Sharon Brawner puts the Fame in the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum

Sharon Brawner 2015_headshot 2_DM_2_23A8432Sharon Burns Brawner is Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum where she has day-to-day oversight of the museum’s traditional revenue-producing areas including ticket sales, restaurant/catering, and retail.  Oh, and there’s the fabulous Hatch Show Print and Historic RCA Studio B.  Over the course of 13+ years at the museum, she has made a significant impact on many fronts. Under her direction, ticket sales revenues have increased over 111% since 2003. From 2003 to 2014, revenue for special events have increased from over $677,400 to upwards of $11.7 million. From 2006 to 2014, Brawner has overseen a 102% increase in retail sales and has grown their retail presence in the museum from one store to three, in addition to an art gallery.

1.  How has marketing for the Country Music Hall of Fame changed over the years?

I have been with Country Music Hall of Fame  for 14 years, starting as the director of sales for group sales and events.  We have exploded in all the earned income of ticket sales, retail, special events and licensing and product development.  We now have 17 different businesses under one roof.   In 2003, we started a rotating exhibition program that started with one and now is up to a dozen in a year.  Repeat visitation has not risen to a big number but we are appealing to a much larger, diversified overall audience.  We now have a marketing team of 23 folks divided into four teams – PR, Digital, Creative and Marketing Services.

2.  Has the newfound popularity of Nashville contributed to the popularity of the Country Music Hall of Fame?

I thank the good Lord everyday for the blessings that have happened to our wonderful city.  In 1991, I came from Dallas, Texas and it has been wonderful to see the growth.  A lot of credit goes to our mayors, governors, and convention and visitors.  The museum has been positioned as part of Nashville’s Triple Crown – the Ryman, Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame.  We have partnered with the Ryman and the Opry.  They were leading the pack at the time and now we are seen as a trio.  We also work a lot with the Frist and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.  We work hard to be viewed as a community asset. The new Music City Center campus has done so much to make us a great convention destination.   So much of the new convention space is new event space bringing more social events, more weddings, more fundraisers.

3. What is the typical target audience for the Country Music Hall of Fame?  Are women a significant part of your target audience?  Are you seeing many of the bachelorette groups coming to Nashville?

Yes, women are very important.  About 65-70% of our target audience is female.  The majority of the women are the decision makers of what the groups of visitors are going to do.  The bachelorette groups come to Nashville for the party scene, but weddings are part of our business.  Weddings have grown because of the beautiful spaces we have for ceremonies and receptions.

On the business side, there is something I do appreciate about the museum.  In our Senior leadership, we have 3 senior vice presidents that are women.

 4.  We understand Rosanne Cash is the current Artist-in-Residence.  How do strong women like Rosanne and Emmy Lou contribute to the country music landscape?

Rosanne is so great, so humble.  She is only the second woman accepted as Artist-in-Residence.  It is a very high honor given to an artist that has a canon of work very deep and broad.  Rosanne followed Connie Smith.  She asked her friend Emmy Lou and Lucinda Williams to make guest appearances.  They were  magical and commanded the room.  She is well revered and a great and brilliant songwriter and performer.

 5.  What are some of the challenges you face in marketing next year?

Kyle Young , our Director and Chief Executive Officer, has talked about it.  The city of Nashville has to be very careful not to lose our authenticity. We appreciate and respect every tourist. We can’t let the brand get so big so fast that we forget why the tourists came here.   We need to take advantage of  serving our new guests but as we build, we need to keep our roots.  All music has a home here and that’s why we call it Music City.  We don’t want to lose site of  our values.  At the Country Music Hall of Fame, we have to keep waving the flag of our history.  We think we are an anchor to staying authentic.

 6.  What has been your favorite moment at Country Music Hall of Fame?  

I am a huge fan of this music.  It is why I came here.  One of my favorite moments was being there when George Strait was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  I have a dual role as both a fan and a professional woman now working with country music.  I started watching him in college and now it is part of my job to keep his legacy alive.

