Whiteside's appointment to the Academy comes after 23 years in the music and entertainment industries, most recently serving 6 years at the Country Music Association where he began as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships prior to being elevated to the role of Chief Marketing Officer.
In his time at CMA, Whiteside was responsible for overseeing the development of multi-million-dollar marketing and media campaigns for CMA's three annual television properties and strengthening the partnership with CMA's exclusive broadcast partner ABC Television Network and The Walt Disney Company. Additionally, Whiteside dedicated efforts to identify and build strategic partnerships with multi-platform media partners, digital companies, and Fortune 500 brands. Notable accomplishments include increased ratings for the monumental 53rd annual CMA Awards in November 2019, his leadership role in the year-long campaign for "The 50th Annual CMA Awards" and the groundbreaking "Forever Country" single and music video campaign; serving as the lead Country strategist for the release of the Ken Burns Country Music documentary; award-winning creative campaigns positioning CMA Awards as the leader in music awards shows; the launch of CMA Brand Marketing Summits in New York, Toronto and London; dramatic growth across CMA digital platforms; the launch of CMA's content creation efforts; integrated media partnerships with top digital/DSPs, radio, and cable television partners; re-branding of CMA Music Festival and Fan Fair X; 40% increase in annual sponsorship revenue; supporting the CMA Board of Directors' expansion of international efforts; overall re-tooling of CMA Marketing, Research, Communications and Strategic Partnerships teams to better serve the needs of the Country Music industry.
Whiteside's diverse, multi-media career began in 1996 at The Walt Disney Company. There he was regarded as a marketing and partnerships innovator with a strong reputation for generating marketing value, incremental revenue, and longevity of music, film, TV, and live entertainment franchises. He was responsible for award-winning marketing, creative productions, live events, and digital partnership programs during his tenure with numerous Disney-owned companies including Disney Music Group, The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Channel, and Disney Consumer Products. Some of his notable accomplishments include leading multi-platform marketing and partnership campaigns that achieved more than 100 No. 1 films, TV series, album releases and concert tours. This success was driven by Whiteside's ability to work in partnership with artists, labels, producers and talent representatives in Country, Pop, Adult Contemporary, R&B, Jazz, and New Age to deliver best-in-class marketing and creative productions for countless superstar-level artists and was instrumental in launching the music careers of some of today's most successful artists. In addition, he developed brand and retail strategies for the world's largest film and TV franchises, including Hannah Montana, High School Musical, Cars, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mickey Mouse, Disney Princess and more, each generating more than $3 billion in retail sales. He secured over $100MM annually in media value through brand partnerships and broadcast marketing efforts with top networks including ABC, ABC Family, CMT, MTV, VH-1, Disney Channel, ESPN, HGTV, GAC, PBS, VH1, and many more. In the business and corporate development arena, Whiteside engineered innovative product development and strategic partnership programs that drove Walt Disney Records annual revenues by more than 500 percent to gain a #1 independent record company ranking by Billboard. He also served on Disney's Corporate Brand Management and Synergy Executive Committees, which identified and set strategy for the top franchise and marketing priorities across the Company. There he represented the three Disney Music Group labels which included Walt Disney Records, Hollywood Records, and Lyric Street Records in integration of artists into Disney-wide initiatives.
In 2011, Whiteside formed Nomad Entertainment Group in Hollywood, CA, where he represented multi-genre music artists, producers and songwriters, and developed marketing and digital campaigns, brand strategy, and partnerships for entertainment brand clients.
Whiteside's professional affiliations have included Leadership Music, NARAS, Music Business Association, Digital LA, CMO Club, LA Office, American Marketing Association and Promotion Marketing Association. His current Board positions include the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Nashville Cares and the TJ Martell Foundation. In 2013 he completed the Executive Program at the renowned UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Lyndsay Cruz, a seasoned professional experienced in engaging celebrities in charitable affairs, began her career as a political appointee under George W. Bush's White House where she worked as an Advance Representative for the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Treasury and the Vice President. She then went on to the international non-profit Oxfam America, where she created and managed their first-ever public figures ambassador program for 13 years. She left Oxfam to independently consult for a number of non-profit organizations, including two of the most successful fundraisers in New Orleans' history, including leading the talent team of Brad Pitt's Make It Right Galas in 2012 and 2014, and other major events and fundraising efforts for The Malala Fund, Emily's List, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Girl Rising, The World Bank, Harlem Village Academies and many others.
