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EMI hires consumer products exec to market music

New CEO of recorded music says he knows selling Coldplay isn't like peddling starch

By Devin Leonard, senior writer
July 7, 2008: 5:07 PM EDT

EMI's new CEO of recorded music, Elio Leoni-Sceti, says his experience at a consumer products company will help him reverse the label's declining fortunes.

(FORTUNE) -- Until recently, Elio Leoni-Sceti spent his days thinking about how to get consumers to buy more Mop & Glo. Now he has to sell them more Coldplay albums.

That's an unusual career change, to say that least. But EMI, the troubled British music giant purchased last year by private equity firm Terra Firma doesn't see it that way. EMI announced on Monday it has hired Leoni-Sceti, formerly executive vice president of Reckitt Benckiser - the consumer products company whose brands include Mop & Glo, French's Mustard and Lysol - to be its new CEO of recorded music.

In a press release, Terra Firma CEO Guy Hands couldn't have been more upbeat about Leoni-Sceti's pending arrival. "I'm delighted Elio is joining as chief executive of EMI Music to lead the most exciting business transformation in the music industry," Hands said. "His career achievements and outstanding leadership qualities are ideally suited to ensuring that EMI is a successful business."

Leoni-Sceti, 42, sounded optimistic, too. "I don't have the silver bullet [for the music industry's woes]," he told Fortune. "I think the industry as a whole has not been able to anticipate where the market is going. There is a gap between consumer need and the industry's capacity to leverage it. What I'm going to do is not only catch up but to try and take a step forward and get to where they want us to be."

That will take some doing. Record labels are reeling from a decline of 9% in global music sales last year. In January, Hands reacted by announcing a six-month "organizational restructuring" at EMI. The company eliminated nearly 2,000 of the 4,500 positions in its recorded music unit. (Nobody in EMI's publishing arm was laid off) EMI also centralized the marketing divisions of its other record labels - Capitol, Blue Note and Virgin. The labels themselves will now focus sole on developing artist and repertoire.

EMI has had to deal with the departure of Radiohead, one of its top acts, and complaints from artist managers who can't be happy about Terra Firma's aggressive cost-cutting.

But the company has also some recent success. Coldplay's new release "Vida La Vida" is the No. 1 album in 36 counties, including the United States. Newcomer Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" is the No.1 single on the Billboard Top 100.

Now Leoni-Sceti has to build on these milestones. He says he can do so after 16 years at Reckitt Benekiser because he understands consumers, he knows how to build brand equity, and he is willing to innovate. And in case you are wondering, Leoni-Sceti says he knows selling music differs from marketing Mop & Glo.

How so? EMI's new recorded music chief says that unlike floor cleaning products, music is all about emotion. "As a brand person, this is like wonderland," he says. "When you can engage your consumer with an emotional link, that is very rich from a marketing perspective." To top of page