 7.  What’s going on for the holidays this year? 

Every year we do Deck the Hall.  We have a treelighting in the lobby.  It’s the day after Thanksgiving and it’s the first in the city.  We also have a free concert.  Last year it was Brenda Lee.



Don’t Just Wear a Designer Brand, Be One

Google's Marissa Mayer Named Yahoo CEOWomen have been slow to recognize the importance of personal branding.  But not Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo.  The 40-year-old executive was the 20th employee of Google and the first female engineer.   She quickly became known as the woman who made Google successful.  Not everyone has worked as hard to develop their brand.

According to a Forbes survey, only 15% of employees have truly defined their brand, and only 5% are living their brand every day at the workplace.

Why is that important, you might ask?  Well, having a personal brand has become essential for most people today because of new trends in the workforce.  The average tenure of a U. S. employee is 4.6 years and for those aged 25-34, it is only three years.  And now one out of three U. S. workers are now freelancers. 

A more flexible workforce has been created out of the recession with companies seeking to lower their employee costs.  Additionally the online marketplace created by companies like TaskRabbit and Get A Guru and the rise of shared economy employers like Uber and AirBnB have allowed workers more flexibility for employment.   Added on top of these trends, mobile technology now allows more people to work when and where they choose.

These factors set up an environment where we are constantly preparing for our next role, whether in our current company, at our next employer or possibly as a freelancer or an entrepreneur.  And we need a personal brand.

A personal brand allows us to stand out from the crowd and to create mindshare for ourselves.  Some of the benefits of a personal brand include new business introductions, rewarding partnerships, leadership opportunities, recognition, added credibility and a higher perceived value.

Is building a personal brand shameless self-promotion?  It isn’t but some women may feel challenged in creating a personal brand.  Psychologists say men are encouraged from childhood to talk about their accomplishments, while women learn self-deprecation.  However, true personal branding is about authenticity and values.  Women with positive brands are giving value, sharing knowledge, acknowledging others, nurturing relationships, showering praise and expressing gratitude.  There are even professionals today helping women learn to talk about themselves.  One leadership coach hosts “Brag Parties” where women practice talking about themselves.

It’s not to late to start working on your brand.  Start working on your differentiation and elevator speech today.



A Conference to Teach Agencies How to Brand Themselves?

Michael-Gass-Portrait-325x400Fuel Lines New Business Conference, a new business conference for advertising, digital, media and PR agencies is coming to Nashville October 8-9. The conference will shake up some pre-conceived notions about agencies in today’s world.  Most agencies sell brand positioning to their clients but have none themselves.  Michael Gass, leading new business consultant, has put together some great thinkers on the subject.  We will be speaking there and we even have a discount for you.

New business has historically been a problem for agencies.

Most small to midsize agencies have no positioning and no point of differentiation. They look and sound the same.
They are often treated as vendors because they lack a positioning of expertise.
Most don’t have a target audience thus, no focus for business development efforts.
They are their own worst clients, the cobbler’s children with no shoes.
No appeal beyond their local market.
Forced to use interruption tactics to build awareness.
But, with all of these problems, new business is now much more difficult. It’s made worse by the paradigm shift in business development due to The Great Recession and the empowerment of prospects through social media. Interruptive type tactics such as cold calls, email blasts and direct mail have become ineffective and inefficient. Rainmakers who were good at new business in the past are struggling today.The Fuel Lines New Business Conference will provide 20 top-notch sessions, with inspiring insights from the best and brightest new business thought leaders, who will provide their expertise on the new drivers of business development.  To find out more, click here.  If you are interested in a early bird discount for Brand Wise friends, email us at

Cookie Crazy? Try Frosted Flakes Oatmeal Cookies

IMG_1040Back to school and cookies just go together, so here’s our favorite new oatmeal cookie, Frosted Flakes Oatmeal Cookies.  Cereal in recipes is all the rage now!

