Christina Stejskal, VP, Global Communications, Fender, emphasizes the importance of crafting inclusive marketing campaigns and strategic overarching messaging. She shares examples of how the brand manages to keep existing customers engaged and involved while offering insights into securing quality media over quantity.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CHRISTINA STEJSKAL
DOUG: I’m really excited for this conversation because I love music, love concerts, love guitar playing. Can’t wait to get back to be hearing more music. And our guest knows something about that. Can you share a little bit about Fender and what the brand’s about?
CHRISTINA: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me here. I’m really excited to talk to you. Everybody has seen a Fender in their life. You’re at your favorite concert. You’re listening to your favorite music. The artists that you love and follow are using our tools to fuel the creative expression. So, Fender, we’re a guitar manufacturer, we’re definitely part of music and cultural history. We’re actually celebrating our 75th anniversary this year. Leo Fender, the founder, started the company back in 1946 in Fullerton, California. He started as a radio repair shop and segued in and worked with a lot of musicians. There is a statement he made shortly before he passed that we still hold close to our hearts and use as our company mission and vision, which is that “Artists are angels, and it’s our job to give them wings to fly.” So that’s something that we all ladder up to across the company.
DOUG: Right. And Fender’s been associated with a lot of the so-called guitar gods. But it’s interesting from your research, you found there’s a lot of potential guitar goddesses out there. How important was research in developing your strategies as they evolve?
CHRISTINA: Back in 2015, when our CEO, Andy Mooney was brought on board, he tasked our CMO Evan Jones, to do a really in-depth research study on behalf of the brand and the industry because he was really hungry for data. And to your point, that was one of the biggest findings that’s been driving our marketing ever since. Obviously, music is super inclusive. It doesn’t matter your age, or sex, what you believe, music is a form of connection that brings a lot of people together, and we want to support everybody and anybody on their journey. But one of the surprising findings was that 50% of first-time buyers are females. And we really needed to make sure, I mean, there are tons of female artists throughout musical history from Sheryl Crow and Chrissie Hynde and modern-day Taylor Swifts and things like that. But we really upped the ante in our marketing to make sure that, and it’s not just women too, to ensure that when the consumer or the player is looking at our Instagram, looking at our campaigns, whatever it is, you want to see yourself in that. And so, that’s definitely something that’s been a driver for what we’ve been doing. And on the PR front, when we’re working with media and communications, we feel really grateful and lucky because we have so many stories to be able to tell. We have so many lenses. If we’re speaking to parents or talking to more of the tech side of a launch or the business side, the opportunities are really endless.
DOUG: And you’ve also been engaged during the pandemic. Obviously, people were looking for new outlets that they could safely do and even share. How did that shift your approach and what you’re doing?
CHRISTINA: I think the last year in 2020, it’s just been a wild ride for everybody. We feel really grateful. At the start of everything back in March, I mean, people were going home, you brought your computers home, you didn’t know what you’re going to be back in the office. And we have a guitar learning online program called Fender Play, which we launched back in 2017. We as a company wanted to, purely as a goodwill gesture, what can we do during this time, everybody’s home, how can we help people deal with the stress, deal with all the extra coping that had to be done? So, the brand gave away three months of fender play to the first 100,000 people that signed up. It’s a monthly subscription. You can learn guitar, bass or ukulele through bite sized lessons. It’s amazing curriculum. Recommend everyone trying it. And little to our surprise, people signed up within 24 hours. So, then we extended again, and we extended again, and by June we had nearly a million new users within Fender Play, and it was absolutely amazing. Obviously, that also meant people were dusting off old guitars or they need to buy a new instrument. So, as a result, it also drove a lot of our sales and we were able to close the gender gap within the users in the app and really saw a new influx of this next generation of players.
DOUG: One of the challenges is a lot of people get excited, but keeping them engaged and involved, because it’s not necessarily easy to become a really good guitar player. How do you try and bridge that with some of your messaging and appeal to the people to keep at it? Obviously, Fender Play, making it more widely available would be a great example.
CHRISTINA: That’s a really great point. And also, one of the second key findings from that research study I mentioned, that 90% of players will give up within the first three months to year. And if we can just get people over the dam, then a player will over that first year, then nine times out of ten, they will become a player for life. So, during the pandemic, when we were giving away Fender Play, we also wanted to be really careful in how we were messaging everything. It was a really sensitive time for media. People were taking on a lot of responsibilities. A lot of everything had to be very COVID related, but we didn’t want to be self-serving. We really wanted our messaging to come off as authentic, which is another a little bit of a foundation of our messaging and everything that we do and really showing the goodwill gesture behind everything. We wanted to support people because there also are emotional benefits to playing a guitar. It distresses you, there’s a sense of calming that comes with it. So, that’s also, I believe, a lot of meditation and some of the other industries thrive during this time as well.
