TU Songstress on the road to fame

Natalie Tidwell is in the middle of a songwriting session in Nashville when the group adjourns for a moment. The opportunity for a breath of fresh air is appreciated. She has a few minutes before the session begins again. Just enough time to answer a few questions. Tidwell speaks, recalling moments in retrospect sweet enough to illustrate one of the sultry, country tunes she writes.

Comments from her center around a love of music, a dream held and captured. When Tidwell, a graduate of the University of Tulsa, (TU), arrived on campus as a young freshman from Oklahoma City, the notes were there, in her mind. All she needed was a little inspiration and an audience.
The fact that she’d find her audience in the form of professional truck drivers seems a gentle reminder that more than the economy is dependent upon the transportation industry–that drivers are, in fact, strong and influential enough to lift even an aspiring singer to the place she most wants to be, on the radio.  

It’s a dream realized thanks to them and one of the largest temperature-controlled transportation companies in the United States, the Frozen Food Express Industries, Inc, (FFE), headquartered in Dallas, TX.

“We entered into an arrangement with Natalie in May for her to serve as the voice of FFE and to assist with various media and communication projects. She is such a genuine and talented professional. Her understanding and appreciation of the trucking industry has enabled her to connect with drivers in a way that is different from any other recruiting campaign," Sherry F. Bass, FFE Vice President of Fleet Development, said.

With a calendar of events that is quickly filling up, Tidwell is preparing for her next live appearance. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to introduce her publicly as the FFE spokesperson at the 2008 Great American Trucking Show (GATS) in Dallas, Aug. 21-23," Bass said.

At the show, Tidwell will be cross promoting her current album, titled, Sign of Things to Come, which features a number of songs she wrote, such as "Sun Kissed." She plans to utilize the album and her music talents to build notoriety for FFE and the transportation industry.

"When you think about it, professional truck drivers have a lot of windshield time. That translates into radio time. Drivers are very discerning of talent and initial promotions by Natalie have been well received by them," Bass said.

"Driver reach is amazing when you consider that one out of every 13 people working in the private sector in the United States is employed in a trucking-related job. Nearly 50,000 people attended GATS last year and attendance this year is expected to be higher. This show is an important milestone for Tidwell and FFE recruiting projects."
Helping to promote Tidwell and FFE is Tennessee based ACS Advertising Account Executive and Marketing Professional, Tia Dorris. "One of the biggest challenges for advertising agencies is to find a symbol or person to strengthen the branding position of a company. Natalie Tidwell is a perfect person for this purpose. She is talented, attractive and has a real love for interacting with people."

Her participation with the Dallas based transportation giant is expected to grow. “It’s an exciting partnership for me. We already have some podcasts, print and commercial work planned," Tidwell said.

There are a number of other perks included in the package for Tidwell, such as sponsorship of her website located at www.natalietidwell.com, where songs may be purchased and downloaded.

"Utilizing a different website from our own is a new approach in marketing, but the goal is to make FFE more visible to volumes of internet traffic that may not normally visit our site," Bass said. Along with website sponsorship, Tidwell has been engaged by the company to perform at special events.
The marketing associated with her new role is geared toward two objectives: helping the company fill open positions with quality drivers and to warm up internal relations in a more personal and original way.

Immediately following GATS, FFE has plans for Tidwell to perform during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, Aug. 24-30. "This is when America takes time to honor drivers for their hard work and commitment in tackling one of our economy’s most demanding and important jobs," Bass said. "What better way to thank our drivers than to commission someone like Natalie to serve as a public symbol of their hard work and dedication.”

Although jobless claims are high and many transportation companies are less than stable, FFE takes pride in strong positioning and being able to offer a number of opportunities, available for viewing online at www.ffeinc.com.

Lori Furnell, ACS Advertising Director of Client Services, has been measuring the campaign against the backdrop of current economic conditions. "This year has been extremely challenging for companies in the trucking industry. Fuel costs have increased and the demand for freight has decreased in some areas. FFE has always been on the cutting edge of marketing innovations and using Natalie as a spokesperson allows them to put a face and a personality out-front so that drivers, employees and customers have someone to relate to in uncertain, often tough, economic winds."

For Tidwell, who majored in marketing and graduated in 2000 from the University of Tulsa with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, it’s the chance to grab the brass ring, and further her already amazing career.

In graduate school at TU, Tidwell received a second offer to sing with Country Tonite. “I had already done it in the past in Branson and they gave me the opportunity to do it again in Pigeon Forge, TN.  I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. It gave me the facet to sing, perform and make a great living as well," Tidwell said.
Standing now, in the heart of Nashville, writing and working among some of the most talented songwriters, she continues to encourage the pursuit of higher learning and graciously describes the time she spent at TU as a wonderful, warm and inviting experience.

