(L-R): Martha Ivester (Gaylord Entertainment), Chris Sinta (ConAgra) and Laura Hutfless (CAA) outside their panel at the Billboard Country Music Summit. (Photo: Michael Seto)
When it comes to corporate America and country music, panelists at Billboard's Country Music Summit agreed these days it's not about sponsorship, it's about partnership.
"Music really is a strategic choice for us," says Drew McGowan, director of entertainment marketing at The Clorox Company, which includes such brands as Kingsford Charcoal and Brita water filters. "Country music is where we focus. We know that the fan base for country music and Kingsford charcoal are one and the same."
Aimee Cronfel, public relations and media planning manager, Shell Oil Products US, talked about Pennzoil's partnership with Tim McGraw. "We are the country music virgins on the panel," she says, noting they sought out a relationship with a country act because "country music has the broadest reach. It's so on target with our consumer. . . Tim McGraw is a car enthusiast. It's such a perfect fit."
"We view country music as a key platform to grow our business," Philip Caruso, national promotions manager for Chevrolet, told the audience. "Most artists write about the past experience they've had whether it's on the farm or with their cars and trucks and many of those are Chevrolets. . . It's a natural passion they have for the product and they are able to convey to the fans that natural passion and bring those fans over to Chevrolet."
Chevrolet is one of the sponsors of CMA Music Fest, the annual fan event that kicks off Wednesday in Nashville. Chevy has also had a lengthy, successful relationship with Brad Paisley. "One of the reasons we've had a relationship with Brad for so long is because of his passion for the brand," says Caruso. "Brad loves Chevrolet and loves Corvette so it's easy to take that passion and convey that. . . He connects very well with the fans locally. Our dealers love him. He's very authentic at what he does."
Panelists also spoke of partnering with artists on charitable or eco-friendly initiatives. "We have been partners with CMA from a brand perspective, but this year we decided to get back involved in country music on a charitable cause," says Chris Sinta, director of consumer promotions and sponsorships for ConAgra, which includes such brands as Healthy Choice and Marie Callenders. "ConAgra Foods and the ConAgra Food Foundation has a cause called Child Hunger Ends here. We decided to build a program to incentivize country music consumers to get involved."
Cronfel says charitable endeavors are part of her company's plan as well. "Last weekend we were at the Coke 600," she says of the NASCAR race where they had Tim McGraw autograph a car hood and sold it to benefit Paralyzed Veterans of America. Money raised will the used to "retrofit vehicles to give veterans back the joy of driving," she says.
McGowan said one $7 Brita water filter could filter 300 bottles of water. They offer free filtered water to country fans who bring their own reusable bottles to concerts. Since a bottle of water at a venue can regularly cost up to $4, if they provide water for a family of four, they've just saved them enough to pay for parking and the initiative is also environmentally friendly.
"Our job is to sell product, but it's also about giving back," Sinta says.