She brings expertise from a range of fields, specifically talent outreach and recruitment, media and public relations, and logistics management to the newly created role of ACM Lifting Lives Executive Director. Cruz will lead and collaborate with stakeholders to further the mission of improving lives through the power of music, and execute ACM Lifting Lives 501(c)(3) California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, as well as organizational relationships, to meet qualifying needs.
Alexa Fasheh first joined the Academy staff as Director of Finance in 2011. A Los Angeles native, Fasheh graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in accounting. She then went on to work as an accountant for a variety of CPA firms, including the Haber Corporation where she spent 5 years as the ACM's outside accountant before joining the ACM staff full-time.
In her role as Vice President of Finance & Operations, Fasheh oversees the Academy's finances and benefits packages, as well as credentials for the ACM Awards. She reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy.
Jen Heaton, a California native, joined the Academy of Country Music in 2017, most recently serving as Director, Strategic Partnerships and now elevated to Vice President. In her time at the Academy, Heaton grew existing partnerships and continues to expand the Academy’s footprint with corporate partners. Recent endeavors for Heaton include renewing partnerships with Ford, 1000 Stories Wine and Dr Pepper, in addition to creating new relationships with brands such as Crown Royal, T-Mobile and AT&T. Heaton’s efforts in 2020 focused on supporting fundraising for the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund and collaborating to launch a national vaccine PSA campaign with the Ad Council. Prior to her time at ACM, Heaton worked with Arizona Diamondbacks in both Sales and Corporate Partnerships where she oversaw contracts and executed activations with the team. Heaton graduated from University of Arizona where she studied Communications and Business. Heaton currently resides in California with her husband and their new addition, Zoe.
In her role as Vice President, Heaton will continue to plan and execute the ACM and ACM Lifting Lives® partners programs—including identifying, cultivating and developing new sponsors across industries and developing a multi-year partnership strategy. She reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy.
Rory Levine joins the Academy of Country Music as Vice President, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement from a career leading and growing some of the most resonant media brands. Most recently, he led all consumer recruitment and registration efforts for The Atlantic’s acclaimed events business, supporting a robust slate of 150+ premiere live journalism events staged all across the U.S. Prior to that, he notably served as Vice President, Marketing and Audience Engagement at Viacom’s country music and lifestyle cable television network CMT, heading all consumer-facing advertising campaigns, promotional partnerships, and social media activation, notably including the successful migration and relaunch of the fan-favorite music drama series Nashville for its two final seasons and nearly 40 all new episodes. Levine has also run marketing and communications at U.S. cable TV channel BBC America, including launching breakout original series Orphan Black and guiding the remarkably successful rejuvenation and American ascendency of historic sci-fi title Doctor Who through its iconic 50th anniversary global celebration, and for historic arts non-profit AIGA, the Professional Association for Design. Over the last year, he has worked as a marketing and brand strategy consultant for a variety of celebrated businesses, including the Grand Ole Opry, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red restaurants, public-private partnership state organization Launch Tennessee, and user-generated content showcase tool TINT. He hails from the Hudson Valley of New York state and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
In his role at the Academy, Levine oversees brand marketing and positioning, communications and publicity, digital and social community engagement, creative and content, and advertising and paid media planning. Levine reports to Damon Whiteside, the CEO of the Academy.
As Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance, Moore spearheads artist communication and engagement within the Academy. He also directs the overall Board communication of ACM, in addition to managing ticketing for all ACM events. He supervises all Academy membership operations, in addition to Awards voting and processes. Finally, he was a founding member of the Academy’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, and now oversees all the Academy’s DEI initiatives.
Atlanta-born and Chicago-raised, Moore attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where he graduated with a degree in Broadcasting and Electronic Communications. His life-long love for Country Music dovetailed professionally with an early job in country radio at WMIL-FM in Milwaukee, where he worked as a morning show production assistant. Moore joined the Academy in 2011, where he most recently served as Senior Director, Governance & Board Administration, a position that was absorbed into his current expanded role. He reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy.
He is a Leadership Music alumnus, class of 2022. 2021 Billboard Pride List. Named to ‘Next Big Thing – Rising Executives List 2019’ in MusicRow Magazine. SOLID alumnus, class of 2014.