Cookies have been around since the 7th Century Persia.  The small cakes have been associated with portable battle food, school lunches, afternoon tea and a sneaky breakfast.  We love oatmeal cookies.  Seems the Scots loved them first,  carrying oatmeal around in their pockets during battle.  And finally in the 1800s, they decided to stir them up into cookies.


Frosted Flakes Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups uncooked regular oats
1 1/2 cups cornflakes cereal
8 ounces almond bark or white chocolate
1 tablespoons shortening


1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; stir well until blended.

3.  Beat 1 cup shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating well. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add flour mixture, mixing just until blended. Stir in oats and cornflakes.

4.  Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls, 2″ apart, onto lightly greased baking sheets; flatten slightly.

5.  Bake at 325° for 12 to 14 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheets. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

6.  Microwave almond bark and shortening in a medium-size microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 minute or until white chocolate melts, stirring once. Dip flat bottom of each cookie into melted bark, letting excess drip back into bowl. Place dipped cookies, dipped side up, on wax paper; let stand 1 hour or until the almond bark sets.

7 Questions: LeeAnn Maxwell, CEO, Vixen Vodka


LeeAnn Maxwell (left) and partner Carrie King (right) took an unforgettable girls trip to St. Simon’s Island and came home with the genesis of Vixen Vodka, a new vodka company targeted to women. Their research into vodka and distillers showed that vodka was ready for a female revolution.  Their vodka is available in five states in the Southeast.

1.  How did you decide to start a vodka business focused on selling to women?

It all started on a girls’ beach trip.  We’ve all been there – lying around the pool, coming up with these great ideas.  Then we get back to life, to work, to kids, to husbands, to school, and then next year’s beach trip comes around and we go, ‘remember that great idea we had last year?’  Well, we put actionable steps behind the crazy idea of starting a vodka by women for women (not a skinny, not a mix, not a flavor, just a pure 80 proof vodka that talked TO women, not down to them), and made our favorite quote come true:  a dream without action is merely a fantasy.  We made our dream a reality!

2.  How has being an entrepreneur changed your life?

It’s the best job; it’s the worst job.  You’re never ‘off’.  You live –  eat – breathe – sleep the brand.  It’s the first thing you think about in the morning and it’s the last thing you think about at night.  And I wouldn’t change a moment of it!

3.  What has been the best moment since you started the business?  What has been the worst?

The best moment (and it still is!) is seeing our dream a reality on the shelf.  Every time I see that bottle on a liquor store shelf or on a back bar or in someone’s cart – I get a chill up and down my spine.  I honestly can’t say there’s been a ‘worst’ moment, I’ve learned from every so-called mistake and obstacle.  I believe that the fear of never trying is much much worse than the fear of failure.

4.  How does having a partner help your business?

There are some entrepreneurs who live by the mantra:  ‘small ships, tall ships, no partnerships’.  I could not disagree more.  I don’t know how I would do this without my partner in crime, Carrie King.  We have a big age difference; I say she was born on the night of my high school prom.  But we’re targeting women ages 28-54 and we are living our own demographic.  We balance each other, we have similar work styles, similar work ethics.   And if we don’t agree, we don’t do it.  And it has served us very well.

 5.  What is the biggest surprise in starting your own business?

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is tough.  But surprisingly, most people want to help you.  They want to see you succeed.  All I do is ask people to ‘hold my hand’ and I think when you do that, it gives them permission to help you without condescending to you or being resentful of you. Oh yeah, and having to do everything!!!  I was just asked to coach at a business event.  They asked do you specialize in marketing, business start up, branding, social media, financing, or sales?   I said yes, all of the above.  Because as an entrepreneur, you have to do all that and more!

 6.  What does success look like?  

Success to me is not the sale of a bottle of vodka, although yes please everyone who is reading this go out and buy a bottle.  But success to me is the stay at home mom who comes up to me and says that I empowered her to turn her passion into a project.  Success is the wedding photographer who says after meeting us at an event she decided to start her own business of portrait couture, bringing out a woman’s best self.  Success is the woman who introduced herself to me as a sculptor, not a kindergarten teacher, because I inspired her to describe herself as her purpose not her paycheck.

