An Interview with Communications Director Lauren Stephens Branson

Lauren and I both hail from Middle Tennessee State University and have lots of friends in common. We were both in the College of Mass Communications, although I think at different times. And we both lived in New York City. I had met Lauren off and on through the years because her closest friend is last week's bitch, Meg Willoughby, but it was when Lauren moved back to Nashville that we became legit friends.

Lauren and I share of love of good hair, caftans, Madewell flannels, modern country homes, and staying in and being grannies. Lauren is so effortlessly chic, it's intimidating. And I only know her personally. I can't imagine how intimidating it is to work with her, because, to quote my friend Agnes, Lauren is a Real Life Businessbabe. Meet today's bitch, Lauren Stephens Branson!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am the Director of Communications at BMI, Corporate Communications department.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I feel like since I grew up in Nashville, I was pretty aware that there was a music business. I had friends as a teenager whose parents were involved in the music industry, so it didn’t seem foreign to me. I didn’t really land on wanting to do this for a living until I was already one and a half years into a college degree in English and I had NO IDEA what I was going to do with that. So I literally made a PowerPoint presentation to my parents in order to convince them that I needed to transfer to MTSU for Music Business. I didn’t know specifically what aspect of the industry I wanted to get involved in until I was firmly rooted in the program.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Once I got to MTSU, I had the most amazing professor/advisor who is still a key touchstone in my life. Her name is Beverly Keel. I took several classes with her and initially thought I wanted to be a music writer. Then I realized I only wanted to write about stuff I liked, which isn’t really a valid way to make a living. I sort of stumbled into a publicity internship at Universal/Lost Highway in my final year of college at the direction of Beverly. She helped me form a career out of things I was interested in.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

A very long and windy path, that’s for damn sure. After interning at Universal, I was hired at Sony Music Nashville as the publicity coordinator. I worked there for a couple of years and then was transferred to New York to work for Epic Records after Sony merged with BMG. As luck would have it, I was laid off from Epic because, well, major labels were/are operating on a broken system and they laid off twenty percent of their staff. I stayed in New York for awhile after that working temp jobs, but eventually came back to Nashville and took an extended break from the music business because I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. 

When my husband and I got married, we moved to his hometown of Durham, NC so he could attend graduate school. There I worked for a music software company and was the label operations manager, as well as the publicist. After that company ran out of cash, I went to work for Yep Roc Records as the only publicist on staff for 40+ releases a year. I was there for three and a half years before being offered this swanky gig at BMI, which paid for our move back to Nashville.

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Always take the high road. This is the advice I’ve always been given, even as a child. It’s a lonely place up there, but it’s the only way to operate in a chaotic work environment. It always reminds me to:  A) treat people how I myself would want to be treated, and B) to move through life with integrity. You don’t have to compromise your personal values just because the industry you work in is full of overgrown degenerates. This is not to say I haven’t done things I’m ashamed of, but it helps me put into perspective how I want to operate in life, both personally and professionally. It’s hard; it’s lonely sometimes, but it’s worth it.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

One time I avoided dealing with an office bully. I thought that if I ignored the problem, it would go away. I basically spent forever just wringing my hands and when I finally confronted the situation, the bully backed down immediately. I was so worried on the front end of what that conversation was going to look like. Finally, I realized that avoiding it was setting a bad example for my employee. My mother always says, “You teach people how to treat you” and by allowing myself to be bullied, I was teaching that person that it was okay to treat me that way. As soon as I did it, I felt calm and liberated. Now I know I can deal with future situations earlier and I won’t be worried about how it will go. I can just march in armed with the confidence that it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be, and you should always, always stand up for yourself.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I would love to say I would exercise or try to go to more ballet classes, but I would probably just hang out with my husband and child and try to read more. Reading is my favorite thing in the world and I don’t have time enough to do it anymore.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I was at my last job for four years. When I left to take this job, I had to let all of the artists I’d been working with know that I was leaving. Everyone was so lovely and gracious about it, but one artist in particular sent me the best email I’ve ever received. He’d been sort of in and out of record deals and had a tumultuous time with his career (as many, many talented folks often do), and his seminal album was my first project to work on when I got to the label. We worked well together and spoke often over the course of four years. 

When I was leaving, he sent me an email that basically said, “I had a hard time in the industry, signed this deal with this tiny label, and found a home and a huge part of that was your support.” He ended the email saying, “You know a lot about Dylan…. for a girl.” I have never been happier knowing that my presence and listening ear meant so much to an artist I respect so deeply. It was probably one of the single most rewarding experiences of my adult life. We’re still friends and we still email about Bob Dylan with alarming frequency.

Also, I bought a house on the same day as the BMI Country Awards in 2014. I was running a red carpet while simultaneously signing documents to buy our house. I ended up with a great house, hugs from Keith Urban, and a successful red carpet. That’s called MULTI-TASKING.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Since I’m currently trying to take a step back from social media (and I also gave up Facebook for Lent… maybe permanently?), I am going to say something boring. It’s basically just email and the Weather app. I gotta know how to dress myself and my child for the day.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Wine. Netflix. The end. Wait. I lied. On Thursdays I go to ballet class. Does that count even though it’s only one night a week?

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Publicists pitch way more stories than they actually get. Everything about a publicist is about relationships and timing. Paying attention and pitching the RIGHT story at the right time is a challenge, and being told no more times than yes can wear on you. But when you get the good stuff, it feels really, really good.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

I often have to fight the idea that publicity is advertising. It’s not. I also have to push back on folks because they think what they’re working on is the most important thing. I have to constantly remind them that publicity is not the email version of a community bulletin board. We have to be strategic. I guess this all goes back to managing relationships.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Favorite snack is probably Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators. Favorite TV Show is a tie between Designing Women and Friday Night Lights. AHEM. TIM RIGGINS. 

All photos courtesy of Lauren Stephens Branson

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Graphic Designer, Meg Willoughby!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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