Slow economy inspires creativity in Nashville's GLBT business community

Nashville’s GLBT business community is feeling the effects of the national economic slowdown, but most local business owners say that with proper planning, and continued community support, the current mess is survivable.

“I’ve seen the economy go up and down since I launched my first company,” said Shane Burkett, managing partner of SBResults, a 3-year-old Web design and marketing firm which opened a new office in Donelson and added staff in 2008.

“In the Clinton years money came easy, because nobody had a Web site and the economy was good. Now you have Web designers on every corner, and we have to be competitive by offering more products.”

Broadening the company’s scope has meant the expanded staff and physical footprint, but it’s also meant that more clients come through the door. It’s also led to a shift in marketing the firm, Burkett said, relying more on promoting the benefits of a lengthy relationship rather than a single-job approach when it comes to recruiting clients.

“Now they are talking about taking long-term contracts with us to handle all their marketing off site, because they don’t want to have the personnel,” he said. “Companies are cutting back, but we’re working to make them realize that they can’t let go of their entire marketing effort or they’ll be in trouble. By giving it to us, they get a better product because our livelihood depends on giving them a quality product.”

In the media world, publishers across the board are finding that advertisers are still willing to invest, but that they’re not signing multi-run contracts as readily as they once were.

“Most of my advertisers are playing the wait and see game,” said Linda Welch, publisher of Inside Out Nashville. “They hope to make it through the holidays, but once the new year hits, it’s going to hit everyone very hard.”

The prognosis is equally flat in the non-profit and entertainment worlds, but Nancy VanReece, executive director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, said that she’s quietly optimistic nonetheless.

“The idea that the recession is a year old really rings true to me, because it seems like the entire last year has been really, really dreadful,” VanReece said. “But we’re hopeful about 2009 and 2010 because we’ve made the adjustments we needed to run lean and mean, and so we’re already at the bone — if we cut any more we’ll hit the marrow.”

The biggest move the 20-year-old festival has done to boost its bottom line as well as increase its marketplace visibility is add its Winter Shakespeare production, which will be held at Belmont’s Troutt Theater Jan. 15 through Feb. 1, and this time around is “Richard the Third” in a Vaudeville setting.

The 2-year-old winter production complements the well-known summer, outdoor offering in many ways, she said.

 “I think that everybody has a chance to be creative in this economic setting,” VanReece said. “What we’re doing is making sure that people have the opportunity to enjoy our productions twice a year, and if they buy those tickets, we can get through this ‘winter of our discontent’ and be able to pull off another great Shakespeare in the Park!”

Any and all businesses that succeed in a down economy rely on consumer loyalty, and the GLBT community is deservedly well known for sticking with companies that support its causes and initiatives. And while many of these companies may not be able to invest as much into philanthropic efforts and sponsorships during a lean period, their past efforts should keep them in the consumers’ minds, Burkett added.

“You have to cast a wider net, which is why marketing is so important now,” he said. “But our community is brand loyal, and so they will still support the various organizations that agree with them on their philosophical views.”

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