 7.  Have other women been supportive of your business?

Absolutely!  Because it’s not about the vodka; (but again please go buy a bottle), it’s about the fact that Carrie and I took the leap.  We went for ‘it’.  Our ‘it’ happened to be starting a vodka company that is tailored to a female palate and does not look upon women as arm candy or sex objects.   But your ‘it’ may be climbing a mountain, running a marathon, becoming a race car driver (ok, I admit that’s on my bucket list).  We’re just using vodka.  And I started this company the year I turned 50, the year my boys moved out and my ex-husband came out. (oh by the way, he’s now the creative director for Vixen Vodka – life’s too short to be madJ)   If I can turn my life around from sitting at home watching “Dancing with the Stars”, anyone can!

Beth DeBauche, OVC Commissioner, Talks Sports Branding and Marketing

Beth DeBaucheWe are a fan of Beth DeBauche , our MVP for sports marketing for Nashville and the Ohio Valley Conference.  As head of the OVC, she shepherds sports for twelve university teams, including Tennessee teams Austin Peay, Belmont, TSU, Tennessee Tech, and UT Martin.  This year, she served as the Chair of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee (NLOC) for the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Final Four, the largest event in women’s college sports that brought 30,000 fans to Nashville.  Here what she has to say on OVC branding, women in all areas of sports and whether women will ever play college football.  Oh, by the way, we said 5 questions but Beth was so interesting we actually asked her 7!

Unknown1.  How have your new branding efforts enhanced the image and reputation of the OVC?  And what’s new for 2014-15?

The OVC is entering its 66th year as an athletics conference and has sustained over the years because our member institutions have a similarity of mission and our focus is on the sustaining values of promoting academic success for our student–athletes and competitive excellence as a means of teaching valuable life lessons.  The OVC has great stories to tell, but we needed more direction and coordination in telling them to the broader public.

Accordingly, the membership recently identified a new tagline: “Inspiring Excellence Since 1948”.  We selected this tagline because it highlighted our commitment to excellence, both on the playing fields and in the classroom.  The tagline also gave the Conference a wonderful platform to describe how both the intercollegiate athletics experience and our student-athletes’ accomplishments can be inspiring.  We currently are featuring many stories of inspiration and excellence on our Website.

Two years ago, thanks to the OVC Board of Presidents’ leadership, we established the OVC Digital Network, which provides free of charge, HD quality coverage of over 800 sporting contests and other University programing via the Worldwide Web.  I am thrilled with the network, as it gives us more control over our message and allows us to reach current and new fans around the world. Most importantly, it lets us tell our student-athletes’ stories.

Additionally, we have established a new blog entitled OVC Extra, which is intended to distinguish the OVC from our peers by highlighting the fun and personal side of our intercollegiate athletics programs and truly allow folks to get an inside view of the real OVC intercollegiate athletics experience.

Together the Excellence Campaign, the OVC Digital Network and OVC Extra provide a comprehensive platform to promote the OVC. Please enjoy these resources at

2.  How has women’s sports changed in the OVC in recent years?  

It may surprise you, but there has not been much of a change regarding women’s sports in the OVC over the past few years.  The reason being, women’s athletics has long been part of the fabric of the OVC.  Having sports programs that provide student-athletes with an opportunity to compete at the highest level, but in a way that is integrated into the overall academic experience, is central to the OVC’s mission.  It is critical to our OVC membership that our student-athletes, regardless of gender, use their athletics opportunities to enhance their overall educational experience.  In the OVC, we sponsor 18 sports and all are treated the same, regardless of the gender of the participants.   We would like to see the level of support and sponsorship for women’s sports increase and, therefore, have made it a Conference priority.

