"Our model is the Virgin brand of seven or eight years ago, before it got diluted by shitty cola and bridal shops," says Maurice Bernstein (pictured, on right), lounging with his partner, Jonathan Rudnick (left), in the TriBeCa loft that houses their company, Giant Step. "The response we're after is 'That's cool, that's hip -- I'm going to buy into that.' "
Over the past ten years, Bernstein and Rudnick have made Giant Step a local cultural-capital cornerstone with their innovative approach to music marketing, breaking new artists by targeting tastemakers and
the places they hang out in, promoting cutting-edge shows, and releasing influential dance-music albums like NuYorican Soul on their own label. By next year, says Bernstein, Giant Step will become a multi-million-dollar company, and new plans call for taking on nonmusic clients -- "as long as we can protect the brand."
Maintaining brand recognition shouldn't be difficult: Levi's has just signed on for a fourth year of sponsorship of Giant Step's "Miles Ahead" series of concerts. And Giant Step has built a reputation among major-label clients like Epic and Def Jam for marketing successes with such artists as Jill Scott and Macy Gray. "We start from the assumption that we're not going to get radio or MTV," says Rudnick. "So we build a critical mass among tastemakers to create a situation where the artist just isn't going to go away."
Their recent campaign for Sade helped move nearly 400,000 copies of her new record during its first week in stores, outselling even Ricky Martin's highly anticipated second album. For Macy Gray, "they made up a CD sampler and sent it out to their database, which includes cafés, clubs, and restaurants," says Rose Noone, VP of A&R at Epic Records, Gray's label. "We heard the music everywhere."
"They have an enormous mailing list," enthuses Def Jam product manager Deidre Graham. She hired Giant Step to market Musiq Soulchild's debut album last month, "which enabled us to reach certain markets, like dance-music D.J.'s, that Def Jam couldn't cater to," she says, noting that the previously unknown singer's record sold 55,000 copies in its first week. "I wish all my artists fit into what they do."