Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues

Courtesy of Vulcan Productions

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues serves as an overall teaching case study throughout Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media providing media makers and media marketers with the structure and elements of a sound marketing, outreach, and engagement plan.

It teaches readers how to frame and support that plan with use of secondary and primary research, identification of key audiences, determination of brand essence, and setting of measurable goals and objectives for evaluation. This multi-platform project also provides insight and detail on executing that plan—from announcing the project to the press, industry, and audiences to developing a promotion campaign to reach audiences through ads, trailers, online content, and events.

Executive Summary

By the turn of the twentieth century, the supremely American music genre—the blues—had suffered a downward slide in popularity and was under acknowledged for its profound influence on virtually all music—soul, country, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop, and jazz. While a handful of blues legends remained, very few recognizable younger artists represented the next blues generation. Blues music sales were down and the genre was often combined with other categories to form hybrids with broader appeal. Common perception was that the blues was a nearly defunct, sad, and overly simplistic art form that spoke only to African Americans.

To change all that, on September 28, 2003, Martin Scorsese Presents the

Blues—a week-long primetime film festival broadcast of seven impressionistic independent documentary films—each directed by a different film visionary including Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Clint Eastwood, Mark Levin, Richard Pearce, Mike Figgis, and Charles Burnett—premiered nationally on PBS. Produced by Vulcan Productions and Road Movies, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, and sponsored by Volkswagen, the TV series anchored a cross-platform media project—on air, online, in print, in schools, and on the road—designed to raise awareness of the blues and its contribution to American culture and music. In addition to the TV series featuring scores of blues and music greats, The Blues cross-platform project included a content-rich Web site on; a 13-part companion radio series distributed by Pubic Radio International; a companion book by HarperCollins; a high-profile concert at Radio City Music Hall; a theatrically-released concert film directed by Antoine Fuqua; a cadre of music CDs and DVDs/videos from Sony and Universal; a traveling museum exhibit by Experience Music Project; high school music and social studies curriculum; and an extensive “On the Road” grassroots tour of film, music, and cultural events.

Marketing Summary

To capture the authentic emotional resonance of the blues, The Blues took to the road and to the people with “The Year of the Blues.” Kicking off in early 2003 with the Congressional Proclamation and a landmark, star-studded concert at Radio City Music Hall with 50+ artists, “The Year of the Blues” was celebrated “On the Road” with a national schedule of 120+ high-profile and grassroots film, music, and heritage events. The Blues cross-platform media event crescendoed in the fall with the TV series and was amplified by immense media coverage and buzz. Throughout, The Blues was supported by a massive awareness campaign with music icons such as B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Mick Jagger and newer artists such as Chris Thomas King, Shemekia Copeland, and Chuck D. In tandem with the grassroots tour, the campaign included media relations; TV, radio, print, online, and mobile advertising; online and guerrilla marketing; on-air, in-store, and in-flight promotion; and strategic partnerships with American Airlines, House of Blues, W Hotels, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Experience Music Project, and the Blues Foundation. The project reached music and film aficionados, cultural leaders, educators, the press, Hollywood, and Capitol Hill. The Blues was the “can’t miss” media event of the fall of 2003, creating a true cultural awakening and resurgence of the blues.

One of the most extensive awareness campaigns in PBS’ history, The Blues garnered 1.7 billion positive media impressions via publicity, online marketing, events, and on-air and online promotion. It delivered 1.2+ billion impressions via traditional media coverage, 113 million online, and 2+ million on the ground, through the project’s “On the Road” tour.

As many as 60 million people intersected with The Blues media components, including 19.5 million TV viewers in the first week of broadcast and 20 million unique Web visitors to the project site in the first three weeks. The project also created lasting cultural impact, reaching key target audiences including 50,000 high school teachers and 1 million students who would study, celebrate, and play the blues for years to come. And, it reached numerous social, media, and political influencers in Congress, in Hollywood, and at cultural events – from the Kennedy Center to the Cannes Film Festival. Finally, The Blues project lifted the blues music genre and its artists, generating an overall 40 percent uptick in the sales of blues CDs, a staggering 500 percent increase among key retailers in the few weeks after the project’s launch, and the donation of revenue to The Blues Foundation for aging artists.

Popular interest in roots music [has] grown in recent years, especially after…The Blues.

