Oct 22

Gary Keefer: Marketing

Gary Keffer
MBA 2007
Director, Strategic Marketing
Universal Music Group Nashville

Pictured with Carrie Underwood at the listening event for her album “Cry Pretty”

1. What do you love most about your job?

I love my job. Even with the best job, some days are bonkers. What really makes the job special (and I know it sounds corny, but it’s true) are the smiles. When you get to create experiences that allow fans to have a once-in-a-lifetime moment, you’re making the world a better place for a little while. The memories created become part of that person’s history they share with family and friends for years. That matters in a different way than knocking out a PowerPoint presentation or delivering a spreadsheet.

2. What’s exciting about the future of your industry/position?

As a practical matter, it’s exciting to have a great roster of artists, but also know that you’re only one song away from the next big moment. We saw it with Chris Stapleton when he played “Tennessee Whiskey” with Justin Timberlake, and Kacey Musgraves took home four Grammy Awards for rolling out an entire album of songs no one expected that will be played for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. The challenge comes in figuring out how to get big, national brands to catch up to the momentum and realize that there are a lot of consumers willing to spend money who live very fulfilled lives in the space between New York, LA, and Miami.

3. What do you personally find most challenging as a professional?

I struggle with the petty politics, because it never comes from a good place and supplants intellectual honesty in an organization. If you’re having to play political games, it means the position you’re taking or the product you’re selling can’t win on its own merits. So, you’re advancing a flawed thing and won’t own it; or, worse, you’re being lazy and calling it a win because wins pay. That’s frustrating. And it happens everywhere, up and down the org charts.

4. What is something you wish you had done in college to prepare for this position?

As an undergrad, I wish I had spent more time looking for an internship. I see our interns today and at 20 or 21, they’re where I was when I was 26 or 27 – having already bumbled through my first “real job” as an adult. 

5. What additional trainings, certifications, professional organization members, etc. have helped you professionally?

Unlike licensed careers that require formal continuing education and certification (such as medicine or law, or even I.T.), those of us who come from a liberal arts background or a business program really need to function as sponges. We’ve got to absorb as much information as possible, process it, and learn how to use it because experience comes from doing. Don’t be afraid to join projects or work groups – anything that increases your capabilities, skill set, or even connections will pay off in some way later.

6. What should students interested in entering your field know?

You get out of it what you put into it. The entertainment industry, and especially the music industry here in Nashville, is very relationship oriented. You’ve got to put yourself out there, get to know people, go to some shows, and embrace the experiences.

7. What resources – books, blogs, websites, podcasts, etc. – would you recommend for someone interested in your field or in a position like yours?

Following brands, trends, and stunts is critical. You’ve got to know who spends money, what they spend it on, when they’re writing checks, and what they’re really buying. Every business runs on a budget, every budget has a calendar, and you’ve got to learn those cycles and rhythms. I read a lot from outlets like Ad Age, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal, but also from entertainment sites like Rolling Stone and Paste. Specific to marketing, there’s a great newsletter called “The Hustle” that’s worth checking out.

With Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller at the premiere for Lifetime’s “Patsy & Loretta”

With skateboard icon Tony Hawk