3.  What is the most exciting project you are working on now?  Why?

It is a busy time in the OVC Office and in the Conference as a whole.    Five years ago, when I first assumed my role as commissioner, we took the opportunity to engage in a new strategic planning exercise.  I am pleased to report the Conference has accomplished most of its strategic goals and objectives. Accordingly, it is an appropriate time to refresh the OVC’s strategic plan, as we eagerly look to the Conference’s future.  Led by the OVC Board of Presidents, we are using a collaborative, membership driven process; and while we are in the preliminary stages, it appears the Conference’s priorities will be focused on:

  • Further enhancing the OVC’s brand;
  • Continuing to promote the academic success of our fine student-athletes;
  • Furthering our competitive excellence in men’s basketball;
  • Better defining specific success goals and objectives for success in our “Olympic” sports; and
  • Building on our success in football.

Beyond our strategic planning efforts, both the Conference Office and member institutions are busy trying to grow and enhance the OVC Digital Network.  This HD quality network provides our fans around the world access to OVC sports programming free of charge.  The member institutions do a great job of producing programming and the network provides a wonderful platform, from which we can highlight the stories of the OVC and our student-athletes.

Finally, we are presently working on a project, which I am very excited about because of the potential it brings to open an important new chapter for OVC student-athletes.

On October 20, the OVC has invited our team physicians and athletics trainers to an OVC Health and Safety Summit.  Participants will have an opportunity to hear from the NCAA’s new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, and then engage in discussion regarding health and well-being issues impacting our student-athletes.  Our health care professionals currently do a fantastic job of serving our student-athletes, but I am thrilled about the opportunity to enhance the level of dialogue and collaboration throughout the Conference on these important issues.

4.  Have women become accepted in all parts of sports?  Coaching?  Management?  

Women have made great strides in the administration and management of intercollegiate athletics.  In my personal experience, I certainly have felt accepted and valued throughout my athletics administration career; whether it was working at Vanderbilt, the Southeastern Conference, the NCAA or now at the OVC.  While I feel responsible to be a good role model for both our male and female student-athletes, as a female commissioner, I am charged by the OVC Board of Presidents with helping to lead the OVC and my gender just cannot, and should not, be an issue. My experience seems to be shared by my fellow female commissioners, as well.  However, it is interesting to note, that of the last six Division I commissioners hired, four have been female. In total there are now eight Division I female commissioners out of a total of 32.

At the coaching level, it also appears women are accepted within their profession and judged based on their competency and quality of character, rather than their gender.  Nonetheless, there are a few trends that warrant noting for their potential impact on the number of females in the intercollegiate athletics coaching ranks.  More and more, men are applying to coach women’s intercollegiate sports teams, which I would argue symbolizes more acceptance of women’s intercollegiate athletics. This is occurring at the same time as we see a number of women leaving the coaching ranks after a few years in the profession. It is speculated the reason a number of women leave the profession is because coaching demands are not conducive to the life demands many women face.  As athletics administrators, we need to address some of these life-work balance issues, for coaches of both genders, because we need to make sure we keep good coaches in the profession.

Additionally, our female student-athletes appear to be accepted on campus.  This acceptance is critically important because we need to make sure our female students are provided the same opportunities to receive all the positive benefits that stem from athletics participation.  Benefits such as teamwork, self-confidence and feeling comfortable with competition must be available to students, regardless of gender.

While there is general acceptance within the administrative and coaching ranks of women, where women’s intercollegiate athletics appear to be lagging behind is in the area of support.   Attendance for women’s sports, sponsorship and media coverage all need to be improved.  There are some fantastic opportunities for smart businesses to sponsor, and promote, women’s intercollegiate athletics, for our female student-athletes are a terrific “product”.

 NCAAWF4-1-300x1785.  With your role as Chair of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee of the 2014 NCAA Division Women’s Basketball Final Four, what benefits did you see for Nashville and the OVC?

