Lori Kraft Hired as Director, Brand Creative & Design
Steve Mekler Hired as Director, Brand Marketing & Partnerships
Jennifer Davis Hired as Manager, Events
Rebecca Fisher Hired as Manager, Strategic Partnerships
Jesse Knutson Hired as Manager, Publicity & Media Relations
Kristan Pridgen Hired as Executive Assistant to the CEO 

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NASHVILLE, TN (February 18, 2022) – The Academy of Country Music® is announcing new hires across several departments. Lori Kraft has joined the staff as Director, Brand Creative & Design; Steve Mekler has joined as Director, Brand Marketing & Partnerships; Jennifer Davis has joined as Manager, Events; Rebecca Fisher has joined as Manager, Strategic Partnerships; Jesse Knutson has joined as Manager, Publicity & Media Relations and Kristan Pridgen has joined as Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive, Officer Damon Whiteside.  

Lori Kraft joins the Academy as Director, Brand Creative & Design. Kraft’s background in design includes US Weekly, Field & Stream and Better Home & Gardens, among other national magazine brands. Most recently, she served as a freelance Art Director for several clients including Ryman Hospitality and Big Machine Music, as well as several creative agencies. Originally from New Jersey, Kraft received her bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Monmouth University. 

In her role, she will steer the overall visual branding and identity of the organization, as well as major programmatic and live event tentpoles like the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause, and work closely with the Director of Content and Manager of Digital and Social Media to strategize support media and content strategies. She reports to Rory Levine, VP, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement and can be reached here

Steve Mekler joins the Academy after more than three years with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum where he served as Senior Digital Manager, overseeing creative and marketing for owned properties and assisting with content strategies for multiplatform marketing campaigns. Over those three years, Mekler simultaneously founded and serves as Creative Director at Stove Creative, collaborating with dozens of clients in a global marketplace. Previous stops include L3 Entertainment and BBR Music Group.  

In his role, Mekler will lead and manage the Academy’s organic promotional reach through both traditional and unexpected partnerships and collaborate heavily with the marketing and creative departments to develop and maintain a clear brand identity for the Academy. He reports to Rory Levine, VP, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement and can be reached here

Born and raised in Westchester, New York, Jennifer Davis attended Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT where she received her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Marketing. Upon graduation, she went on to work in the events industry, planning various non-profit and corporate galas throughout New York City with event firm Buckley Hall Events. Davis then shifted to the venue side of the business and was on the special events team at Madison Square Garden, coordinating a portfolio of network television upfronts, the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards, television and film Shoots, NYU graduations, and more at MSG venues including Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre, Hulu Theater at MSG, Chicago Theatre, and MSG Arena. Prior to joining the Academy, she more recently led VIP & Fan Experience and Events for FirstBank Amphitheater’s inaugural concert season in Franklin, TN, after her big move from New York City to Nashville in January 2021.  


In her role as Manager, Davis will manage venue logistics and event operations for the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause events, including red carpet, credentials, health and safety, budgets, décor, signage, transportation, food and beverage, partnership fulfillment and talent details. With the support of her department and the events committee, she will also manage additional meetings, ancillary events and activations throughout the year. She reports to Lanni (Gagnon) Niggli, Director, Events and can be reached here

Born and raised in Modesto, California, Rebecca Fisher graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Upon graduation, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked with innovative companies Workday and Experian, managing client relations and customer marketing for Fortune 500 companies. In 2017, Fisher joined Taillight in Nashville, TN, a leading production company specializing in commercials, branded content, live television programming, and music videos. Fisher created campaigns for major brands including Kleenex, Cottonelle, Ram Trucks, Camping World, and many more. During her time at Taillight, she had the pleasure of working on ACM Party for a Cause, producing a one-hour musical countdown to the awards show on Facebook Live.  


In her role as Manager, Fisher will manage and activate partnerships for the Academy and will manage relationships with key strategic partners, communicate sponsorship needs internally, and secure new respective ACM brand partners. She will also oversee brand activations and sponsorship at the 57th ACM Awards, livestreaming exclusively on Prime Video. She reports to Jen Heaton, VP, Strategic Partnerships and can be reached here

A Seattle native, Jesse Knutson is a multi-Emmy Award winning journalist who has worked in both producing and reporting roles for TV stations in Los Angeles, Seattle, Harrisburg, PA, and, most recently, Nashville, where he covered the entertainment industry while reporting for NewsChannel 5 (WTVF), bringing the latest industry news to Tennessee through broadcast, social media, and online avenues. During his time in Nashville, Knutson covered numerous Academy events, including the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Lifting Lives.  


In his role as Manager, Knutson will support publicity and media relations efforts for the Academy of Country Music. Those responsibilities include publicity, media plans, promotional efforts, and strategies for raising awareness and coverage of the ACM Awards, ACM Party for a Cause events, ACM Lifting Lives events and red carpets. Knutson will draft press materials and work closely with the marketing and events teams on logistics of red carpets and liaising with photographers, as well as organizational and programmatic priorities for the Academy. Knutson reports to Melissa Moldovan, Director, Communications, Media Relations & Radio and can be reached here

A Nashville native and twenty-five-year veteran of the Country Music business, Kristan Pridgen recently joined the Academy, following a twelve-year stint at William Morris Endeavor having served in a number of roles at the respected talent booking agency. Pridgen has also worked at a number of esteemed entertainment companies including Capital Christian Music Group, Country Music Association, Country Music Media Group, Viacom’s CMT, and Spectra Presents. She joins the Academy of Country Music having led communications, marketing and sales efforts as well as executive assistance for several prominent music industry companies and initiatives. Boasting collaborations with some of the most acclaimed artists and performers in the format, Pridgen looks forward to helping continue the remarkable growth efforts of the Academy to expand the global reach of the brand. 

In her role as Executive Assistant, she will provide administrative support to the CEO, Board of Directors and Executive Team. She reports directly to CEO of the Academy, Damon Whiteside, and can be reached here

“With the ACM Awards just weeks away, there couldn’t be a better time to continue expanding our team with the additions of Lori, Steve, Jennifer, Becca, Jesse, and Kristan,” said Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy of Country Music. “Every new member of our team is already making an impact and bringing a unique set of skills to the Academy. Their passion and enthusiasm will no doubt help the Academy reach new levels of success for our members and the Country Music community as a whole.”

PHOTO CAPTION #1: Lori Kraft, Director, Brand Creative & Design

PHOTO CAPTION #2: Steve Mekler, Director, Brand Marketing & Partnerships

PHOTO CAPTION #3: Jennifer Davis, Manager, Events

PHOTO CAPTION #4: Rebecca Fisher, Manager, Strategic Partnerships

PHOTO CAPTION #5: Jesse Knutson, Manager, Publicity & Media Relations

PHOTO CAPTION #6: Kristan Pridgen, Executive Assistant to the CEO

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Academy of Country Music