Nashville digital advertising agency Girlilla turns 10, expands with new acquisition

CLOSE

New duo Maddie & Tae poked fun at country music cliches in their debut single, "Girl in a Country Song," and they say their album, "Start Here," has a lot more messages they want to share with fans. (Aug. 26) AP

Buy Photo

Girlilla Marketing CEO Jennie Smythe launched her business in 2008 and this year is celebrating its 10 year anniversary.(Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean )Buy Photo

CONNECTCOMMENTEMAILMORE

When an up-and-coming country band wants to reach more fans on Instagram, or a major movie studio wants to develop a social media strategy to sell tickets to its upcoming blockbuster, they increasingly tap Nashville-based Girlilla to handle their digital marketing.

Girlilla turned 10 on Jan. 1, and the company celebrated its anniversary by acquiring another digital marketing firm, Solo Media.

That deal culminated a busy few years for Girlilla, whose founder and CEO Jennie Smythe assumed ownership from a parent company, closed satellite offices in New York and Los Angeles and oversaw an operation that has enjoyed 100-plus percent annual revenue growth.

Girlilla counts actor Chris Hemsworth, country duo Maddie & Tae and the Academy of Country Music among its client roster.

Operating out of a neatly adorned office in south Nashville, Smythe and her team of 12 employees — all women — handle digital media and social media strategy for their clients. That‘s a core music business function in an age where social media success can lead to record deals and tens of millions of streams.

Girlilla stands out as a cutting edge small business success story.

“I think what‘s been gratifying is to see the growth,” Smythe said. “I never knew this would be more than just me, and then we‘ve hired on staff, and they‘ve gotten married and bought houses and started families. You think back to when it was just me working from home to now partnering with brands like Marvel Studios, and coming full circle and working with (Solo Media). It does make you proud.”

Buy Photo

Girlilla Marketing’s executives are Stevie Zea Escoto, left, Ashley Alexander, Jennie Smythe, Jessie Hall, and Sarah Moore.  (Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean )

Smythe launched Girlilla when social media was still establishing itself as a cultural phenomenon and fundamental business tool. She said the firm wasn‘t the first to offer such services, but was among the early such companies in Nashville.

Girlilla gains many of its clients through relationships with artist managers and others in the industry.

Some of Girlilla‘s recent accomplishments include launching over 20 artist tours in 2017 alone, developing and implementing social media strategy for a major TV awards show and spearheading the social campaigns for two major motion pictures, 10 television shows, one on-demand streaming show and a New York Times best-selling book.

Smythe said the range of services Girlilla offers depends on the client. But she said she‘s skeptical, and even says no sometimes, to potential clients who walk in and simply want Girlilla to do all their social media posts.

Girlilla knows its way around hot-button social media issues since the company consulted when actor Charlie Sheen was at the center of controversy several years ago.

Asked about the power of social media in 2018, when President Donald Trump uses Twitter to go around the mainstream media to convey his message, but celebrities can also get in trouble over a single Snapchat post, Smythe said it‘s a “double-edged sword.”

“It can be the most powerful thing in the world, for good or for bad,” she said.

Array of experience helped launch Girlilla

Smythe‘s career uniquely positioned her to run a business that was sort of the wild west of the music industry. When Girlilla opened for business in 2008, she was working to figure out fair fees and retainers, in addition to cultivating strategies.

But prior to launching the company, Smythe had helped lead the digital music division at Yahoo nearly 10 years before streaming companies like Spotify caught on.

She worked at Clear Channel when the corporate radio chain launched its digital iHeartMedia brand. Smythe also worked at several record labels and management companies, which gave her a broad range of experience. She first came to Nashville to oversee the digital department at Warner Music Nashville.

Smythe, who launched her career as a receptionist at a label in Los Angeles, said each of those experiences gave her different perspectives on what stakeholders see from a digital marketer – from labels, to management companies to the artists themselves. In 2008, it was time to stake out on her own.

“I had to work for myself,” Smythe said. “It was time. I said I wanted to do something more hands-on. At that point I had worked at Time Warner, Clear Channel, Yahoo and Disney. You can‘t get anymore corporate than that.

“It‘s one thing when you have a creative role at those companies, but you‘re gambling with somebody else‘s money. It sounds totally idealistic but I really just wanted to work with good people on great projects.”

In a prepared statement, country duo Maddie & Tae touted Girlilla as “one of the most empowering we‘ve ever collaborated with.” Smythe said the band is like a dream client because they have a clear focus of how to conduct themselves on social media, and how to connect with fans.

“These women take your vision, put their magic in it, and take it further than you could ever imagine,” Maddie & Tae said in their prepared statement.

Smythe, a 40-year-old mother of two whose husband is also a music industry entrepreneur, launched Girlilla assuming it would be a one-woman operation.

But the company blossomed into a highly-sought-after firm. After closing two satellite offices in New York and Los Angeles, and acquiring Solo Media, Girlilla now employs 12 people and is a multi-million-dollar operation.

That‘s a long way from when Girlilla was in its infancy and Smythe had to forego health insurance so her only employee could receive the benefits instead, because money was too tight for both.

Solo Media was run by a former Girlilla executive, Sarah Moore, who became the company‘s chief marketing officer following the acquisition. The acquisition has Girlilla nicely positioned for more growth.

Legendary Music Row executive Joe Galante, who Smythe counts as one of her mentors, said her success has come largely because of her ability to listen to a variety of opinions.

Smythe said every social media post for a client requires the approval of two Girlilla executives, one of whom must be her. Externally, an artist‘s manager, label, legal team and publicist frequently need to weigh in on a tweet before it is sent out.

Working with strong personalities requires a skillset that Gallante said Smythe has down pat.

“She has to be an advocate for her clients, and she does. She protects them and her staff, she‘s a fierce momma bear when it comes to that,” Galante said.

“There are people whose voice gets loud or they get overly emphatic about a viewpoint. Jennie is a listener. She‘s not afraid to say to somebody, I can do that. But if I do, I‘m not going to get you what you need.”

Gallante and Smythe are co-chairs of the CMA Foundation, the charitable nonprofit arm of the Country Music Association. Her ascent to such a position at a young age illustrates her rising star on Music Row.

“We need more people like her,” Galante said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect spelling for the name Girlilla.

Reach Nate Rau at and nrau. Follow him on Twitter .

About Girlilla Marketing

  • Founded by CEO Jennie Smythe
  • Turned 10 in 2018
  • Counts Chris Hemsworth, Marvel Studios, Maddie & Tae and Lee Brice among clients
  • Employs 12 executives, all women, at South Nashville office

 

 

CONNECTCOMMENTEMAILMORERead or Share this story: https://www.tennessean/story/money/2018/01/12/nashville-digital-marketing-firm-girlrilla-turns-10-expands-new-acquisition//

Leave a Comment