as a creator, can connect with your audience in a much more meaningful way than you could in the past, right?

Lee Stimmel: Right.

Conor Begley: One- to- one connections. I mean, you see Elon Musk commenting on random people's Twitter messages and stuff, and that's pretty crazy that you can do that. So talk to me about that. How do you think about how you build fandom and then, like you said, how you service fandom? How do you think about those two things?

Lee Stimmel: Well, I think in the pre- social explosion, obviously it was Myspace that was a big turning point. Certainly, music business was a big turning point for them. I think you really went from hand- to- hand combat to be able to have mass communications at scale within seconds. And it's incredibly exciting, but it's also daunting if you're an artist because you need to make sure that you are communicating the right way. When you went through a traditional label structure, you had a lot of layers and a lot of places to vet content. You made a record. It took you X amount of months in a studio with lots of people in the studio to do it over time. Then you mixed the record, you mastered the record, you did all the artwork, you did the videos. All those things were done in an elongated fashion. You had a lot of time to perfect that or at least get to a point where you felt comfortable. Now, I had friends of mine who were at Sony where they get a record delivered on Wednesday night that's coming out the next day. And so that's exciting, but it's also daunting. But it's also what flexibility for an artist to be able to... So the layers of going through it is different because you can collapse that window of time in such an incredible fashion. So I think it takes artists to have a really different aptitude of understanding how to communicate to fans, and I don't know if that skillset was inherently there a decade or two ago. And not to say they weren't capable of it at all. It just wasn't necessary at the point because you had so many mechanisms of places to vet that, where now it literally is you can tweet out of your phone, and in three seconds you're trending number one because you just said you're releasing an album in 15 minutes. That's awesome. I think that's awesome. But also you really need to be smart from an artist's point of view to understand how to use that medium. And I always said when we were at the label structure was we had a hard time because we never owned our customer. The customers were owned by a Best Buy, a Tower Records, Amazon, right? We didn't own the customer. And the artist didn't own the customer because they would go on tour, they would sell tickets, but they don't know if you bought a ticket, Conor, or if I bought a ticket. Ticketmaster would know that, or Live Nation, or whoever owned it. And so this is, again, that same theme of the artist taking control. And when I sat with artists when this transformation was happening, it's like, " This is your network. If you really boil it down, there's MTV, there's ESPN, there's CBS, there's KROC. This is your channel. This is your network. This is your CNN." And instead of it being about world politics, potentially, maybe it's about the life and times of artists of Adele or Beyonce or whoever may be the case, right? And so that's an incredibly exciting, powerful tool at your fingertips. But it takes managers to rethink how they do business. It takes artists to rethink how they do business. It takes a real understanding of listening to customers and fans and what's exciting them, and then it also means feeding the beast. So always bringing content to the fourfold, whether it be music, video, tweets, behind- the- scenes footage, something that keeps everyone engaged as well. So it's really dynamic, and I think people are still trying to figure it out, me included.

Conor Begley: In my little tiny content creation experiment myself, it's a lot of work to be creative every day. Every day you have to do something that engages with your audience. And it's not that, yeah, of course you can get away with not doing it, but you look at somebody else, you're like, " Yeah, well, I mean, they're doing it every day. Why can't I?" It's tough. It's really hard.

Lee Stimmel: But if you look at the artists now that are really captivating the zeitgeist, they're very attuned and very active with that environment. As a fan, in the old days, I had to wait for a Rolling Stone Magazine article to be found out about an artist I liked or MTV news segment. Now you just literally, in two clicks, you find out anything about any artist you want, and that's awesome, but it's also like the mystique of artistry and that kind of stuff, you tend to still want to hold true to that a little bit.

Conor Begley: I'm going to screw up the quote, but basically as soon as you meet your hero, they're no longer your hero, right?

Lee Stimmel: No. Be careful. Yeah.

Conor Begley: Going back to what you said, you forget how little control they had over the narrative around them, historically, and how much control they have now. And really, it flips the power dynamics with the record labels in terms of who makes the decisions, because they can take their audience with them to somewhere else pretty easily.