Atlanta-born and Tennessee-raised, Campbell first joined the Academy in 2015, most recently serving as Senior Video Manager, Creative & Content. Campbell graduated from Middle Tennessee State University where he studied Electronic Media Communications with a focus on single camera production. Prior to joining the Academy, Campbell spent six years freelancing in Nashville on various awards shows and joined Hunter Hayes' team as a full-time videographer for three years. During his time at the Academy, Campbell has contributed to media campaigns for the Academy and its partners CBS and dick clark productions to promote the ACM Awards, ACM Honors and ACM Lifting Lives, among other Academy initiatives.
In his role as Director, Creative & Content, Campbell will tap into his extensive video production experience, overseeing creative strategy, development and content production, heavily supporting Marketing and Partnership initiatives with original content, as well as collaborating with Digital Strategy & Engagement to develop cutting-edge social-native content. Campbell reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO.
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 steers 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.
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 leads and manages 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.
A Chicago native, Melissa Moldovan joined the Academy in 2015, fresh off a four-year stint at the nationally syndicated radio show The Big Time with Whitney Allen, where she worked as an assistant producer and fill-in co-host while simultaneously developing the show's social media marketing strategy. Her work there led to the creation of a social media staff position, which Moldovan undertook in addition to her other roles. Once she joined the Academy of Country Music, Moldovan has been an integral part in leading on all publicity, marketing, radio and promotional efforts throughout her past six years.
In her role as Director, Moldovan executes and oversees all media relations, radio promotions, and leads on Academy and ACM Lifting Lives press materials. Additionally, Moldovan will oversee media relations and radio promotions while the 57th ACM Awards makes its live debut on Amazon Prime Video, marking the first time a major awards show will stream live. Moldovan will also lead those same efforts on Academy of Country Music Honors, ACM Party for a Cause events, ACM Lifting Lives events, red carpets, and work closely with the marketing and events teams. With the support of her department, PR Task Force and Radio Task Force, she will also work to create new and strategic initiatives to benefit the Academy of Country Music entity. Moldovan reports to Rory Levine, VP, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
Born and raised in Reading, MA, just north of Boston, Lanni (Gagnon) Niggli first joined the Academy full time in December 2017 as Coordinator, Events. Niggli attended Ithaca College where she received a bachelor’s degree in Communication, Management, and Design. During her final year at Ithaca, she participated in the Ithaca College Los Angeles program and interned for the Academy. As an intern, she assisted the Events department with planning and logistics for the 50th Annual ACM Awards that took place at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Upon completion of her internship, she went on to work in the events industry in Los Angeles, gaining further experience in entertainment, nonprofit, and corporate events. She also continued to freelance for the Academy, joining the events team on-site for the 51st and 52nd ACM Award shows.
In her role as Director, Niggli oversees the planning and logistics for the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause events, including event production, budgets, security, health and safety, red carpet, transportation, food and beverage and partnership fulfillment. With the support of her department and the events committee, she also works to create new and strategic event initiatives that will benefit both the ACM community and ACM Lifting Lives. Niggli reports to Alexa Fasheh, VP, Finance & Operations.
Originally from Petaluma, CA, Stessman spent four years on the East Coast where she studied broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University. Following that, Stessman kept busy with internships at NBC's Affiliate Marketing Department, The Meredith Vieira Show and The TODAY Show, as well as the Academy of Country Music, where she supported the Events team for the Academy's historic 50th Anniversary in Texas. She joined the Academy in Fall 2016 as Assistant, Events, following an internship during the historic 50th Anniversary ACM Awards show in Texas, and has since held the titles Coordinator, Events; and Manager, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance with the organization.
In her role as Director, Artist & Industry Relations and Board & Governance, Stessman focuses on building and developing relations across the ACM staff, ACM Board of Directors, and the Country Music industry, focusing heavily on talent strategies for the Academy, as well as championing opportunities to maintain the Academy's West Coast presence and history while exploring new relationships and opportunities in Nashville. She also books artist visits at the Academy’s new Nashville headquarters and serves as talent manager for select ACM and ACM Lifting Lives live events. Additionally, she organizes the Leadership Development and ACM Board election process while continuing to execute the Academy’s quarterly Board meetings. Stessman reports to Tommy Moore, Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance.
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 manages 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 also manages additional meetings, ancillary events and activations throughout the year. She reports to Lanni (Gagnon) Niggli, Director, Events.
