Sweet Music From VH1

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If one of the hallmarks of an effective marketing campaign is the ability to land gobs of free press, then VH1’s venerable “Save the Music” crusade has safely landed in first chair.

Not only have major-league dailies like Nashville, Tenn.’s Tennessean and Connecticut’s Hartford Courant lauded the music network for raising more than $25 million to acquire instruments for 1,000 public schools throughout the country, but cable operators have also basked in VH1’s success.

The combination of the network’s good works and its resourceful promotion are key reasons why VH1 has won this year’s Top of the Mark award, and why it’s been nominated for induction into CTAM’s Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to campaigns that span multiple years.

Save the Music first launched in 1997 when it began as a tiny pilot program in New York City with Time Warner Cable. But the 2003 campaign touched most of the bases that the judges were looking for, says Mark Awards Committee chairman Tom Alexander, who didn’t take part in the voting.

“Save the Music has been a powerful pro-social campaign where cable operators want to continue to embrace it. They want to have that local market connection with customers,” he says.

All the attention has earned the cable industry advertising that money can’t buy, like this item in a feature story in the Oct. 27, 2003 Tennesseean: “Bands at Margaret Allen, Croft and Martha Vaught middle schools can play more and louder now. The three Metro schools got a $75,000 gift in musical instruments from Comcast and VH1 Save the Music Foundation.”

A sympathetic story in the Hartford Courant in May laid out the foundation’s challenge by noting that school officials in many towns were considering or had decided to eliminate music.

Paul Cothran, executive director of the foundation, says the charity has especially resonated with cash-strapped schools recently because of a mistaken belief that music and art are not core elements under President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation.

“People are so focused on math scores and how to get reading scores up that they are kind of missing this important role music education can play,” according to Cothran.

Many studies have shown that kids involved in music programs tend to have better math and reading scores, remain in school and enroll in college, and work better in groups than others in similar circumstances.

To raise money, the foundation teams up with cable operators in their communities — there have been about 600 such events so far — or stages benefits such as VH1’s annual Divas Concert. A campaign with operators and Paramount Pictures will bring the Save the Music foundation a share of video-on-demand revenues from the film School of Rock.

While the Save the Music program has aided schools in more than 80 cities involving 500,000 children, the foundation’s mission is to restore such programs in every American school.

“With an estimated 30 million students who lack access to music education … I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Cothran says.

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