Lee Stimmel: Yeah, but I think any really good record label, and most of the big ones are really good at this now, they understand they're servicing the artist and the artistry in a way that maybe it was a different point of view 10, 15 years ago. And I think that's incredibly healthy to look at your role as a label in the communication of an artist of supporting his, her, or their vision in a way that you could amplify. I think that's such a healthier dynamic of relationship versus leaning on transactional, which is part of it, because artists have so much ability to do things on their own, that really what a labels function is, " How do we amplify and support the vision and globally do it in a way and give infrastructure to someone who clearly has an incredible artistic gift?"

Conor Begley: So in some ways, you're giving them more control over the artistry or the creativity and just saying, " Hey, we're here to help provide the scaffolding, so to speak."

Lee Stimmel: Yeah, which I think is fantastic and great for artists and all creators.

Conor Begley: Yeah. So you transitioned, obviously, from music to more of the original content game prior to getting into Amazon. So I was at Sony. If I understand correctly, one of your first works was with Mike Tyson. I'd love to know what it was like to work with him and also what made you decide to make that leap out of music, because you had been incredibly successful within the music industry. What made you decide to change it up?

Lee Stimmel: I ran marketing at Atlantic and then Epic for a while and loved every minute of it. It was my dream job. It was the job I always wanted to have. I think as things progressed, we just talked about it over the last 15 minutes or so is I worked for a guy named Rob Stringer who really had an incredible vision of supporting artistry. And at the end of the day, we work at the service of these incredible artists versus the old regime who looked at it the other way around. They were as much an artist as the artists were. And his point of view, I really felt that he was leaning more to building a label of a services company to talent, which is kind of what we talked about before. And I saw a gap in the market of labels do really well at blocking, tackling, and all the things. Radio, selling retail, selling digital consumption, and a lot of other PR and all the other elements of it. I think, for me, I really wanted to support artists in these non- traditional mediums. So how do we support them with brand partnerships? How do we bring creativity? Because again, we don't own the name and likeness of our artists. We own the music. But I wanted to really bring a service of bringing creativity to that space. And so we started up a creative agency within Columbia. I pitched this to Rob at the time. And so we looked at brand partnerships, we looked at licensing and sync because they go hand in hand to brand partnerships, and the other vertical I really wanted to look at was content creation. There were movies done here and there on the highest level, and music movies, obviously, for the span of time have been around, but I felt with social and native digital disruption, there was a real way to talent to own their own content vertical. And we weren't giving them the infrastructure there yet, and management wasn't there, meaning artist managers weren't necessarily there yet. And this was early days. And at the same time, we were acquiring soundtracks, so like Glee, smash. The music convergence with television was there. I did a bunch of stuff with The Fray and ABC with Grey's Anatomy. And so all these things were happening of" How do you build fandom?" And so I pitched this idea of a creative agency to live within a label, to fill that void, take some of the traditional label functions like licensing and other things, and then bring in some non- traditional content and other things. And what I said is I would represent artists, all Columbia artists. They were our clients, but I wanted a flexibility to work with talent that wasn't competitive. So non- music artists because obviously I wouldn't work with other label artists and that kind of stuff. And a mutual friend came to me about Mike Tyson at the time because he was looking to do some brand deals and partnership deals. This was post hangover timeframe and I really wasn't interested because I didn't think we could help him. It wasn't the fact that I thought I was... It's just I couldn't do anything. I just don't think we could have helped him. But then I had an idea for a cartoon series, and the idea that I had at the time was Mike Tyson is a superhero. And I called back my friend and said, " Look, if he's willing to do this, I'll jump in and do it." And he said, " Mike likes cartoons and liked the idea on spec." And I'll never forget, I was driving home in New York and I was going through a tunnel or a bridge and I called my friend Sam Register, who runs Warner Brothers Animation, who still does. And I said, " I have the craziest idea for you. It might be ridiculous." Told him, and he goes, " No, I actually really like it." And it took two years, but we sold it literally from... He had animatics on his desk, and the head of Adult Swim saw it and they bought it, sight unseen, just on that. Although I came with the idea of the superhero idea, Sam Register and his team at Warner Brothers made the show. And so Norm MacDonald is a pigeon, all the things that they did, that was the genius of the writers and the Hannah Barbara style they gave to it. We had a four- year run on Adult Swim, and it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot, and I was like, " This is so easy. I'm one for one! I took pitched one inaudible and I sold it. I could do this all the time." I got humbled real quick. But it was a fun ride, and he was incredible, and he's exactly what you see on screen. There's no filter, and the show was a lot of fun. Again, as the head of the swim told me, he goes, " Lee, we make shows for stoned college kids in school." That show just epitomized that for the moment, so it was good.

