What do you do when gospel music’s biggest night grows stale? Make big changes. In recent years, the Gospel Music Association Dove Awards experienced its share of problems as Gospel Music Week could no longer be financed and major labels failed to renew their GMA memberships. Add to that a shrinking music industry, consistent financial strain and internal restructuring, and the GMA was forced to find new ways to approach its touchstone event.
After two years in Atlanta, the Doves returned to Music City with a reinvigorated sense of purpose and renewed buy-in from industry partners. This year’s 45th Annual Dove Awards, held Oct. 7, at Nashville’s Allen Arena attracted a large enough crowd to sell out, but it wasn’t without some unique hurdles. GMA Director of Operations Justin Fratt shares five challenges his team faced.
1. Diverse Audience
Christian music is the only genre defined by lyrical content instead of musical style, opening the format to everything from pop, rock and worship to Southern gospel and rap. This vast diversity can become a marketing nightmare for planners. “There’s not a natural way to [balance that] other than to make it feel really authentic,” says Fratt, adding that the GMA took care in accurately representing each musical style in the performance line-up. In addition, musically diverse hosts Bart Millard (MercyMe) and Lecrae helped bridge the gap with their natural banter on stage.
2. Recycled Press Angles
Although the list of winners and performers changes yearly, it’s hard to keep media coverage from becoming repetitive when you have a show that is decades old. To avoid the same recycled press clips, the GMA capitalized on a milestone as they celebrated 50 years as an organization. Throughout the show, as well as during interviews leading up to the awards, they focused on the history of the GMA, the legacy of past trailblazers and shined a light on the future of Christian music. “It really helped us position the event this year and focus on what makes us unique,” Fratt says.
3. Unfocused Marketing
With so many genres and moving parts, marketing becomes a creative endeavor. “We really leaned on some of our key relationships with the artists, sponsors and partners, and created content that was specialized so they could share their excitement about being involved in the show,” Fratt explains. The GMA created custom graphics for each nominee and performer. Artists were encouraged to share the custom images with their fan bases on social media, thereby maximizing each artist’s footprint. In addition, the pre-show and red carpet interviews were streamed live online.
4. Small Staff, Tight Budget
The GMA only has three full-time employees, making it nearly impossible to produce a full-scale awards show without the help of industry leaders, local sponsors and volunteers. Fortunately, the Nashville community (Lipscomb University, Salem Communications, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Cantinas Ranch Foundation, as well as artists and record labels) was generous with their time and talents. “Our goal is that they feel a part of the production of this show,” says Fratt about the additional manpower.
5. Low Attendance
When people can watch the show from the comfort of their homes, thanks to TV partner Trinity Broadcasting Network, the GMA is tasked each year with finding new incentives for people to attend the live show. “We have to make sure we invest in an experience that is worth their time and money to come out,” Fratt says. This year, the GMA created a Dove VIP Experience that allowed consumers to engage in a new way. In a smaller theater nearby, fans could pose for photos with their favorite artists on Selfie Row. “Now, instead of wanting autographs, most folks want pictures with the people they love and admire,” Fratt explains. “This gave our team a new perspective on the traditional fan meet and greet.”