DOUG: So, it’s really played a role in helping people sort of maintain a level of sanity and have an outlet of creativity during the pandemic. Are you making any plans as things start to open, I mean Broadway in New York, you’re seeing concerts are starting to go where tickets are being sold? Obviously, that’s one way to really get fans excited about that. Is there anything that the company is doing in that space to help sort of keep that energy moving forward?
CHRISTINA: Artists are the bread and butter to everything that we do, so we definitely are supporting them. We’ve launched a couple of serialized sessions on our social media channels, we call it Fender Check-Ins, Fender Sessions, where the artist is able to walk through their gear, showcase how they write a song and really get that in-depth view. So, we’ve been able to support the artists during this time as well. I mean, they have so much pent-up excitement to release that creativity. And I think there’s been a lot of songwriting that we haven’t seen. And I think as things start to open up to your point, especially in 2022, we’ll see a lot of new songs, a lot of new albums. And once touring is able to come into play, we’ll be excited to kind of join that again as well
DOUG: As we wrap up our interview, I think an important point to mention that distinguishes you is that while some organizations, understandably, are looking to sort of maximize getting their name out there, you take a much more specific approach to generating quality media. Can you share sort of the thoughts behind it and how you go about doing it?
CHRISTINA: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s a great way of saying it. For what we do, especially playing guitar. It is very specific. So, unless you are a player, it can be a little daunting, it can be a little overwhelming at first glance. So, everything we do from the PR comms team is very thoughtful, very thought out, and we really believe in quality over quantity. So, when we’re approaching a launch, or a business announcement, or whatever it may be, we do a lot of thorough research on the editors that we’re targeting, we come up with custom tailored pitches. Our messaging is very specific, and we really look at the flow and almost envision the story of what it’ll look like. We want to make sure that it’s making sense to the readers. And if we have a certain launch, we’ll have different versions of that story as well, because we are in a really beneficial place that we can tell the story in so many different ways and in so many different voices. If we have a guitar launch, we can tell the business angle of it, we can go really nitty gritty with our musical instrument media and get into specs, we can talk from the tech, or we can go the parental media approach and talk about it that way. So, that’s something that we really enforce globally across the comms function at Fender.
DOUG: And you probably have also some access to cool things. I don’t know if you can give away some secrets about some of the artists that people might not know about, but maybe instead of that, if you want to share some cool moments that you’ve had being part of the company, that would be a great way to wrap it up.
CHRISTINA: I’ve been with Fender for five and a half years, and we’ve definitely had some really cool moments. When we were still back in our office, artists were coming in and out the building at all times. We’ve met H.E.R., who is amazing, just recently won an Oscar. She also just taped for the Global Citizen Live show that’s airing shortly with 150 students from LAUSD and our Fender Play Foundation. So, a bunch of us were able to go there and see that taping, which is amazing. We’ve also had a lot of support from our artists when they’re launching a signature, which is basically where an artist, we replicate their signature guitar or create a custom guitar that has all the specs to their sounds and their liking and make it accessibly priced for the consumer. They’re really involved, like this is passionate, when they’re talking and talking about these tools that they able to use to make their music and their crafts. So, we’ve done, I’ve been really fortunate to attend media events with Chris Stapleton in Nashville. We did a really cool land for Grace VanderWaal when we did her signature ukulele. And I recently was, Mike McCready just did a custom shop version of his 1960 Stratocaster, and he was absolutely lovely. So, I’ve been able to have just like I’m talking to you, these face time with, with artists. And just to wrap that up to the people that I work with are the most passionate group of people I think I’ve ever met and had been able to interface with. Andy, our CEO, is a lifelong guitar player. Again, back in the office days, he’d be riffing heavy metal at four o’clock in the afternoon, almost daily. So, it’s really great to be around people that just exude this energy and passion for that collective goal that we’re all working towards.
DOUG: Well, I got to give you an extra thanks, because that’s the first time in my life that someone’s compared me to some of rock and roll’s greatest players at any level. So, I’ll take it where I can get it. Thanks so much for sharing your great ideas.
CHRISTINA: Thank you.