Sharon 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.
Testimonials may be one of the oldest forms of marketing and for good reason. Testimonials are a way of capturing word-of-mouth in digestible stories. The power of authentic testimonials continues to be important in marketing. And the facts support it. Some 90% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know and a whopping 70% even trust unknown users.
That’s why healthcare advertising depends on testimonials. We do a good bit of research with hospital patients and we frequently ask where people get dependable information on healthcare. And 85-90% of those we ask say Friends and Family. Testimonials are just a way of growing our universe of friends and family.
But testimonials have to deliver the goods. The target audience must perceive the testimonial is real, from someone like them. The message must be authoritative, trustworthy, credible, very specific about results, and relevant to the audience. Video and photography help deliver the authenticity of the testimonial. Academic research shows that people are more likely to believe a statement if it is accompanied by a photograph, so the images of your case study need to be the centerpiece of your testimonial.
Recently we asked patients of Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome, GA to tell us their Redmond story. And the response has been overwhelming. We heard some incredible stories like Barry who had a major cardiac event while driving down the highway at 50 miles an hour. And Scott who had a massive heart attack running up the high school bleachers. And Elaine who thought the nurses who treated her were angels. Even more people have stepped forward to be screened for possible heart and stroke symptoms. So that more hearts and lives continue to be saved in Northwest Georgia.
Meet Deby Samuels, VP University Communication and Marketing
1. What makes you smile?
Easy. A really great headline. Makes me envious too.
2. What is changing the most in education today?
The entire value proposition of higher education is changing. Once, all a university had to do was offer a set number of classes that started at a couple of predictable times a year and attract a number of 18-year-olds and that was pretty much it. Over simplification, of course, but as a rule, no one questioned the cost, the quality, the delivery methods, the choices, or even when and what time of year it was offered. Consumerism and competition have changed everything in higher ed now, especially our dear Four Ps: product (classes are offered at all hours of most days, price (discounted rates strategies to compete), place (from off-campus to online to thousands at one time through Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs]), and promotion (gone are the days of just mailing out a catalog with a letter to recruit). The quest is no longer knowledge as value leader, but attractiveness to the workplace. Colleges and universities are held accountable for proving quality, cost, the success of the graduate in the workplace and more.
3. What is the most exciting thing you have worked on during your time at Lipscomb?
For years, each entity within my university had pretty much done their own thing through a decentralized budgeting approach, including communication design, messaging that was all over the waterfront, absolutely no voice echo, etc. We were losing a huge synergy dividend, and, on very, very slim nonprofit budgets, that is nigh unto catastrophic!
So we undertook a process of listening to our various markets and discovered our brand essence, as it plays today, for the university. We then applied it to a brand look, a brand voice and brand message, through everything including a new website, and “encouraged” the campus to embrace it. Not saying they all did, but we came mega-miles down the road.
My proudest moment was when my boss (President Randy Lowery), who was looking at a file of completed communication pieces I had handed him, looked at me and said, “I see what you mean. I get it. These all look like the same Lipscomb talking.” This may be the only place in marketing that “sameness” is the best thing you can hope for! And I think it is not an accident that about that time I started hearing over and over and over again from the community, “Lipscomb, they sure are doing a lot!” Yes we are, but they were also hearing an message-consistent institution.
4. Tell us about strong female role models in your career.
I cannot remember a single woman who worked at my first ad agency who was not a secretary.
But as my career moved on, there have been many in which I’ve found qualities I wanted to emulate. The strength of Janice Ericson at EE&A, an advertising powerhouse in the Southeast in the ‘80s. The leadership capability of Audrey Seitz Kidd who is COO at United Methodist Publishing in Nashville and has had a successful career in health care as well as her present publishing path. The message management skills of Linda Peek Schacht, a college classmate who is presently on the faculty at Lipscomb after a distinguished career in the White House, Coke and Harvard. The balanced, analytical mind of our Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Nancy Magnusson Durham. Diane Cothran’s ability to maintain a sense of humor and balance in the storm — Diane was HR head for one of my major national employers. And, of course, Jamie Dunham, whose insight into consumer behavior and understanding of the owner and application of brand is deep (don’t edit this out, Jamie…).
5. What’s your favorite part of the week?
Saturday mornings when I wake up with absolutely nothing to do! What a decadent feeling to just follow your nose around for a few hours.
Deby Samuels is Vice President of University Communication and Marketing at Lipscomb University, a private, faith-based, doctoral-granting university that has been a part of Nashville since 1891. Deby’s 40-year marketing career includes a range of experience in the various tools of marketing. She has worked as a copywriter, an account executive, a strategist, a public relations professional, a marketing head, in both for-profit and nonprofit, as well as in agency, corporate and, presently, in university-based higher education. She spends her free time kayaking, playing the hammered dulcimer, doting on Campbell the Wonder Dog and wondering where all her free time went…
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