CMT 'Empowers' Its Viewers with New Education Initiative

By Lucia Folk

Working in public affairs for Country Music Television (CMT) is a pretty great gig. Why? I get to utilize the many CMT media platforms-- TV, radio, digital, etc.—to encourage our viewers to get connected in their communities and make them aware of the resources to do so. What makes my job even better is that our viewers are country music fans, and they are the most passionate, spirited and loyal fans in the world. They trust CMT as the authority on country music and entertainment and we do our best to honor that trust because we consider them our extended family and we know without them, we wouldn’t exist. The icing on the cake is working with country artists, who are the most generous, down-to-earth and dedicated people in the entertainment world (in my humble opinion). 

So, when Viacom partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation a few years ago to launch the Get Schooled foundation, with the goal of empowering young people to take charge of their education, we wanted to make sure CMT supported that mission. More importantly, we wanted to make sure we connected our viewers to Get Schooled in a way that would resonate with them and honor the trust they bestow in us. To do that, we examined the research that the Gates Foundation gathered specifically about our viewers, in order to create a campaign that would speak to them and serve their needs.

CMT reaches a uniquely broad audience with many of our viewers watching CMT together as a family. With that co-viewing audience in mind, the mission for the CMT education campaign had to encourage our viewers, no matter what their age, to go to school, or back to school in order to achieve their dreams. We believe this campaign is critical, especially in light of the current economy and the 3.7 million open jobs*, many of which go unfulfilled due to the lack of skilled applicants. That job skills gap creates an environment in which great job opportunities are indeed available, but many require a post-secondary or specialized education. We want to inform our audience of the different ranges of higher education (from certifications, to two year degrees, to four year colleges, etc.), so that they may find an option that works best for them. 

Realizing that there are thousands of existing websites that address higher education, it became clear that figuring out where to start can be positively overwhelming. We wanted to cut through the clutter and help guide the user to the resources that were relevant to them.  Rather than presenting all of the educational options and then leaving it to the user to sift through them, we created a site ( that guides them through a few easy questions so that they can create a personalized plan of action.

Now, we’re the first ones to admit that we’re no experts on the subject of higher education. But, we found people who are! Experts and educators who ensured that we were connecting our viewers to the best resources available. This brain trust became our official group of Advising Partners* —their expertise was instrumental in the design and development of our campaign and making sure we were aware of the multitude of existing resources. These partners came together and gave us vital feedback on the assets we identified and how our material was presented. After a year-long process of beta-testing we are thrilled to finally launch CMT Empowering Education. 

We are privileged that a large population of the United States allows CMT into their homes and their lives on a regular basis and want to make sure that, in addition to entertaining them, we value them.  We are proud to be able to use CMT’s communication vehicles to connect our viewers to a resource where they can explore new opportunities for themselves, their friends or their family members.

Now we’d like to challenge all of you in the business world to help us in this endeavor: reach out to your local educational institutions and help them develop pathways and curriculum to ensure we have a prepared workforce. It’s our obligation as corporate citizens to work alongside our friends in the nonprofit and government sectors to ensure that everyone has access to a quality education and career.  We invite you to check out the website and help us support education and workforce development in your community.

Lucia Folk is Senior Director of Public Affairs, Country Music Television. 

*According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics – July 2012

*Advising partners for the CMT EMPOWERING EDUCATION campaign include Achieving the Dream; Alltuition; Association of Career & Technical Education; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Center for Workforce & Economic Development; American Association of Community Colleges; National Skills Coalition and Skills for America's Future, The Aspen Institute.