Conor Begley: The lasting power of Mike Tyson's celebrity is just fascinating. I don't know what it is that he's been able to maintain the cultural zeitgeist for so long. So then you go from original content game to Amazon and to influencers. One, what made you decide to do that? And then maybe what were some of your learnings after having been in it for two or three years? How was this different than some of the work you had done with other artists historically or within the music industry?

Lee Stimmel: I was running original content at Sony at the time, and a good friend of mine, Mike Benson, who at the time was the CMO of Amazon, and now he's head of marketing for CBS, was looking for someone to join the team to help work with their traditional talents, so their actors, actresses, filmmakers, and really bring them into the fold to participate in the marketing plans of the series in films and build bespoke elements within the marketing plan that laddered up to what they were excited about. Which is interesting to me because, from the music business, we have no resources. So the only thing we have to leverage is the artists and the music and the content. So we always did live performances, and artists socials we activated a lot, and we worked artists directly to create things. And so it was very common for me to sit in a room with a bunch of artists and come up with ideas of, " Well, how do we launch this X, Y, Z, whatever it may be?" And I think they were looking for someone at the time to do that for their more tent- pole things. And I did that for a year or two and I loved it. And I think as said before, when I was looking at all these Amazon moving these people around, and when we went through a reorg, I saw this white space of influence, as I mentioned before, of we really need to look at this group of creatives in a way of" How do we bring them into our orbit and work with them, get to know them, communicate? And the next incredible director or writer or photographer is going to come out of this pool." And when I say pool, I don't mean the pool. I mean that universe, which is obviously, as you know better than anyone, somewhat infinite at this point, but the talent really does rise. You see these incredibly talented people in their mediums. And so my feeling is like, " Well, how do we not tap into these people and elevate their work or at least help them bring them to more audience?" Again, the idea of fandom. How do we bring fans to them? How do we increase their business? That can go from selling something at Amazon, or it could be just helping them, give them exposure so they double their followers and therefore can command a bigger footprint within the universe. That's all wins for me. As I said, for this Guy With The Movie Camera, we found him relatively young because he was working with Maisel and the Maisel cast, and we brought him into our full for a bunch of things, and now he's all over the place doing stuff for all different streamers. And someone said to me, " Well, are you upset that he..." Of course not. I love the fact that he's flourishing, and that's what I want. I want him and all the creators you work with to flourish and-

Conor Begley: Because then they're like, " If you work with Amazon, look what could happen for you."

Lee Stimmel: Correct.

Conor Begley: Right? That's the story you want them telling each other.

Lee Stimmel: Correct. And it is exactly that, it really is the artist's first talent environment that certainly Jen Salke, the studio head, is emanating to her colleagues and clients. So I think we want to do the same thing on the influence. So I saw this need, I literally in November saw this, pitched it verbally, wrote a plan, we call a doc at Amazon, of what this should be, and literally within two weeks the green light was given and I was hiring. I did that for a little over two years, and now onto my next adventure.

Conor Begley: You've mentioned, actually, a few times about the way that Amazon does business. Obviously, I know the memo culture, right? You write the three to five- page memo, shred it as you leave the door, the whole thing. When you say the Amazonian way, and again, you've seen a lot of different environments, and frankly, I think the music industry is one that is a pretty crazy environment on its own as well, right? It seems like you're attracted to that. But talk to me about what it's like to work at Amazon. How do they do business? Especially for a company to be that big and still move that quickly is pretty surprising.

