By Kasy Long
Feb 1, 2023
Denise L. Bennett, ‘01, remembers the first time she watched music videos on MTV.
Launched in 1981, MTV originally focused on airing music videos hosted by television personalities known as video jockeys, or VJs. Growing up in the 1980s, Bennett enjoyed the entertainment offered by MTV’s music videos. The network resonated with audiences; as Bennett grew older, she wondered if she could work there someday.
By the time she graduated high school, Bennett knew a degree in music business would be her golden ticket to MTV.
After researching schools, she was drawn to Indiana State’s music business program and 100 percent job placement rate. While visiting campus, she expressed her interest in working at MTV. Professor Emeritus James Slutz [who passed away in 2019] emphasized to Bennett that the University’s networking opportunities would help her achieve that goal. He told her, “I’ll get you there [to MTV].”
Years later, she proved Slutz correct.
Bennett pursued a bachelor’s degree in music business administration – a program that merges business and musical expertise. Students learn the ins and outs of the music business industry, including important topics like music copyright, contracts, management, arts administration, music merchandising, venue management, and working with record labels. Bennett’s course of study was also strengthened by real-world courses on artist relations, marketing, and communicating with target audiences.
During her education at Indiana State, Bennett also played a variety of instruments, including the piano, bassoon, and cello steel drum. A classically trained pianist, she is a proud musician at heart. So it was always “meant to be,” she says, for her to pursue a future in music and entertainment.
More than 20 years later, Bennett remains grateful for the education she received as a Sycamore, and she still proudly reflects on her years at Indiana State. She was an active leader on campus – a member of the Indiana State Music Industry Association, the Indiana State Sparkettes dance team, Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She was also named Miss Ebony in the 2000 ISU Miss Ebony pageant.
“I built relationships with my professors and peers [at Indiana State]. I was told from the beginning that my education would help me find a job, so I came to school as a curious learner,” she says.
Indiana State’s music business administration program requires students to complete a six-month internship. Bennett did her internship at Viacom’s [now Paramount] VH1 Save The Music. Following graduation, she remained with Viacom and spent nearly nine years in various consumer and marketing roles for the company, including working for Noggin/The N and Comedy Central, before eventually fulfilling her childhood dream by working at MTV.
Today, she is Vice President of Brand Strategy at iHeartMedia, a media company specializing in radio broadcasting, podcasting, and hosting digital and live events. Bennett’s multicultural marketing solutions benefit brands partnering with iHeartMedia’s portfolio, including AT&T and Lowe’s.
Prior to her current position at iHeartMedia, Bennett also worked in marketing roles at NBCUniversal, the National Basketball Association, TV One, and WarnerMedia. Throughout her roles, she has consistently identified ways to connect with audiences and help brands communicate with their audiences.
“My goal is to always have authenticity with my work [at iHeartMedia]. It has been important for me to incorporate inclusive leadership and make inclusivity an everyday routine,” Bennett says.
That’s the advice she gives students at Fordham University and New York University as an adjunct professor of business communications and marketing. Bennett wants to be a positive role model for young students who are getting started in their careers — just like the professors who assisted her at Indiana State. She helps students understand brands and how to message specific target audiences.
“I also want to push them to understand who they are and how to be effective communicators,” Bennett says. As she notes, the music entertainment business is ever-changing, and it’s important for marketing and communications professionals to be adaptive to change. “I’ve witnessed the evolution of consumers — from before social media and podcasts to today’s culture. Generations have changed. Trends have changed. I make an effort to learn as much as I can.”
Bennett advises students and young professionals to be honest about where they want to go in their careers. The Sycamore knew she wanted to work in the music and entertainment business industry, and she never gave up on her dreams.
“Continue to always be the person someone wants to hire. Be a resource for others. Build relationships — and not only with executives but with your peers. Relationships go a long way,” Bennett says.
Connecting with today’s audiences is one of the most crucial tasks for any marketing professional. With iHeartMedia’s diverse audience, Bennett must be creative with her approach. Luckily, she always goes above and beyond the call to reach her goals — not only for herself but for her clients and her team. Because real leaders wear BLUE!