"There's a great story here about the marketability of that female country star," said Crawford later. "They really set the bar across all genres, across genders, in terms of marketability."
By crunching numbers across several studies, Crawford was able to demonstrate that Maren Morris' current affiliation with Target -- through her recording of "The Middle" with pop/EDM producer Zedd and duo Grey -- could bring as much as $12 million in additional revenue to the retail chain if 1 percent of Morris' fans made an extra visit to the store during the year.
Crawford also did a fictitious case study surrounding Danielle Bradbery and three different alcohol brands, showing that if 5 percent of her Facebook followers responded to ads, she could generate between $945,000 and $2 million in a year for Mike's Hard Lemonade, Shock Top beer or Foster's beer.
"I was not wanting to do a nail-polish example or something like that," said Crawford. "I wanted to shake it up and not be a traditional girly partnership. I wanted the audience to think bigger about the opportunities for female artists, so it was an intentional choice to look at something that felt a little nontraditional for a stylish, good-looking, 21-year-old female."
Tradition is at issue for women in country. Dating back as far as Kitty Wells, who was told women could not command a headlining slot in country music even after she became the first solo female to top the country chart in 1952, females have fought stereotypes. One such adage suggests that women, who control the financial decision-making in the majority of American marriages, are less interested in female artists than in men. Another holds that less beer is sold when a woman plays a concert. Even now, many radio stations avoid playing two solo females back to back.
Those built-in biases limit opportunities. No solo female was present in the top 20 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart dated April 28. Two snuck in on the May 5 list: Carrie Underwood's "Cry Pretty" (No. 19) and Lindsay Ell's "Criminal" (No. 20). Predictably, females had just 20 percent of the 250 top country albums in 2017, said Crawford.
And yet, women fare better in terms of public perception, according to the study. Country artists score 66, slightly higher than the average music artist (63) in Nielsen's N-Score, a composite marketability grade. Female country artists outstrip males in the ranking, 70 to 65, and six of the top 10 country artists are female: Underwood, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow and Trisha Yearwood.
Among specific attributes, country males and females are held in similar regard in such traits as likability, influence and social media savvy. But women score much higher in other fields, defeating men 46 to 32 in awareness, outranking guys 58 to 52 in the perception that they're successful, topping males 44 to 29 when asked if they're good-looking, and stomping men 34 to 21 on style.
The genre's audience seems to feel more positively about women than its gatekeepers think they do.
"There's a cycle that exists," said Red Light A&R and artist development consultant Tracy Gershon, who co-founded CTC with CMT senior vp music and talent Leslie Fram and Middle Tennessee State University Department of Recording Industry chairwoman Beverly Keel. "Record companies don't feel that radio will play as many women, so they don't sign as many women, and then radio doesn't have as many women [available]. There's this vicious cycle, and somewhere in that is this myth that women don't want to hear other women. That's the big one. All this kind of data goes against that."
The positive numbers in Nielsen's evaluation of the Morris affiliation with Target and the hypothetical Bradbery alcohol campaigns were generated from existing data covering the audience size for both the brands and the artists, average spending habits by the brands' consumers and reasonable projections about the number of artist fans who might be activated by a particular campaign. Crawford pledged to the CTC group to tell that story to the decision-makers at all of the major labels.
Crawford and the CTC founders recognize that it's an uphill battle to change perceptions, but ladies have experienced a more equal playing field before. In the late 1990s, Twain, Hill, McEntire and Yearwood led a crop of females that included Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina and the Dixie Chicks. Thus, it's entirely possible that a more favorable cycle for women could be in the offing. Crawford sees the emergence of Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves and Lauren Alaina as a positive trend for the future.
"There's a lot happening right now that's sort of bubbling up," said Crawford, "so I do think that we're on the cusp of something."
Money, of course, speaks louder than anything else in business, and the profit potential for brands aligning with country females has to make a lot of noise, particularly in the era of the 360 deal, in which labels share in artists' receipts from multiple revenue streams, including corporate partnerships. Who's going to tell that story? Expect that sisters will be doing it for themselves.
Said Crawford: "We're responsible for supporting one another, helping shake up the perspective and breaking the culture for progress."