Can You Sell Without the Stupid?

Short of hiding in a cave, my efforts to avoid the granular, 24-hour media coverage of that festering pus of a fake presidential campaign have proved fruitless. It’s on all 26 televisions at my gym, projecting the orange-haired narcissist and his purposely inflammatory ramblings.

I’d be interested to hear from psychologists and psychiatrists whether my use of the word narcissist in this case is simply understatement or an actual clinical diagnosis. It does appear that we are witnessing the sad spectacle of real mental illness unfolding before us. According to opinion polls – which themselves are a form of mental illness 65 weeks before an actual election – a quarter of one segment of the electorate gives this bizarre reality show the thumbs up.

It’s a cliché at this point that stupid sells, that outlandishly juvenile behavior is fun to watch, that awful judgment is entertaining, that no one can look away from the train wreck. We’ve had grammar school beauty pageant contestants and developmentally-stunted New Jersey stereotypes and a silver spoon family so utterly bereft of talent or insight but redolent of breast tissue that their massive celebrity seems almost inevitable.

But even the cultural realists are having trouble wrapping our heads around a lowest common denominator presidential campaign, even if we know that it’s a cynical attempt to boost business and provide more fodder for an area-code sized ego. Surely, we would have thought, we at least want our presidents to be dignified and possess an intellect above the Real Housewives line.

It makes you wonder, if you’re trying to sell a historical site to tourists, or technology solutions, or real estate, how you can compete with the lunatics without becoming one of them. Can smart, segmented, integrated marketing communications, with well-targeted and media-specific messaging really triumph in the public mind against this miasma of cognitive deprivation?

Thankfully, of course it can. In fact, that’s still ultimately the only way to win in the marketplace. The media sensations listed above have mostly evaporated; you can only watch a train wreck for so long before the novelty is gone and it’s just plain grisly. Even the presidential sideshow will eventually wear itself out as Americans begin paying attention to the candidates – roughly four weeks before the actual election.

Henry Mencken was almost certainly right, that “no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” But eventually even plain people act in their own best interests, so that if you sell the right thing to the right people, they will buy it. Yeah, I know, there’s a plethora of data points to support Mencken: pet rocks, 15 fast food chains, vaccinations causing autism, ambulance-chasing lawyers, $100 ripped jeans, Toys for Tots, supermarket tabloids, Windows 8, the South Carolina “educational” lottery, and on and on. But that’s a mere drop in the marketplace bucket, where trillions of transactions are consummated every day.

The explosion of technology and the ongoing degradation of culture will continue apace, but neither changes the core dynamics of marketing: find out what people want, give it to them and make sure they know about it. As you and I prove everyday (okay, maybe just you do) matching the product or service to the audience, medium, method and message, and doing it all as much and as creatively as possible, that’s the only sure formula for success.

But if that fails, it’s good to know that mental illness is your backup plan.

–barry waldman

Thanks for a Great Year as Prez

Wow, my year as Charleston AMA president went so quickly! What an honor it’s been to serve as chapter president for the 2014-2015 term. I’ll admit I was nervous at the start of my year. Suddenly all chapter decisions rested on my shoulders. So many people had worked so hard over the years to launch, build and grow this chapter, and I certainly didn’t want to mess it up. A year later, the c2015 Spark Awardshapter is still intact (whew!).

One of the hardest things about being chapter president is figuring out realistic and achievable goals for your year as president. Ideas are limitless, and I knew our chapter could do so much more. I wanted to move our chapter forward and had no fewer than 50 ideas. But, let’s be real, I have a full-time job and a family (as does the rest of the board). Time to narrow down that list of 50 to three key items.

With a theme of “Flexing Our Marketing Muscles” (a nod to my love of CrossFit), I started my term in July 2014 with these goals:

  • Strengthen membership – both adding new members while giving current members more value so they renew their membership year after year.
  • Grow the annual Spark! Awards – increase entries, streamline the process and add more clout to the awards program.
  • Become Charleston’s go-to marketing resource.

As I reflect on the past year, I feel good about those goals. Of course, we can always do better. We can always do more.