Lee Stimmel: Yeah, I think your assessment is right. What I love about Amazon, certainly for me because of my personality, is that the idea of thinking big and be able to execute. I think a lot of companies have aspirations of having their employees think big and push them through that, but I don't know if they have the stomach for it. And what I love about Amazon is they have both, the aspirations to get there, and they actually expect you to think big, right? It's one of our leadership principles. Once you've vetted out the idea, and that's what the doc culture really does, it really allows you to think through the narrative or the idea, so you're almost explaining it to someone who is no idea what it is. So if I explained influencer marketing to my 80- year- old mother, she would read this plan and understand it. It works you through it. It works the decision of how you really think through every aspect of your idea or your plan, getting input from other people if you need to. And so I love that collaborative culture, but ultimately, you're giving the keys to try it once you get to that point. And look, sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed, and you're expected to do both of those things. And there's a scale. So I got the green light in December. I was staffing up in January, February. The whole staff was in place in August. And hiring at a big company takes time and energy and stuff like that, and that's pretty quick for a company of our size. And we were also building all the mechanisms and the process is working with, obviously, CreatorIQ and your team of" How do we track this stuff? What do we do? What's the infrastructure like?" all the building blocks of it at the same time. It was just an incredibly exciting time. And I think that culture permeates the space, certainly within our creative world is that you're pushed to keep thinking along those lines. And look, the department didn't exist two years ago. It just didn't exist.

Conor Begley: No. I mean, I remember when I first started talking to you, you're like, " I don't have a team yet, but I'm building one and we're going to go big and it's going to be fast and we're going to do it." I was like, " All right, let's do it." And the team was like, "Hey, hey ..." And I'm like, " Just trust Lee. I think he's got it." It was fun to watch you build it.

Lee Stimmel: It was a lot of help. And again, it's not about money. I think the misnomer is, " Oh, well, they just spend spend." I think there are times that every company does that, but I think for us it was... I'd rather do it small, strategically, and grow and not overspend and test it by throwing money at the wall. So we're really cautious and frugal about how we scale it. So it's not just about like, " Okay, let's just throw things out there." Let's really figure out how we move this and what the impact is.

Conor Begley: Totally. So what's your grand master plan long- term? What do you think you're going to do next? And assuming it's at Amazon, what's the next big hill you want to climb?

Lee Stimmel: I want to close big cross- functional partnership deals for prime video external ones. The Netflix GM deal that was announced earlier today inspired me to kick some-

Conor Begley: What was that one?

Lee Stimmel: Netflix did a deal with GM, an overall deal with them, which is really cool, around their sustainability cars and stuff like that. It has multi dimensions to it. I think as a platform versus a studio, you have the ability to do these broader deals with partners. And unlike other platforms, we have an element of retail. So if we do a partnership with say, Sony Electronics, we can actually sell headphones. So there's a benefit here that hopefully helps everybody. And so my short- term goal is going to be to really execute a bunch of those deals immediately and really prove to the marketplace what we can do. And then long- term is really, I don't know, I build out my next thing. I love building. My favorite thing in the world is building. I built the influence team, I built the creative agency in Columbia, I built original content in Sony, and now I'm building the partnerships team and I'm really super excited. You're a builder. You know what that means.

Conor Begley: I'm the same way for sure, 100%. Well, let's do one fun end- of- show question. So I think the favorite question everybody gets asked from the music industry is, " What's your craziest artist story?" So what's your craziest artist story or the one that you've heard secondhand?

