Raised in Memphis, TN, Bethany Newman was taught that she could be anything she wanted to be. The middle of three children — and the only girl — her parents instilled in her the importance of working hard to get what you want and where you want in life. She was always into art, receiving her bachelors of fine art in graphic design from the University of Tennessee. It was there, too, that she met her now-husband, Josh, a Nashville boy. Having spent a summer in college interning at Sony Music Nashville, Bethany decided to return to Music City after graduation with the goal of paying off her debt and then heading to New York. However, as Bethany tells it, “We moved into an old historic house in East Nashville and decided to stay.” The pair eventually founded ST8MNT, a branding agency with such high profile clients as Taylor Swift, the Atlanta Braves and the National Geographic Channel, just to name a few, and today we’re thrilled to welcome Bethany Newman as our FACE of the South.
Tell us about your background and what led to where you are today.
I lead and run ST8MNT, a branding agency my husband and I started in 2004, wearing multiple hats: boss, business development, client management and strategist, creative direction and the occasional HR manager. I have always been very curious about how businesses run, different structures, different activities, different industries — so I held a variety of internships during college (screen-printing company, ad agency, product company, publisher, record label). And then post-college, I worked my way up from designer to art director to director of creative services at a variety of places: for a small design studio, a mid-size creative services shop, an interactive agency, and then lastly at Universal Music Group Nashville. After a large record label lay off, which came three months after my husband’s record label lay off from EMI, we thought it was time to start our own legitimate company, though we hardly felt “adult” enough. For the first five years, we ran it out of our house, bringing on additional contractors when needed, which worked pretty great as that’s when I was having our two babies – Ava and Alex. At that point it was time to move it out of the house and start the building of a team.
Describe ST8MNT. What sort of work do you do? Who are some of your clients?
ST8MNT is brand agency of 12 creatives really passionate about building brands. Everyone brings amazing talents to the table, quirky personalities, strange ideas and great senses of humor – no egos and lots of collaboration. We’ve just moved into a renovated old bank building across from 3rd and Lindsley, where the old vault has been turned into studio space for shoots, events and rehearsals. We create work that is physical, digital and everything in-between, such as brand strategy, identity development, physical and digital collateral, marketing campaigns, packaging, merch, environments, website and app design, and video development. Our clients range from small and local to national, in the hospitality, entertainment, spirits, education and technology industries. Notable clients include Taylor Swift, Live Nation, CMA, National Geographic Networks, Atlanta Braves, Bread & Company and The Egg and I.
Tell us about your family — human, furry or otherwise.
My husband, Josh, is my partner in all things. We are both artists, but complete opposites, so good counterparts. We have two very independent and outgoing kids who push us to our limits in an entertaining way: Ava (10) and Alex (8). We’re bad with pets. And plants that aren’t perennials.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Believe in yourself. Bet on yourself. Be yourself. And girls can do anything boys can.
Who are some of your industry mentors and role models?
Maria Giudice (author of Rise of the DEO and also founded and sold an experience design firm to Facebook), Julie May (CEO of Bytes of Knowledge) and Gina Binkley (creative director, photographer, artist and a previous boss of mine). I also learn so much and gain a lot of support from my group of peers in the Nashville chapter of Entrepreneur’s Organization.
How has the digital evolution impacted your career — for better or for worse?
Well, I can still remember freshman year at college this thing called email came out! Digital communication and the internet was just emerging, which was pretty cool, and I was instantly into it. Things change and evolve so quickly in the digital space, it’s mind boggling to think of where we will be in only five years. We’re in the exponential age now, where entire industries disrupt seemingly overnight. From a creative career standpoint, the impact of digital is energizing and exciting because there’s always some new thing to explore and you just want to drink from the fire hose. As a creative, I love to learn and am driven by challenges to tackle in new ways, which brings new opportunities. The end user of a brand is no longer just interacting physically; there’s a whole digital experience to consider. As a designer, I will always love physical packaging; now there is the whole iTunes experience and digital marketing to consider (and create for), which is a new set of problems to solve. As a fan, its easier than ever to explore and discover new music. From an operations standpoint, I geek out over better, more efficient and easier ways to connect and run activities, like Slack, Evernote and Invision.
When you land a big client such as Taylor Swift, where do you start? What is the very first thing you do for that client or that project?
It all starts with a meeting discussing ideas, the project, the business. We start a discovery process that includes a creative brief and research (digging into the persona of a brand and the market it lives in), and there’s a very collaborative relationship with the client. With any artist, from major entertainers to independents, we have a lot of back and forth asking about inspiration, the sound, the stories, listening and chatting. We see it as a huge responsibility and honor to represent music visually.
When you’re not working, how do you enjoy spending free time or relaxing?
Traveling out of the country. We like to stay in Airbnbs or very small boutique hotels to really be immersed in the place. And yes, we take our children and pretty much have a “five ice creams a day” strategy to deal with any pickiness. When we can’t get away on actual vacations, sitting with friends by our fire pit, while kids run wild in the woods near our house in Franklin, TN.
What’s the most significant accomplishment of your life — personal, professional or otherwise?
Having my children. They surprise and amaze me almost everyday.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Slow it down, and stop being so wild.
What are three things you can’t live without, aside from faith, family and friends?
A glass of red wine, Netflix and dancing.
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