“I’ve said it for the record a thousand times. I’ll state it again a thousand times. This is the pinnacle of what I do. Nothing has ever touched being a member of the Grand Ole Opry.” – Garth Brooks
The Grand Ole Opry is one of my favorite places on earth. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people travel from around the globe to this Country Music Mecca in Nashville, Tennessee.
Through the years, I’ve come to know several members of the Opry family, including Dan Rogers. As director of marketing and communication for the Grand Ole Opry, he is responsible for spreading the word about The Show That Made Country Music Famous. (He also co-authored a book about the Opry, which is the perfect gift for the country music fan in your family.) I recently spoke with Dan about the perks and challenges of marketing a legendary show.
Ryan: Dan, how many people are on the Opry’s marketing team?
Dan: There are about a dozen folks who work here, and that is an indication of really how marketing has changed over the past fifteen years and how many other possibilities there are. Honestly we could have a team of thirty people working on Opry projects and keep people busy. When I started, our web presence was fairly small and now we’re developed, we’re creating content, we’re working with artists to create content. There was no social media back then, and, of course, that represents all kinds of incredible opportunities for us.
Ryan: What social media platforms do you use with the Opry?
Dan: It’s one of the fun things about the Opry is that it began by utilizing the technology of its day, AM radio. You forget that it was new at one point. The Opry used AM radio to be heard and today we’re using really every social media outlet that we feel like we have the time to invest in knowing that that’s where the Opry’s next generation of fans are. We spend the most time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Ryan: Why are these platforms so important to the success of the Opry moving forward?
Dan: They represent an incredible way of, not only sharing important information with potential fans, but it’s also a great way for fans to communicate back to us. There are so many layers to social media but one key importance is the customer service that we can provide. When the Opry house flooded in 2010, we didn’t miss a single show during that time frame. We moved the Opry around to several venues throughout Nashville and, without social media, I can’t imagine how that would’ve been possible, just in terms of sharing where we were at any one point.
The other thing that social media has done for us is it lets us communicate an important message to people who are interested in it, and specifically to them. Keith Urban was on the Opry a few weeks ago and we only had maybe ten days notice. Ten years ago we would’ve had to gather the team and say, “Where are all the places we need to be to tell everyone that Keith Urban in on the Opry so that the people who are most interested will find out about it?” Whereas now, it’s as simple as, “Keith Urban’s on the Opry. Let’s make sure that he will share that information via social media and we share that information via social media.”
It makes a huge difference in what we do. Beyond just selling a ticket it is a great way of introducing people, particularly maybe a younger generation, to the Opry. If you’re a fan of Blake Shelton you’re following what he’s talking about and you see that he’s playing the Opry, maybe you see a clip of him playing the Opry, and you think, “Huh, if this Grand Ole Opry is into Blake Shelton, maybe it’s something that I should check out either online this weekend or when we go to Nashville on Spring Break in March.”
Ryan: So, would you say it’s made it easier to market the Opry?
Dan: I guess it has made it easier but you also feel completely invigorated and challenged everyday as well just because, since it’s easier for us to market the Opry, it’s also easier for every other brand out there to market. There are just so many more messages than there used to be. I think the Opry is so compelling to people and it’s such an interesting story that we do have a bit of an advantage. Yes, it’s a brand and it’s a company but it’s this great place with a huge heart, too.
Ryan: Well, because so many people are already familiar with the Opry brand, what is your biggest challenge when trying to market the show?
Dan: Over the course of the fifteen years, the biggest challenge has been how to describe the Opry in an elevator speech or on an outdoor board? What do you say the Opry is in this era in which there are so many messages out there? To me we’ve done the very best we can with our tag line, The Show That Made Country Music Famous. We pack ninety years of history and contemporary relevance into something that people can understand and get excited about.
Ryan: How do you overcome the misconception that the Opry is just an old classic country show?
Dan: Honestly, social media has helped in that regard. It’s not necessarily saying that’s not just who we are, it’s letting artists and fans do the talking for us. It’s folks like Blake Shelton, Little Big Town, Dustin Lynch coming and sending photos out to millions of people showing these folks who might have the number one song in America this very week, showing them playing the Opry, and then it is more than ten thousand fans coming to the Opry every single week and posting on Facebook, sending out Tweets, posting on Instagram that they’re at the Opry where they’re seeing, not only a legendary artist like Charlie Daniels or Connie Smith, but they’re also seeing a brand new act like Old Dominion who just made their Opry debut this year. It’s really about counting on artists and fans to help us tell our story which is that the Opry continues to be the home of new stars, superstars, and legends of country music.
Tomorrow, in part two of this interview, Dan will share how he measures the success of the Opry’s marketing efforts. He will also tell us his favorite backstage story and give us a sneak peek at a big country music celebration the Opry is planning for 2015.