Mike Smith to step down as Nashville Scene publisher
On September 3 Chris Ferrell, the CEO of Nashville-based media company SouthComm, announced that Mike Smith will be stepping down as publisher of the Nashville Scene and Nfocus on October 9 in order to start Conjure, a new sponsorship and promotions agency, which will consult with SouthComm on development for their annual events.
As one of the most prominent LGBT leaders in Nashville’s print media, Smith not only helped grow the Nashville Scene but also helped develop the paper’s strong relationship with the LGBT community. “It was important to me that the Scene support local LGBT causes and events, so I was intentional that the Scene would support Nashville Pride, AIDS Walk, Artrageous, HRC Dinners, and the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, among many others. I was intentional about this not just because I happen to be gay, but because I knew that many of our readers were gay too…. This is the same reason that the Scene's editorial has covered LGBT issues, just as we might any other under-served or marginalized community in Nashville.”
Growing up in rural Arkansas, Smith found journalism was his connection to the outside world. “While I certainly didn't understand that as a kid,” Smith said, “when I look back I realized how important story telling was in growing and learning about the world around us.” But it was advertising that attracted him to journalism.
“I've always been so intrigued about what makes people make the buying decisions they do—the psychology behind it—and how some good clever copy and imagery (advertising) can affect those buying decisions,” Smith explained. These interests, along with a fascination with design, led Smith to study marketing and economics in college. Smith began his career in retail management, which he says was much to his “parents’ chagrin. They had teaching and banking in mind for me.”
This job brought Smith to Nashville, where he first discovered the Scene. “I moved to Nashville knowing no one, and I immediately picked up the Scene and used it to find my dry cleaner, salon, restaurants that became my favorite hangs, and started learning about my new city via the editorial-- so I was an immediate fan. Soon after I started placing ads for the retail stores that I ran and loved my advertising rep, Maggie Bond.”
After Smith expressed to Bond that he was interested in getting into advertising, she contacted him to let him know that there was a sales position open at the Scene and Nfocus. “The rest is history,” said Smith. “I was successful in sales and then had an opportunity to take on managing Nfocus with a goal of growing the sales and brand and readership of that publication in 2002 and over the following 5 years we grew the publication by 30-40% year over year. Then in 2007 I had the opportunity to become publisher of the Scene and Nfocus and took it. In the last 8 years I've held that title along with about 6 others while working with the Nashville SouthComm offices and running the Nashville market.”
As he prepares to depart his post for his own venture, Smith is proud of his record, and the position in which he’s leaving the publications he oversaw. “The future of the Scene, NFocus and our other Nashville SouthComm publications is strong. These specific print pubs are vibrant and growing and we've worked hard at this.”
In addition to the significant growth, Smith says, “I would say our editorial voice is stronger now than ever and more important than ever—in our growing and more diverse city we have to have journalism to tell the stories that need to be told and the Scene does that now and will continue to do so. I look forward to seeing what other fresh ideas and new publisher will bring to the table.”
“Mike has helped lead the Nashville market during a period of dynamic change,”said SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell. “I want to thank him for his 18 years of service and look forward to SouthComm being Mike’s first client in his new venture.”
Smith’s new venture, Conjure, will bring together organizations running events with event sponsors, ensuring maximum value for both sides. The company will also serve as a creative resource to help organizations develop buzz-generating promotions and strong event-related engagement, providing creative direction, content generation, design, and development and sponsorship training.
“I've always enjoyed connecting clients with meaningful marketing endeavors that provide the best ROI,” said Smith. “With Conjure, I can build on the work I’ve done to help clients make solid decisions and connections, whether they’re seeking sponsorships for an event or cause or using sponsorship opportunities as an advertising investment.”
“We will be working closely with the community and organizations that are looking for connection,” Smith said. “Brands want to connect with consumers via wonderful stellar interesting experiences—events or promotions—that are exceptional and memorable influence commerce. Conjure will help facilitate that and by doing so, will be engaged with the community in many different ways. Connection is what I'm about...connecting people has always been one of my favorite things to do. I get to do more of it with my new company, and we'll be intentional about giving back to our awesome city.”
Smith, who is president of the board of directors of Nashville CARES, says he will remain engaged with the LGBT community as well. “I'm not going anywhere and will still be working diligently as a community volunteer.”