- Player: Kim Coppen-Watkins
- Company: Think Entertainment
- Clients: Idols SA, Graeme Watkins Project
- Launched: 2014
- Visit: www.thinkentertainment.co.za
As you grow, take the time to step back and really look at your business. Are you doing what you set out to do? Have you pivoted where necessary, but maintained your goal and vision?
Kim Coppen-Watkins planned to be a performer, but sometimes the best opportunities come along when you aren’t planning for them. You can let them go by, or you can seize them and make them work for you anyway.
“After I graduated I took a job at a Cape-based agency. I wanted to continue working within my industry while I went to castings,” Kim explains.
But while she was still focusing on being in front of the camera or on stage, two things were happening. First, she was booking and managing gigs for her boyfriend, Graeme Watkins, and his two friends.
“Graeme was still studying. To make ends meet he was a performing waiter, and he made up a musical trio with two of his friends. My mom ran a theatre company, Think Theatre, that produced and booked Shakespearean theatre productions for matric students, so I just booked him gigs through her business.”
At the same time Kim was also realising that she hated castings. “They irritated me, but they were the way the industry works. I started questioning where my place was within this industry I loved.” It was becoming clear to her that what she actually loved was being behind the scenes — integral to the magic, but not necessarily in the limelight.
Few people know what they want before they start doing it
Careers change and develop, and so do businesses. Kim’s business would pivot many times in the future, but this was the start of her realisation that nothing is ever set in stone.
And then in 2009, Graeme auditioned for Idols SA — and made the top 16. The couple packed up their lives in Cape Town, got into Kim’s Toyota Tazz, and moved to Joburg. Graeme was that year’s runner up, and the couple realised they needed to leverage the exposure.
The move also triggered Kim’s entrepreneurial spirit. “I took to the road with Graeme, managing his sound and focusing on quality control during his performances. I quickly noticed the importance of a manager who could ensure that artists weren’t taken advantage of and who could stipulate what guidelines were part of the agreement and contract. We decided I would road manage his events going forward.
“At the time, I had a lot of people asking me to be their manager or if they could join my agency, but I wanted to work with Graeme; I knew that together we could do something incredible. Both my parents are entrepreneurs, and I’d seen my dad rise and fall in his various endeavors over the years. I knew the risks, but I also knew the rewards. And that was what I was focused on.
I’m an all or nothing person.
“I wanted to maintain and own my own ideas. Make them flourish for me. And I was willing to take the risk to do it. I was young, stupid and ballsy, but I guess that’s what you have to be if you want to take this path.”
Launching the Graeme Watkins Project
Together, Graeme and Kim developed Graeme’s rock band, The Graeme Watkins Project, as well as a strategy to launch and grow the band’s foothold in the local music industry.
“We spent a year developing GWP, and I worked exclusively with Graeme. You have to build awareness, generate publicity and manage the tour. To do it right, it needed my full attention.”
As Kim’s business grew, she took on other artists and then realised that the music industry, like all industries, has highs and lows. “We hit a dip and decided we needed a new strategy. All artists need to remain current and fresh if they want to maintain momentum. During a dip on the music side, we secured a presenting job on television with Vodacom Millionaires. This has been running for six years, and has been the foundation for the presenting and MC side of the business.
“Alongside this strategy, we needed a multi-faceted plan for his career. When the rock band side of his brand was quiet because GWP was recording a new album, we decided to create a more collaborative endeavor with Swing City.” Swing City is a collaborative trio between Graeme, and fellow musicians Nathan Ro and Loyiso Bala.
“You can be involved in something creative but you still need to be tactical and strategic about growth.”
“That’s true of any business, and I realised it was why I loved management. As an agent your focus is on procuring work for your clients, but management is what drives me. Management is more strategic in that it combines various elements paramount to the success of your artist’s brand. It’s about taking risks; choosing when to release certain songs to generate spin off on radio and retail; and touring when the song has reached a certain point on radio.
“To get this right, you need to know where your markets live, what they do for fun, and how to engage with them. It’s creative, challenging, and very exciting. However, I believe artists should have both an agent and a manager, which is why I’ve hired specific people in my company to handle the agency side, so that I can focus on management strategy. We work closely together though, and strive for the same goals.”
Make choices as you grow
In all businesses, choices have to be made as you grow, and this was Kim’s first strategic decision for her own business. From there, she was able to implement the lessons she had learnt to build other collaborations, corporate acts and development projects, including The Buzz, a teen band for the youth market.
And then everything changed again. In 2014 Kim was approached by Idols SA to take over the management of the top ten just as she found out she was pregnant. “I took it, and decided not to let them know that there was another life changing event going on.
“I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Taking on ten artists who have no brand and often a very confused idea of the industry is very challenging. We are there to provide guidance and a starting platform for the rest of their career, which I believe is a big responsibility.
“You have to know who you are and what you want.”
“Up until that point I’d had a lot of side projects and different roles. I needed to decide what I wanted to be, and what I wanted the business to look like. I didn’t want to dilute myself, and at that point I was spread far too thin.
“I was running the business solo, had five core artists that I was manager and agent to, and then the Idols contract came along and I absorbed an additional ten artists. I was at a point where expanding my staff base was the only viable solution.
“The next decision was whether we would be a small, exclusive solution for artists and clients, or if we wanted to be a big agency that has 100 faces on the wall. I believe my personal management style lends itself to small and exclusive.
“I’m forever grateful for the timing that put this all into perspective for me. I had been building up my clients’ careers, as well as my own name within the industry. The Idols contract was a windfall, but trying to juggle so much while being pregnant made me take a step back and critically analyse what I wanted my business to be.
“Up until that point, I would have said I wanted to build an empire. My brand was strong enough to set me on that path. But that’s not who I wanted us to be.
“It took a growth surge to make me realise what direction I wanted to take my business in, and where we needed to focus our energies. I’m a creative; I’m OCD and a control freak. I want a personal touch with my artists; plus, I understand the reality TV business, and it’s unique.
“Reality TV musicians have a psyche that needs a personal touch, because the hard work really starts when they’re voted out, and they need to earn a place in the industry. You need to be able to leverage that brief period of stardom without losing hope because you’ve gone from zero to hero and back to zero. And that’s my niche.
“One of the greatest elements of the Idols account has been working under the guidance of the international management team. They have taught me so much over the last two years, and the insight into traction in international territories has given me a new direction to explore within my business.
“They’ve been an excellent guiding force in understanding the psyche of artists coming out of the reality show mould, which has assisted me greatly in trying to restructure my artists’ mind sets to continue with their passion,” says Kim.
“It’s not always easy to find that balance between reward and growth.”
“Often we’re so busy looking at the next goal post, and the next level of growth, that we forget to really think about what we want our businesses to be.
“We do this to fulfil a need and build a long-lasting brand and legacy. We should take the time to think about what we want that to look like, and how it should be operating.”