Yet in 2014-2015, we:

  • Launched our first special interest group. We partnered with BoomTown on a quarterly real estate marketing coffee talk that draws about 15 people each time. Now, we’re looking at adding a second niche group in fall 2015.
  • Grew the Spark! Awards. We had a record number of entries (almost 90) and a terrific awards ceremony. We revamped the categories, streamlined the entry process and kept entry fees free for members. This event now has a solid base so we can grow it even more in 2016.
  • Won top place in our chapter size category for new member growth as part of the American Marketing Association’s Spring 2015 Acquisition Campaign Contest.
  • Had some really amazing Signature Luncheons on such topics as social media, the marketing power of Yelp, TV advertising, pay per click and lead generation, mobile apps and more. More than 50 people signed up for the May and June luncheons.
  • Hosted fun networking events like our fall Brew & Chew plus a Hawaiian-themed spring happy hour.
  • Created some chapter marketing materials such as pens and coffee mugs for our speakers.

Charleston AMAAnd those are just a few of the many highlights. The board of directors is a hard-working group and it’s a pleasure to lead the chapter with these people. I feel good about our chapter and consider it to be the resource for marketing, PR and creative professionals in the Charleston area.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to flex our AMA muscle this year!

~ Holly A. Fisher

P.S. And … I gave AMA a totally fun First Gentleman. 😉

Charleston AMA Happy Hour


Charleston AMA Wins Spring Membership Contest

CAMA LogoThe Charleston Chapter of the American Marketing Association won the top place in its size category for new member growth as part of the American Marketing Association’s Spring 2015 Acquisition Campaign Contest.

During the contest period, the Charleston Chapter acquired 13 new members – an 11.4 percent increase. The chapter has 114 members. For its efforts, the chapter receives two professional memberships.

The Charleston AMA Chapter, founded in 2007, hosts monthly Signature Luncheons on a variety of marketing topics as well as networking events and quarterly coffee talks focused on niche marketing areas. It also hosts an annual Marketing Bootcamp, which this year is scheduled for July 30 at the Historic Rice Mill.

“Marketers looking to connect with like-minded professionals, grow in their professional development and succeed in their careers will find no better value than the Charleston AMA Chapter,” said Holly A. Fisher, chapter president and owner of H.A.F. Creative. “This award is not only a testament to our hard-working board and volunteers but to what we bring to the Charleston marketing community. This chapter is a place of learning and connection for anyone in marketing, public relations and creative industries.”

What’s the Difference Between a Duck? (and other questions that vex thinking people)

They’re not up anymore, but I saw billboards promoting news on the local Fox affiliate suggesting that if you’re up late you’ll want to catch their evening news – which is on an hour earlier than the competition. Did Lewis Carrol write these ads?

Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too? Indeed, isn’t having cake a necessary pre-requisite to eating it? This is like saying you can’t own your car and drive it too.

How does Starbucks still exist? I mean, they make hot beverages, like a million other places, including my tea kettle; they provide places to sit, like a park, or an execution chamber; and they’re on every street corner, like litter. So what exactly is worth five bucks?

Apparently word has not gotten out about these newfangled things called “books.” I’ve been in three recent conversations in which someone asked me what I watched on TV last night, as if that’s a necessary bodily function.

Should I give up on “comprised” and just admit that if everyone, including newspaper editors and college professors, thinks it means “composed” then it does? And we’ve lost the war on “verbal” haven’t we? It’s now just another way of saying “oral” isn’t it? Pretty soon we’ll use verbal thermometers.

Is it just me, or should the Charleston Public Library know better than to ask for your PIN number, or the DMV to refer to your VIN number? Shouldn’t the people who invented the Vehicle Identification Number know what the letters stand for? And isn’t the whole point of libraries to be, um, literate?

Wait, that show with Thomas Ravenel is still on the air? Like, even after people saw it?

If traffic tie-ups required us to build more roads that resulted in more traffic tie-ups that require more roads that result in more traffic tie-ups that require more roads that result in more traffic tie-ups … why don’t we just build more roads? Duh.