"The thing I liked most is that I never felt like I had to get their attention. They have a great student professor ratio and I found the academic experience rewarding,” she said.
Past professors are mentioned fondly. "I knew all of my instructors so well. It made a tremendous difference in the quality of my education,” she said.
TU is also where she met her husband, Tim Martin, a professional football player. "After college, he signed with the New England Patriots, transferred to the Miami Dolphins, and later spent some time with NFL Europe in Barcelona," Tidwell said. "He suffered a few injuries that put him out a bit, but he returned and played in arena football leagues out of Dallas, New Orleans and a few other areas before retiring. If there’s been one constant motivation for me, it’s been Tim."

The couple shares a tender, traditional tale of love and endurance. She was on the pom-pom squad and he was an athlete. She remembers their story fondly. "We met after a game one night. At the time, he had a broken foot," she said. "He liked me so much that he didn’t mind walking me all the way back to my dorm, broken foot and all. I thought it was sweet and that’s how it all started."

Tidwell and her husband return to TU for homecoming each year. Great supporters of the athletic department, they love "being among friends."  
It was not a rushed affair, by any means, when it comes to the two of them. Tidwell was 19 when she met Martin and the couple did not wed until she reached the age of 27.

"That was mainly due to our traveling," she said. "He really wanted me to go after my dream."

What is life, if there is not a dream or the courage to grab it—and Tidwell has always been brave and talented enough. Evidenced by her long list of accomplishments, she’s the type of person who can take the horse by the bit and run it.
In school, she was named a top 10 freshman, a top 10 senior, was a nominee for homecoming queen and landed in the top tier of her class in academics. She was also the captain of the dance team, a member of the Delta, Delta, Delta sorority, and sang the national anthem during athletic events.

"TU gave me the opportunity to shine. My advertising professor, Mr. Hinkle and my Marketing professor, Dr. James Cagley, were always there to help. That meant a lot to me," she said. “What other school offers that much faculty attention? That was one of the main reasons I loved TU. It was just a remarkable experience and I think most of the student body would agree when I say it is one of the best schools to attend."

As she learned the finer points of managing and marketing a career in and outside of college, Tidwell competed and performed in various talent competitions, including Star Search. Among other awards, she’s also been named the Next American Superstar on the Dave Nemo Show, in a competition co-sponsored by XM radio.

She may have blossomed in business at TU, but music was always her first priority. It’s a calling she heard at the age of five, onstage with Barbara Mandrell. She was at a concert with her parents, when Mandrell noticed her and invited the little girl onstage to perform.

"I just went up there and started singing my heart out to the song, Sleeping Single in a Double Bed. My parents knew right then and there that I was going to do that the rest of my life," she said. So, it seems.

Tidwell, as she gears up for another round of songwriting, has much to look forward to. "I’m excited about the upcoming events I have with FFE. I love one on one time with fans and having the opportunity to meet with them," she said. "Serving as the voice of FFE is turning into quite an experience. It is really wonderful. My fan base is continually growing with the nicest people you could hope to meet."

She continues, "Gaining exposure is great, but I’m doing this to help drivers and because I love to sing. I am glad the music touches the fans in a personal way. That is important to me."

The thought wraps up with a story of a new fan. "A lot of drivers contact me through the website. One particular FFE driver, who just recently sent an email, truly inspired something in me," she said.

The email, as she states, described how the driver appreciates her efforts to send a positive message about the trucking industry into the main stream public. "There is such a misconception about truck drivers. What they do is hard work. So many go above and beyond the call of duty and it‘s all in a days work for them," she said.

Russell Stubbs, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of FFE, describes trucking as a tough business, complete with its share of driver shortages and issues.
Tidwell, who grew up in Oklahoma and currently resides in Nashville, plans to utilize every opportunity she has through FFE in the next year to help enlighten the public about the transportation industry, not only through personal engagements, but in her music as well. Her husband, Tim, who works as an engineer for a construction company, is standing by her every step of the way.

As a couple who has traveled extensively, they understand the hardships truckers face. Those experiences help her connect on a deeper level with an ever-growing fan base.
"Truckers spend so much time away from their families, on the road, day in and day out to keep America going. If it were not for them, all of our lives would be different," she said. "Their continuing efforts mean so much to our daily activities. I am honored and so thankful to be in a position to help, in whatever small way possible, to lighten their load."

It’s a feeling she extends further in her song, Here you are.
“You were like a circle on the map…A destination I was told to drive to…We were touched by an angel’s wings…I know it’s true, cause baby here you are. Here you are.”

About the Author:
Tracy Crain is a creative writer with Affiliated Computer Services in Maumelle, AR and works as the media and public relations specialist for FFE. She has been a freelance writer for eight and a half years for a variety of newspapers and holds degrees in Journalism from Arkansas and completed post graduate work from the University of Memphis. To contact Tracy, please email tlcrain10@aol.com