It was a true honor for the OVC to partner with the Nashville Sports Council to serve as the host of the 2014 Women’s Final Four.    In addition to the over 30,000 fans that visited Nashville for the Semifinal and Final games played at the Bridgestone Arena on April 6 and 8, it is estimated the event left over a $20,000,000 economic impact on the region.   Equally as important is the legacy this event has left behind, with the many programs that occurred in advance of the Final Four that are now sustaining for the benefit of the young people in the region.   These sustaining legacy programs included:

  • The Music City Girls Lead leadership program, housed by Lipscomb University’s Andrews Leadership Academy.
  • The Champions 4 Women luncheon project.
  • Funding for the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame exhibits intended to promote women’s athletics.
  • Additional financial support for the women in the media project, including coverage of TSSAA women’s basketball games.
  • Support for the Metropolitan Arts Commission to provide additional programming for young people.

Perhaps the most important aspect of hosting this Final Four was the pride that came from a job well done.  The NCAA staff reported Nashville was the best Final Four to date! Nashville and the OVC institutions should be proud of the passion and effort it took to successfully hosting the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four. We had such great support from the city and tremendous backing from our citizens, with over 1,000 volunteers giving of their time and effort to make sure the many programs went off without a hitch.  We were able to show to the world, what we have long known: Nashville is a world class city that can host large scale events.

On a personal note, I am proud of the OVC membership and our staff for a job well done, pleased with the additional publicity for the OVC and grateful for the many new friends I have made as a result of this experience.

6.  Where will you be during the first football game of the season?  And when you are not rooting for OVC teams, what’s your college team?  

Growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I am a huge football fan, so it is a real pleasure for me to follow our outstanding OVC football programs.  The OVC plays football at the Division I level in the FCS subdivision (which means OVC schools can offer 63 scholarships, rather than 85 scholarships, which is the limit at the FBS level).  FCS football is outstanding quality competition and the OVC schools provide an excellent game day environment.

During the course of the football season, I will make a point to go to games on each of the 9 OVC campuses that play football. It is wonderful to spend time with the administrators, coaches and fans while witnessing the accomplishments of our student-athletes.  As the competition for the OVC championship heats up toward the end of the season, I typically make a point to again see the teams in championship contention as well as follow our teams as they enter into the Division I playoffs.  The OVC had three teams in the Division I playoffs last year, so we have reason to be optimistic about this upcoming season.  I am very anxious for the OVC football season to start and busy planning my travel schedule.

In addition to actively following the OVC football teams, I have a keen interest in following the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as Notre Dame is my alma mater.

7.  Will we see women play football at a college level in the foreseeable future?  

While there are still many challenges relative to the growth of women’s intercollegiate athletics and full Title IX compliance, we should not lose track of all the progress that has been made in the area of women’s sports, since the adoption of Title IX 42 years ago.  There are more opportunities for women to participate in intercollegiate athletics in a broad range of sports than ever before.  Furthermore, institutions are doing a better job of monitoring and tracking sports trends and participant interest.  The NCAA also has developed an Emerging Sports Program to help guide the development of new sports to ultimately achieve championship status.  There are a number of new women’s sports that appear to be on the rise including: sand volleyball, triathlon and cheer; along with growth in traditional sports such as: soccer, softball and volleyball. To answer the specific question, it does not appear there is a strong movement at the youth, high school and college levels to establish girl’s/women’s football at this time; but given the general popularity of football, who knows what the future holds.



LA Times: The Brand Wise Take on Endorser Ads

65a15f5839fa11e393b222000aa8011b_6There’s a great story on social media ads reported by the LA Times and savvy writer Jessica Guynn.  The piece, entitled “Like it?  Social ads turn users into unwitting endorsers”, talks about the policies of Facebook and Google to turn our “Likes” into personal endorsement ads.  I am not a fan of endorser ads as you can tell from my quote in the story.

Here’s how the endorsement works:  You click on a “like” or Google “+1” and that endorsement might show up in an ad without your approval.  We have all participated in “Likes” to get a coupon or enter a contest, but we really didn’t like that brand enough to have our name used as an unknowing advertiser.

Social media is supposed to foster authenticity, transparency and conversation between brands and consumers.  It seems that using our unwitting acknowledgements as advertising flies in the face of the basic tenets of social media.

It also seems to work as a deterrent from every clicking on a “like” again.  What’s your take?  Want to be an endorser?