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Trisha Yearwood: The Brand Builder

Artist, author, and television star Trisha Yearwood harnesses the power of opportunity.

Written By:  Megan O’Neill

Photographers:  Russ Harrington

Ten years ago, Trisha Yearwood, ever the diligent family recipe collector, met with a book publisher at a career-defining meeting. She just didn’t know it at the time. “We feel like you have something to say that people would want to read,” he said to one of the most powerful voices in music. Rather than write a biography, she chose instead to narrate her life through memory, place and food in her first cookbook, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen.

That meeting became the stepping stone to the Trisha Yearwood lifestyle brand, where the music maven is hands on in the representation of her name. She’s on every call, in every meeting. She pores over reports with her accountant and is active in every step of product development. She filters through collaboration offers and retail opportunities — plenty come her way — choosing only those that feel authentic. Real. She interacts with her fans and consumers, facilitating conversations with viewers during weekly Facebook Live videos, and she doesn’t skip a beat.

Yearwood is the executive producer and host of the Emmy Award-winning Food Network series, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, now in its 10th season. She’s the author of three New York Times best-selling cookbooks and a savvy businesswoman who turned recognition and fame in the music industry into a story-telling, money-making lifestyle brand across multiple retail platforms.

Now 52, Yearwood has seen consistent growth in her business ventures over the years — a home accessories line with IMAX, a furniture collection with Klaussner, a cookware line, a signature fragrance and most recently, a curated specialty food collection with Williams Sonoma.
So it’s easy to miss that the Monticello, Georgia native is also three years into the Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood, which, after more than 350 shows, will slow down in December.

Right now, the tour has Yearwood on the road 50 percent of the time.

“The other 50 percent is split between a couple of days in your pajamas drinking coffee and reading a book, filming episodes of the cooking show and any other meetings,” she says. With quite notable warmth and wit, she’s welcomed the world into the most honest pieces of her life.

Trisha’s Southern Kitchen was the first thing that gave people a glimpse into my life and my personality,” she says. Authenticity is a theme in her business decisions. “The realness of our show — the fact that we aren’t scripted, we make mistakes and we show them — makes people feel like they could be in the kitchen with me, and that is the highest compliment that I could be paid.”

In a quest for marketers to connect with their audience, authenticity — quite inauthentically — has become an “it” word. But people and brands like Trisha Yearwood’s are connecting with consistency because the life she shares is real. Authenticity is an easy thing to talk about, but following through requires a detailed grasp of personal values and just how those values translate into your business. Yearwood succeeds here.

“The consumer, no matter what you’re buying or what you’re selling, they’re smart, and they can see if you’re involved or not. The key is to always to steer your own ship. You can have an agent, a manager, all of these people who advise you and take a percentage, but you have to be the one making decisions. I’m also a Virgo, so I want to know every single detail of my life,” she laughs.

These layers of business inspiration and deftness are credited to two strong females in her life: her mother, Gwen, and Reba McEntire, one of the first female artists to take control of her name as a business.

“Reba not only opened the door for women like me, but she taught me about work ethic,” Yearwood says. “Before her, a lot of women weren’t choosing their own songs, they weren’t getting to choose their producers, they weren’t making decisions on how they were being represented. After thirty years in the business, there’s not a woman who works harder.”

After the publishing meeting, Yearwood’s first cookbook concluded as a family project to honor her father, who passed in 2005. Her mother lost her battle with breast cancer in 2011. And both times, Yearwood has translated grief into a creative power that speaks deeply with her fans.

“What I’ve learned is that people want to hear the story, not just how you make the food,” she says. “They want to know why this recipe is important in your life. So even if the biscuit recipe is different in Montana than it is in Georgia, the power of memory is the same. There’s a connection through family that is not regional.” It’s one of the reasons she went after the Williams Sonoma deal, the culmination of a longtime dream, similar, she says, to her dream of being a singer.

what's coming up next

As her focus has steadied on branding, product launches and touring, one important dimension of Trisha Yearwood has been placed on the back burner — the recording process. A platinum-selling, multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM Award-winning recording artist, Yearwood has felt music tapping on her shoulder. It’s been three years since the release of her last album, PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit, which included a bob-and-weave between 10 classics and six new songs. Today, Yearwood is working on two music projects for 2018 and 2019.

“One is a secret,” she says, “and the other is hopefully what you’d expect from a Trisha Yearwood album.” Another cookbook is also in the works, and if you’ve learned anything from the female business savant, she’s only just begun.

When the day is done, Yearwood and Brooks spend their evenings outside, together, communicating, staring at the skyline from their North Nashville home. “You have a lot in your head, don’t you?” he asks her. She smiles. “Sometimes it’s easy to distract yourself from your own life because you have so much going on,” she says. “You’re always thinking about what you’ve got to do next. So we sit outside, and there’s no cell phones, no checking email, just sitting out there and talking.”

The Trisha Yearwood brand is more than products on a shelf. It’s personal. It has her name stamped upon it, and it’s sentimental. It reminds her, and us, of where she’s been, who she’s loved and where she has yet to go. And we care because as fans, as viewers, as consumers, we hold authenticity close.

So does she.

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