Propeller Founder Brandon Deroche On Helping Artists Use Their Platform To Build Movements For Change


Brandon Deroche’s journey that led him to launching digital marketing platform Propeller in 2016 started with playing guitar in an alternative indie rock band called The Underwater shortly after he graduated high school. The founder/CEO notes that they were never a big band but he saw the power in being an artist “and how you can use that platform for something positive.”

After departing the band, Deroche eventually took on the role of executive director for Incubus’ Make Yourself Foundation. He explains that Incubus was really effective at raising funds for the foundation by auctioning VIP meet and greet packages but when Deroche spoke to fans, many of them weren’t familiar with the various nonprofits the band was raising funds for.

“To me it was a missed opportunity to not just use that platform for raising money but also educate the fans about the causes that the band cared about and hopefully turn them on to those organizations that the band was supporting,” Deroche says. “The band was kind enough to let me pilot a prototype of Propeller on their 2015 summer amphitheater tour with the Deftones where in addition to having fans donate to get these VIP packages they could also take action on Propeller. That was when we decided to actually turn it into a company and it has been off and running ever since.”

Since then, Propeller has helped raise $6 million dollars with 1.5 million registered users by pairing artists, festivals and events with nonprofits and hosting campaigns that reward cause-related actions with concert tickets, exclusive experiences and more. Depending on the campaign, actions may include signing a petition, watching an awareness video, pledging to vote, volunteering or donating to a nonprofit. Deroche says Propeller is focused on “building these movements for change,” supporting issues including LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, racial justice and reproductive rights.

The for-profit public benefit corporation has worked with artists including Lizzo, Justin Bieber, The National, boygenius, The Black Keys, Demi Lovato and Goo Goo Dolls, as well as festivals such as Bonnaroo, Outside Lands and Desert Daze. Last year the platform announced a partnership with Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Pollstar: Propeller works with several festivals including Bonnaroo, Outside Lands and Welcome to Rockville. Do the activations vary per festival?

Brandon Deroche: With some festivals we partner with, we do a Flyaway sweepstakes campaign that is just online and, for example, a fan will win a trip to be a VIP at Hangout Music Festival. And there might be multiple organizations that are part of those campaigns.

But for other festivals like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, the programs are more involved. There’s also a whole component that is on-site at the festival and engaging the attendees. And so, for Bonnaroo, we partner with the Bonnaroo Works Fund, which is their non-profit and Planet Roo, which is the non-profit village at the festival that has around 30 organizations from all different types of categories. We create different prize incentives, where we [reach] out to the artists that are playing and see if they’re up for participating and doing some sort of meet and greet experience or contributing merchandise. And then we basically look to engage the festival attendees while they’re there in a number of ways, both at the nonprofit booths that they have in the village, by using the screens that are around the stages and push notifications through the the festival app and things like that, to give people the opportunity to meet artists, to get VIP upgrades to watch certain sets from the front of the pit – all for taking action.

We also partnered with Bonnaroo’s Pride Parade and gave away an opportunity for fans to meet Big Freedia. That was with the Human Rights Campaign and the Bonnaroo Works Fund partnering on that.

What has it been like working with Lizzo on her Juneteenth campaigns?

She had done other Juneteenth give back campaigns and last year was the first time she did it with Propeller. And the difference was that it included actions, in addition to the fundraising component and all of what she works on is around supporting Black-led grassroots-led organizations. And so we put together an initiative where someone won a trip to be a Lizzo Big Grrrl for the day, they got to go and dance with her and her dancers on stage and have this really incredible experience.

I like to say that the secret sauce for a Propeller campaign from the artist’s side is authenticity – we see our best campaigns when it is driven by the artists or the influencer that we’re partnering with. And it’s rare that we see that on the superstar level, like with a Lizzo. And Lizzo was very involved in every aspect of the campaign. She created content that we were not asking her to create and just really promoted it well and was involved in every aspect of it – and the results showed how well it ended up doing because of that.

Propeller ethically shares campaign engagement data with partners. Can you explain?

When I started doing this work I was very naive at the beginning in wanting to reach out to people and hope that people in music were going to want to work with us because it was the “right thing to do” – not realizing that a lot of these managers are probably getting hit up every day by a nonprofit charity asking for something and there’s so many requests that you can’t support everybody, even if you truly wanted to.

Pretty early on I realized that we really had to create a win-win … generating a business opportunity by doing good. Usually we’re working with artists around their tour. We do a Flyaway sweepstakes where someone can win a trip to meet them. And as part of that, we’re promoting to our almost 1.5 million users. And as those people take action and participate in a sweepstakes, they’re also opting in to being on the artist’s list. We’re able to share that data with the artist’s team and they can be added to their normal [distribution] list, they can continue to market tours and albums and everything else in the future they’re doing. We think there’s a lot of value from just being able to connect more deeply with your fans and getting them from just being on your social channels to a direct contact list that you can use for all sorts of things.

What’s next for Propeller?

I’m very excited about what we’re doing in psychedelics – it’s all about the responsible use of psychedelics, how psychedelics benefit mental health. And that is our initiative called PORTAL. Our first big event we produced is an event called Enter the Portal [scheduled during the] Psychedelics Science conference in June. We had Bonobo doing a DJ set to headline, a ceremony from East Forest, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Boreta performing. We rented this 35,000 square foot venue called the Sports Castle, with roaming performers and all different themes on the different floors. Something we’ve been talking about for a while is throwing our own events.

Similarly, we’re going to have a series of after parties at Red Rocks this summer where about 200 people will be able to win their way into these parties. And so it’s something we’re hoping to do a lot more of moving forward where we’re not just partnering with events and tours, but we’re also producing our own events that have social impact embedded in them from the beginning.

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