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 manages and activatse partnerships for the Academy and manages relationships with key strategic partners, communicates sponsorship needs internally, and secures new respective ACM brand partners. She also oversees brand activations and sponsorship at the ACM Awards. She reports to Jen Heaton, VP, Strategic Partnerships.
Born in Kokomo, Ind. and raised in both Shelby Township, Mich. and Allentown, Pa., Libby Gardner first joined the Academy full-time in 2019 as Coordinator, Creative & Content. Gardner attended Syracuse University where she received a bachelor's degree in Television, Radio, and Film. During her time at Syracuse, Gardner interned at the Academy in the Creative department and following her graduation in 2018, continued working for the Academy as a freelance field producer. Gardner has also worked as a production assistant on numerous television shows, ranging from an Investigation Discovery true crime series to the talk show, The Doctors.
In her role as Manager, Gardner oversees the day-to-day management of the Academy's website properties, photo archives, and A-List email blasts and serves as assistant editor of ACM Tempo. Gardner also acts as a field producer for the Academy's in-house video content and supervises both the digital and print creative content distributed by the Academy. Gardner reports to Brandon Campbell, Director, Creative & Content.
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 supports 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 drafts press materials and works 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.
Originally from Huntsville, Alabama,Haley Montgomery joins the Academy of Country Music as Manager, Awards & Membership. Previous stops for Montgomery include Opry Entertainment Group as Manager for the Artist & Label Relations team, where she served as a liaison between artists’ teams and the various properties across the OEG portfolio (Grand Ole Opry, Circle, Ole Red, Ryman). Montgomery also spent three years working on the strategic partnership team at the Country Music Association (CMA). There, she managed the assets owed to CMA’s 50+ brand partners across the team for all of their tent pole events. In addition, she negotiated and managed partners of her own. Her previous accounts have included Vera Bradley, Playstation, Crocs, KIND bars, Philosophy, Rent the Runway, Monster, Cracker Barrel and more. Montgomery also owned all industry facing events for the department which included CMA’s annual Brand Marketing Summit, CMA’s presence at the Licensing Expo in Vegas, and PartnerSips. In her role as Manager, Montgomery is responsible for supporting all initiatives and development of the Academy’s membership, as well as spearheads the Awards & Voting processes. Montgomery reports to Tommy Moore, Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations and Board & Governance.
Born and raised in Brentwood, Tenn., Wolf attended Pepperdine University where she received a bachelor's degree in Science of Psychology. Following her graduation, Wolf pursued an opportunity at in the human resources department at Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare. She has also worked as a digital content contractor prior to her move to the ACM. Wolf joined the Academy under two years ago as Coordinator, ACM Lifting Lives.
Wolf reports to Lyndsay Cruz, Executive Director, Lifting Lives.
Raised in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Brittany Uhniat attended college at Belmont University and began her career in the music industry at Words and Music, under Big Deal Music, as a publishing administration coordinator. Before joining the Academy, she served as a creative coordinator at Resin8 Music, where she was responsible for handling artist relations, social media, and graphic content creation. Uhniat is an alumna of SOLID and served on the board of directors as the social co-chair in 2019.
In her role as Coordinator, Uhniat assists in scheduling and managing video shoots and other content productions. She also assists with the day-to-day management of the Academy’s content platforms, including websites, quarterly membership magazine ACM TEMPO, and more. Uhniat reports to Brandon Campbell, Director, Content & Creative.
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.
Born and raised in Palm City, Florida, Michael Stern attended Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. Stern worked at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and interned with the Academy of Country Music’s Events team beginning in January 2022. After the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards, he stayed on as an intern, assisting both the Events and Artist and Industry Relations teams.
In his role as Office Manager, Stern manages logistics for the Academy’s new Nashville headquarters in the Nashville Warehouse Co. building in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, as well as assists with event operations for the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, ACM Party for a Cause, and ACM Board Meetings. Stern reports to Alexa Fasheh, VP, Finance and Operations.
Originally from Watkins Glen, New York, Alexis Bingham graduated from Ithaca College where she studied communication management and design. During her time at Ithaca College, she was a student event manager as well as commencement intern on campus and an events intern for the 56th ACM Awards and 14th Academy of Country Music Honors. In her role, Bingham supports the events team with several projects surrounding the planning of the ACM Awards, ACM Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause. She also assists the department with various needs, and any other internal or external events that occur throughout the year. Bingham reports to Lanni (Gagnon) Niggli, Director, Events.