The New York Times (3/21/04)

© Paul Brissman, Sony Classic Pictures; Courtesy Vulcan Productions

Bonnie Raitt performs with blues icon B.B. King in Salute to the Blues concert at Radio City Music Hall, in the Antoine Fugua-directed concert film Lightning in a Bottle.

The Team

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues was a massive multi-platform project with hundreds of players. The key internal spokespeople included executive producer Martin Scorsese and other film directors, Clint Eastwood, Wim Wenders, Mark Levin, Richard Pearce, Mike Figgis, and Charles Burnett. It also included the four day-to-day project leads: Margaret Bodde, producer (and executive director of Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation), whose primary focus was to ensure that Martin Scorsese’s (Cappa Productions now Sikelia Productions) vision and goals for the project were achieved; Alex Gibney, the series producer (and founder of Jigsaw Productions); Bonnie Benjamin-Phariss, director of documentary films at Vulcan Productions; and Transmedia Marketing’s author, Anne Zeiser, who served as the project’s marketing lead and was the director of national strategic marketing for WGBH, which presented the project nationally for PBS. The radio series, CDs and home video, book, and museum exhibit had spokespeople available to provide detail on each platform.

And because the project was about the music, The Blues also assembled an external stable of music artists for press interviews and performing at events, including B.B. King, Ruth Brown, Isaac Hayes, Koko Taylor, Chris Thomas King, Jay McShann, Keith Richards, Corey Harris, Peter Wolf, Bobby Rush, Angelique Kudjo, Shemekia Copeland, and the J. Geils Band. In addition, Bonnie Raitt and Mick Jagger agreed to join B.B. King to be part of the project’s ad campaign.

These and many more players contributed to the immense reach and success of this project. The Blues won two Grammys at the 2004 Grammy Awards, and its cross-platform, marketing, and outreach won PR Week’s “Arts & Entertainment Campaign of the Year,” with judges calling the project "well organized" and "brilliant."  In addition, the project won the 2003 W.C. Handy Blues Award; a Silver Plaque at 2004 Chicago International Television Competition; a Grand Prize in “TV Series Documentary” at 2004 WorldFest-Houston International Independent Film Festival; and a Gold World Medal in “Culture and the Arts” at the 2004 Radio Programming & Promotion Awards.

© Camilla Anne Jerome; Courtesy of Vulcan Productions

For the project’s premiere month of September, American Airlines’ in-flight entertainment guide featured Martin Scorsese and an entire music channel dedicated to The Blues’ music.

© Adam Traum/© Blues Inc; Courtesy Vulcan Productions

Featured in “Piano Blues,” long time blues aficionado, Clint Eastwood with Kansas City jazz and blues pianist, and ‘40s big band leader, Jay “Hootie” McShann.

In addition to the many project materials throughout Transmedia Marketing, below is extensive enhanced content and marketing elements referred to in the book.

Support Materials

Web Site

Marketing Plans and Strategy

  • The Blues Cross-Platform Media Project and Marketing Case Study – a combined marketing plan and final report case study
  • The Blues Cross-Platform Overview: Branding & Marketing—an audience and brand analysis

Courtesy Vulcan Productions

The Blues “On the Road” at the New Orleans Jazz Festival with sponsor Volkswagen.

Positioning and Branding

Advertising Creative – “This Is the Blues”

  • The Blues TV Ad
    • The Blues Radio Spots

      Courtesy Vulcan Productions

      The Blues’ “This is the blues” print ad campaign in Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. (Left to Right) B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt; Muddy Waters and Mick Jagger, and combined artists ad.


      Other Creative and Collateral

      • The Blues Gritty Sizzle Reel-5:44


      Courtesy Vulcan Productions

      The Blues’ posters used at the cross-platform project’s 120+ “On the Road” events. (Left to Right) John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, Skip James, Muddy Waters and Mick Jagger, and the Delta blues. 

      Press Materials

      • The Blues “Year of the Blues” Announcement
      • The Blues “Salute to the Blues” Concert/Radio City Music Hall Release
      • The Blues National TV Airdate/Multi-media Project Release


      Media Impressions

      My top festival advice for filmmakers is first, know that it is in your power to set your goals and expectations. You are offering a product as much as festivals are offering you a spot for that product. Second, think about the circuit strategically. Look at your festival strategy in three-month bites to be able to be fleet-of-foot and adjust as you get responses and find where the film is fitting.

      -- Kathleen McInnis, festival strategist and publicity consultant, See-Thru Films