WATCH: How McMenamins Brings People Together Through The Power of Music

Nothing brings people together quite like cold drinks and live music. For Mike and Brian McMenamin, opening up a pub in Portland back in 1983 brought the local community together – and those two key elements were at the heart of it all.

What started as one pub quickly grew into 54 locations and a family affair, as Mike and Brian’s children began to take leadership roles at McMenamins Pubs and Breweries. As their team continued to grow and as they began hosting more live concerts, it was evident that the brother’s original shared passion for tunes and brews created a rocking network.

Then March of 2020 came around, and things changed – almost overnight.

We recently sat down with two creatives from the McMenamins team – Kathleen Nyberg, Photographer and Multimedia Producer, and Kelly Frazier, Social Media Manager, to hear about this brand’s big shift, starting on St. Patrick’s Day, their ‘holiest day of the year.’ Watch their session from 20/21 Vision: The Collaboration Summit below to hear how this lean team got creative during lockdown and persevered through the power of music.

The Situation

In 2014, Kathleen Nyberg joined the McMenamins team and inherited 25 years of content on a few scattered hard drives. With years of experience under her belt and an excited willingness to get organized, she joined as their Photographer and Multimedia Producer. “This is kind of my dream job, I have to say. Everything I had done in my career previously are things that I was able to do for McMenamins.”

When Kelly Frazier joined the team four years later, the two creatives had no shortage of content to produce and many events to cover. The newly created role of Social Media Manager was perfect for Kelly, who was given the liberty to experiment and use her experience to bring fresh ideas to the table.

Kelly told us, “We’re the two content creators for the company and we get to create content that aligns with our core values and our business goals, whether that’s brand awareness on social, selling tickets to concerts, brew fests, or other events.”

Fast forward to St. Patrick’s Day, 2020 and the McMenamins team (like so many other creative teams) faced several serious challenges. As more information became available to the public about COVID-19, bars and venues had to close, and the safety and happiness of their dedicated community became their top priority.

Known for converting historic buildings into hotels, distilleries and music venues, McMenamins had to halt their brick and mortar business and quickly rely on e-commerce and roadside pickups. There was no denying that the looming concerns about mandatory social distancing forced their team to pivot.

With all of the precautions taking place in the hospitality and entertainment industries, layoffs across the company and the lack of live music creating a serious “point of tension” at McMenamins, it was time to get creative, collaborate and think differently.

So how did they make it work when so many people were missing the community aspect of their local venues and the music that brought them all together?

When trying to figure out what they could do to bring music back to McMenamins, they simply looked up to the sky.

The Solution

Over the course of various lockdowns, people all over the world took to their balconies to cheer with gratitude for healthcare workers and spend time outside together any way they could. With this in mind, the McMenamins team began experimenting with live concerts on their balconies in support of the nurses and musicians, and in celebration of the friends and families who were missing the music.

The Dance on Air Concert Series was born! In an effort to bring people together and gather tips for the artists while things were closed down, Kathleen, Kelly and their team began planning and covering more outdoor and virtual events, collaborating with the proper precautions to make magic happen. The results were electric.

“We received so much positivity from viewers and from artists. It became quite an emotional project, with people expressing their gratitude for live music,” Kelly told us. “You can see here, some of the comments – one of which is saying, ‘Watching live from Tokyo,’ so even though it felt like such an intimate experience between just a couple people in this huge empty ballroom or on the side of the building, people were watching from all over and it really started to make the connection feel much larger.”

Using social media livestreams as a way to reach a more global audience worked in their favor, and the McMenamins team began seeing it as an opportunity to connect with their audiences during this difficult time.

Other employees took to Facebook and Instagram Live as well to interact with their followers, keeping spirits high and drinks pouring.

Through it all, PhotoShelter was the perfect solution for their shifting visual storytelling strategy.

“I had been using PhotoShelter for years, so that was the very first thing I did, was establish that archive and start building it and keywording,” Kathleen explained. “I knew that would allow so much more time for me to actually do what I love, which is the storytelling part; other than digging for photos every time somebody needed something, so that’s just been a game-changer for us.”

With years and years of content loaded up in their PhotoShelter archive, ready to be reused and repurposed, Kathleen and Kelly were prepared to tell stories and share images all throughout lockdown.

#McMenaminsAtHome became a way for their brand to collaborate and engage with their fans and followers. Live cocktail demonstrations on social media brought their team into the homes of their passionate community. And sharing the history of McMenamins and their iconic locations was a fun way to reactivate decades-old photography and educate their audiences.

As the year went on, tapping into their PhotoShelter archive, collaborating internally and with the music-loving Oregonians became a refuge for the McMenamins brand. Pivoting may have become an overused buzzword, but with a collective love for cold drinks and live music, this creative team pivoted with poise, passion and purpose.

Dig into the details and watch their on-demand summit session to go behind the scenes with  Kathleen and Kelly.

WATCH: How McMenamins Brings People Together Through The Power of Music is written by Jeremy Berkowitz for

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