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Why Rockstars Need Geopolitical Risk Consultants

Milena Rodban is an independent Geopolitical Risk Consultant and a Global Fellow with The
Project for the Study of the 21st Century. She is currently writing a book. For insights on political
risk and international relations, follow her on Twitter- @MilenaRodban.

Over the last week or so, Ive seen a steady stream of articles that suggest rockstars are very
bad at recognizing, assessing and mitigating geopolitical risks. Despite the lessons offered by
dozens of celebrities in the recent past, rockstars and pop-stars continue to experience issues
that could have easily been avoided if only they had a geopolitical risk consultant on staff. I
know most people dont think theres any crossover between the work of geopolitical risk
consultants and celebrities, but once you understand, its stunningly clear- every celebrity
should have one to help them avoid problems and take advantage of opportunities while
growing and sustaining their global brands. Lets review each of the cases and analyze how a
geopolitical risk consultant would have helped.
The first story I saw last week involved Maroon 5, a band with a global fan base, currently on
their V world tour. The bands much anticipated China tour dates in September 2015 were
abruptly cancelled last week. Speculation regarding the cause ultimately settled on
a tweet posted by group member Jesse Carmichael, wishing the Dalai Lama, Tibets
controversial spiritual leader, a happy birthday. The tweet has since been removed. Any
geopolitical risk consultant worth their fees should have told the band that the Chinese
government would view any examples of public support for the Dalai Lama negatively. A great
geopolitical risk consultant would have briefed Maroon 5 on controversial topics well in
advance of their tour, not after the fact. Its not as though support for the Dalai Lama has never
affected a band before. There are plenty of bands that faced the ire of the Chinese government
over support for the Dalai Lama, continued their public support, and accepted the fact that
theyd never tour China. But they know the costs. In this case, two cancelled concerts in

Shanghai and Beijing constitute a financial and reputational loss for the band, its organizer
Live Nation, and the fans who eagerly anticipated seeing Maroon 5 play. Is it Maroon 5's fault
that they arent experts on geopolitical intricacies? No, but making sure they had someone who
could acquaint them with the relevant facts is definitely a necessity for any global band and
brand to explore.
Weve seen single tweets ruin careers. Weve seen off-hand tweets move markets. Is it any
surprise then that tweets, or any social media posts, can substantially affect the level of
geopolitical risk that global rockstars face?
Yet another case is that of Taylor Swift, who just announced a foray into the Chinese market
via a fashion line launched in conjunction with her 1989 world tour. Unsurprisingly, the gear
will feature her initials, TS, and the year 1989, her year of birth. Who can tell me why
thats a geopolitically sensitive issue? Ding ding ding! Yes, the Tiananmen Square (TS)
massacre took place in 1989! Now, clearly this is a coincidence, since those are her real initials
and her real year of birth, and that Taylor Swift doesnt take a provocative stance on a very
controversial historical event. But as any smart geopolitical risk consultant will tell you, there
are no coincidences in geopolitics. Especially not when it comes to issues as politically
charged as the incident in Tiananmen Square. Again, a great geopolitical risk consultant would
have raised this issue when reviewing the design concept, and not after plenty of the gear had
been made. Most people would be surprised to hear that Im advocating that a geopolitical risk
consultant be involved in reviewing designs, but it seems obvious that symbols, and especially
pop culture symbols, have the potential to run into geopolitical issues. The point Im making
here is not that a geopolitical risk consultant would have urged her to consider every
geopolitical issue before choosing a name for an album or a world tour. The point is that these
pop-stars should not be caught off guard by these issues after the fact. If she were adamant,
then at least the likely costs and other factors would have been understood and accepted in
advance. Steps couldve been taken to mitigate the problem, such as making it clear that the
year is referring to her birth or tour, and avoid the need to re-design an entire line just before a
planned launch.
A geopolitical risk consultant wont guarantee that you wont ever lose money, but they will
make sure you know that the loss is likely in advance of incurring it, so that should you
continue on your course, he or she can help you mitigate the damage.
Thus far, both cases have involved China, a country that presents a lucrative market to Western
musicians seeking to expand their brand and increase their followings. But much as China is
fraught with political risk from the micro, or city, level, to the national level, for businesses
such as mining firms, construction companies and media conglomerates, so too is there a high
level of geopolitical risk for artists of all mediums.
The same types of issues will no doubt pose a challenge for pop-stars seeking to enter other
attractive, new (or newly opened) markets, such as Iran and Cuba, for example. Artists will
continue to need ongoing geopolitical risk assessments, since in some countries, the legal and
cultural environment remains fluid, trending towards openness in some cases, while becoming
more restrictive in others. This is particularly true in countries like Russia, where

homosexuality remains legal, though a gay propaganda law was passed in 2013, and continues
to be enforced, and in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal, and draft laws increasing the
punishments are being considered within the legislative and judicial branches of government.
Given the fluid nature of emerging legal frameworks, changing geopolitical realities and
evolving cultural norms, those who invest in the services of smart geopolitical risk consultants
will have a clear advantage over those who do not- who risk their reputations and finances on
what amounts to navigating geopolitical minefields while blindfolded.
Finally we have the case of Chris Brown, stuck in the Philippines because of an ongoing
contractual dispute involving his failure to return an advance fee paid to him to play a New
Years concert that he ultimately skipped. This is a purely legal issue; there are no political or
cultural forces at play, and therefore, it seems all the more stunning that such a simple situation
was not correctly addressed from the start. A geopolitical risk consultant would have reviewed
the policies for the enforcement of contracts in the Philippines and warned him not to travel to
a country that enforces disputes by barring people from leaving until a dispute is resolved.
Therefore, he couldve ensured that his legal team either negotiated a resolution prior to his
arrival, or he couldve skipped traveling there this time. This rule barring departure exists in
several countries, and officials dont care if the person theyre detaining has a Grammy. Now,
hes stuck in the country, has missed a scheduled performance in Hong Kong, and looks a bit
foolish for not thinking before landing. The machinations involved in seeking a clearance to
leave will be a much bigger hassle than those involved in resolving the issue beforehand.
Celebrities- do yourselves a favor. Hire a geopolitical risk consultant. Will they help you avoid
every problem? No, but theyll certainly make sure you know what youre getting into when
you take a geopolitically controversial public stance, wade into geopolitically charged waters,
or forget that your Grammy awards dont let you fly as high as a passport does. That way, you
can decide if the benefits outweigh the costs, and minimize the fallout likely to affect your fan
base, your bottom line and your brand.
PS21 is a non-ideological, non-governmental, non-partisan organization. All views expressed
are the authors own.