So if auto insurance ads are now funny and clever, whose turn is it next? Local car dealers? Ha ha. Got a little ahead of myself there.

Who is the marketing guru who decided that ads for songs on YouTube should pop up when you’re playing the song being advertised? Is it the same person who runs station promos for radio shows we’re already listening to? Jenius!

If people really think that photos of their dinner are interesting, may I make a modest proposal? If you’re going to post photos on your Facebook page of your dinner before it went down, you have to post photos of it after it came up. Or out.

When I was a kid, narrow-minded people knew whom to hate – the gays. Today, bigots must be so confused. Who can keep up with L-G-B-T-Q-hey! you left out a letter, ya Neanderthal!? I think we need a better word for this.

Here’s another thing we need a word for: when you text someone, or email them, just as they text/email you, and each communique requires follow-up. Then you’re left wondering which of you should send the next message and which issue you should address. There should be a word for that. I mean, besides “awkward.”

Tip-off that you’re viewing time-murdering tripe on TV: lawyer ads promising lottery winnings for car accidents. They’re aimed at morons, which means that’s who they think is watching your show.

Why do people complain that baseball goes on too long and then spend 20 soul-sucking months consuming mentally retarded, minute-by-minute, presidential electoral analysis?

Why do people want to hear 45-year-old songs for the thousandth time? And how do they manage convince themselves that makes them cool? I mean, the Beatles were great but their grandchildren are forming bands.

Why is there an AMA chapter in little Charleston, SC but not in Miami, Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Louisville, El Paso, Little Rock, Toledo, Shreveport, Colorado Springs, New Haven, Grand Rapids, Winston-Salem, Savannah or the entire states of North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire or Vermont? Oh yeah, because we’re awesome.

–barry waldman

Looking For Support? Get A Good Bra

Way back in my reporter days, I covered the Yippie versus Yuppie debates between aging 60s radical Abbie Hoffman and 60s radical-turned-capitalist Jerry Rubin.

During their contretemps, Rubin claimed to have supported a particular presidential candidate, to which Hoffman snorted in his unrefined New England accent, “You supported Gary Hart? Gary Hart got more support from his jock strap!”

Hoffman was a master quipster, but he was on the losing side of history, and today we claim to “support” things we merely donate to, think about, or even worse.

Consider all those who claim to support our troops by advocating that they be shipped off as cannon fodder to ever more exotic and dangerous quagmires.

Support has staked its claim to the marketing world as well. Ads running on the radio today ask me to support local music. Likewise, I’ve been urged to support our local sports teams, local restaurants and other commercial enterprises.

These pleas are made with the force of moral suasion, as if declining to support them – which is to say purchase their products – is a moral failing on our part.

My unspoken reaction to these arguments is not just rejection but a bit of pique. They feel like a sleight-of-hand, where marketers are hoping we will be so wracked by guilt that we won’t notice they’re just attempting to burrow into our wallets without providing a superior product. That strategy won’t work on me: I have a Jewish mother!

I hope you, like I, appreciate the majesty of the free market and buy what you want, at the price you want, unmoved by specious appeals to some amorphous and unearned loyalty. Or by your mom, of whatever religious persuasion.

(Right here I should exempt, to some degree, the effort to push us towards locally-grown food and local restaurants over chains. In both cases, the quality is generally superior and the price is often comparable. Even there, I make my choices not because they are ethically purer but because they are better products. If you think Bubba Gump gives you greater value than Fish, by all means, eat at Bubba Gump. Of course, if that’s the state of your palate, you could just dumpster dive behind Fish and kill the quality and price bird with one stone.)

So here’s my question for those support phonies: what exactly is local music doing to support me and my boyhood dream of playing shortstop for the Kansas City Royals? Since the answer is, nothing, in what way has local music earned my loyalty?

See, here’s the thing: when I buy music, or see a band in concert, I am purchasing entertainment, not democracy and human rights. There is no moral component to this decision. Shovels and Rope are a magnificently talented duo, but that’s not my musical flavor of ice cream. So when I fork over cash for a slew of songs by Frontier Ruckus or purchase concert tickets to see The Tallest Man on Earth, I’m not dissing my homies; I’m satisfying my desire for tunes that appeal to me.

