Photo credit: Julian Hanford
Photo credit: Julian Hanford
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: Control the context

Pete Waterman was the founder of Stock Aitken Waterman.

Kylie Minogue was an Australian TV actress. 

She was popular among young girls who watched a daytime soap opera called Neighbours.

Stock Aitken Waterman began writing songs for her and her co-star, Jason Donovan.

Waterman knew the first step in launching an act was to book a tour. London, Birmingham, Manchester: the biggest cities with the biggest venues.

But Waterman didn’t do that.

He knew that those venues would be expensive.

To cover the cost, ticket prices would have to be at least £25. 

And the people who could afford those prices were working adults. 

Exactly the audience who didn’t watch daytime TV.

So they wouldn’t pay to see Jason and Kylie.

So Waterman did exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom.

He didn’t book big venues in big cities.

He booked small venues in small towns, such as Barnsley and Aberdeen.

Places that were so cheap he could afford to charge £1 a ticket.

Which meant all the young girls who watched Kylie and Jason on TV could afford to go.

And the venues were so small there weren’t enough seats. 

These small towns had never had huge stars perform there before.

They weren’t built for it. Traffic couldn’t move, it was chaos.

Which meant all the streets in the towns were jammed solid with screaming, fainting young girls.

And Waterman made sure the newspapers knew all about it.

He told them: "Look at what happens in these little towns. Imagine what would happen in a big town like London."

Waterman’s partners asked him how they could make money by performing in small towns.

Waterman said: "That’s the wrong way to look at it. Wait until you see how many records we sell. This is millions of pounds of free publicity and it’s not costing us a penny."

And, of course, he was right. 

If he had gone the conventional route and tried to launch that tour in big venues in big cities, they would have been half-empty.

The young girls couldn’t afford to go and the people who could afford it weren’t interested.

The tour would have been seen to be a dud.

So he didn’t try to fit his show to the venues; he fitted the venues to his show.

And all anyone saw was that Kylie and Jason were creating massive riots everywhere they played.

Suddenly, the owners of the big venues in big cities couldn’t wait to book them. They began calling Waterman.  

Everyone wanted to see the reason for the huge crowds.

That year, Smash Hits had its biggest-ever sale: one million copies sold of the issue with Kylie and Jason on the cover.

Jason’s album was the best-selling album of the year.

Kylie went on to have 13 hit singles in the top ten.

And how about Waterman?

His company, Stock Aitken Waterman, had 100 UK top 40 hits and sold 40 million records.

Waterman knew you don’t have to let events dictate the result.

Not when you dictate the events.

He knew if you control the context, you control the result.

Dave Trott’s new book, One Plus One Equals Three, is out now