Lee Stimmel: I'll give you my crazy artist story that I can tell in this forum because some might be rated for different audiences. So I want to inaudible sensitive to the listeners out there, whoever happens to be listening or watching this. I am a considerable Led Zeppelin fan. One of the bands I wish I saw in the heyday of them was Led Zeppelin. I never got a chance to see them, and obviously, with all four original members. When I was at Atlantic, I was really fortunate to work with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page when they were doing a bunch of tours together at the time. And I'll never forget, we saw them play the Hollywood Bowl here in LA. We flew in to see them, and it was a great show and all that stuff. And then after, Robert and his team were like, " Okay, come on. We're going to go out. Let's go out." And so I'm like numb because to go out with Robert Plant is like a personal crazy moment. And of all the things, we went to the Derby, Darby, whatever it is, and swing dancing at the time. And there I am sitting at this place, and I'm sitting there after seeing them play, watching Robert Plant swing dance in the middle of this club bar in LA. And I'm just like, " There's just something right with the world right now. There's nothing better than where I am at this moment." I'll never forget that as long as I live. I mean, I've been lucky enough and fortunate enough to work with some incredibly gifted, inspiring artists in my life. I cherish every moment of each one of those. But that probably was the craziest because you just felt like it was an out- of- body experience. There's this rock god in front of you, and you're watching him swing dance with his then girlfriend, and you're like, " What's going on?" And so it was a little surreal, but also exciting at the same time. That's a good PG one.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I don't think we've gotten too R- rated on here-

Lee Stimmel: Good.

Conor Begley: ...too many times.

Lee Stimmel: Well, I'm not going to start now.

Conor Begley: But I don't think it's a regulated media. But anyways, that's hilarious. Yeah, the natural connection is not Led Zeppelin and swing dancing.

Lee Stimmel: Yep.

Conor Begley: Those are not the two things I'd normally put in the same sentence.

Lee Stimmel: inaudible that was interesting and to go from ... whatever. It was just a moment that I'll never forget based upon the juxtaposition of where I was and the perception of this god, this creative genius and this rock icon, to seeing him swing dance, albeit pretty well, by the way, give him kudos, and me sitting there like just a stunned fan sitting there, my jaw dropping. It was fun to be.

Conor Begley: There you go. Well, I really appreciate you taking out the time, Lee.

Lee Stimmel: Of course. Thank you.

Conor Begley: Congrats again on all the success. So glad we got to know each other and excited to see all the things that you build to come. Lots to build.

Lee Stimmel: I appreciate it. I look forward to seeing you what you're building, too, Mr. Conor. I can't wait to see it, but thank you for the time.

Conor Begley: Always working it.

Lee Stimmel: Thanks for including me in this illustrious group of people, so I appreciate it.

Conor Begley: Of course. All right. Bye, Lee.

Lee Stimmel: Bye.

Speaker 2: Be a friend, tell a friend, and subscribe. Earned by CreatorIQ. CreatorIQ is your all- in- one solution to grow and manage scale and measure your influencer marketing program. Ready to unlock the power of the creator economy? Get started with a demo today at creatoriq. com.


In our 75th episode of Earned, we’re joined by Lee Stimmel, a veteran of the music industry and the current head of global partnership marketing at Prime Video & Amazon Studios. We start by diving into Lee’s time at Amazon, and learn how he spearheaded the company’s influencer marketing program before taking on his new partnerships role. Lee explains how the lines between traditional talent and socially native creators are blurring, and shares Amazon’s learnings around integrating influencers into its creative processes. Next, we take a step back and dive into Lee’s seasoned career in the music industry. Lee unpacks how the industry has had to evolve from the traditional label structure to the current streaming era—a transition that has put the power back in the hands of the artists. We discuss how social media has enabled artists to connect with their communities in more meaningful ways than ever before, and the strategies behind building “fandoms” today. We then learn why Lee pursued original content creation at Columbia Records and Sony Music, and hear the origin story for “Mike Tyson Mysteries,” an animated series starring boxing champ Mike Tyson. We circle back to Amazon, and Lee explains why he saw influencer marketing as a “white space” in the company, and how Amazon continues to collaborate with and elevate these creators. To close the show, Lee shares what he loves most about working for Amazon, before revealing what’s up next.

In this episode, you will learn:

  1. How social media transformed the music industry
  2. How to build "fandoms" today
  3. Why Amazon Studios is tapping in to the creator economy

Key Takeaways

[04:00 - 7:01]: How Amazon Studios works with celebrities and influencers

[8:13 - 11:00]: The evolution of the music industry

[11:00 - 14:15]: How to build fandoms today

[20:39 - 23:43]: Why Lee pioneered Amazon Studios' influencer marketing program

[23:43 - 26:27]: Life at Amazon


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