This reminds me of a complaint by a long-gone TV reporter repeatedly pummeled by local non-profits for coverage. They would argue that he had an obligation to broadcast stories about them. They didn’t understand (and many still don’t, I’m sure) that his job was to report news his viewers (i.e., customers) wanted, and so the only way to win his “business” was to provide him with what he considered news. In effect, they were demanding his support without providing the business imperative for it.

As far as I can tell, the support appeal is a failed strategy, and for obvious reasons. So to all of those who demand my support, just remember: my glove is oiled and ready.

–barry waldman

Save the Date for Annual Bootcamp, Sponsorships Available

2014 AMA BootcampThe Charleston AMA board is busily planning for our annual Bootcamp, an afternoon of learning followed by a fun summer social. Save the date for the afternoon of Thursday, July 30. We’ll gather at the Historic Rice Mill on Lockwood Drive in downtown Charleston. A full list of topics and speakers will be announced soon but expect discussions on email marketing, Google ads, Instagram, Facebook advertising and creating killer content. Tickets on sale soon!

Space is limited and this event sells out every year. But there is one way you can snag your ticket early: become a sponsor.

For the first time, the Charleston AMA is offering not only a Platinum Event Sponsorship but also Individual Table Sponsorships for each topic/table so small businesses and entrepreneurs could have a opportunity to gain exposure with a smaller investment.

The Platinum Sponsorship includes the following:

  • Lead event sponsor on all emailed and printed collateral
  • Lead event sponsor on all Social Channels and our Website
  • 4 tickets to the event for your team (which includes the social afterwards – $200 value)
  • Welcome “commercial” to all participants (80-100 ppl) during the opening remarks
  • Display table for company materials and promos

Platinum Sponsorship: $500.00 (only 1 available)2014 AMA Bootcamp

Table sponsorships include the following:

  • Sponsor signage at your table
  • Brochures, business cards or other promotional items at your table
  • Listing as Table Sponsor on collateral
  • 1 event ticket for a member of your team to attend (includes the social afterwards – $50 value)

Table Sponsor: $100.00 (only 10 will be available)

Please keep in mind this event is limited to 100 participants and will sell out quickly once we launch ticket sales. Take advantage of this “early registration” by securing your sponsorship and ticket(s) before they go on sale! Contact Ted deLoach at 843-670-3941 or at for more information or to become one of our sponsors.


I Quit! (Thanks, AMA.)

A funny thing happened to me on the way to quitting my job of 17 years and embarking on a freelancing career. I determined that it was time for words and me to rekindle our romance, hands-on PR and marketing to welcome me back into the fold, and journalism to once again take my hand and lead me through the golden meadow. Copy has been in need of a bracing massage and I had allowed my masseur license to lapse.

I’d dotted a handful of t’s and crossed a couple of i’s in advance of this Rubicon leap. I’d named my new work (Write Stuff Communications), purchased a website domain ( – not yet active), considered my scope of work (PR/marketing soup-to-nuts; scribe) and ordered business cards.

And I’d lined up some assignments from those lost souls who, in their finite wisdom, have misplaced faith in my talents. As we Charlestonians say, bless their hearts.

I can produce strategic communication with my cerebellum tied behind my back, but selling myself, hmmm. That’s not so much on my Meyers Briggs profile. I’m an E-S-T-NO SELLING!

That “S stands for “schmoozer,” and it’s not capitalized accidentally. These years of dipping into the American Marketing well have filled my networking jug at least as much as my pitcher of knowledge. (Or perhaps it’s a teaspoon.) And now all that good AMA karma has begun to flow back to me.

Even before I decided to take the wheel of the jalopy that is my career, a whip-smart real estate agent whom I’ve befriended through AMA helped me determine that I needed to buy a house close to downtown and rent out my old place. That fine gentleman has saved me from hundreds of hours of idling in traffic and fattened my otherwise-skeletal retirement savings like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Immediately after I announced my new intentions, another member in good standing floated my name to a marketing firm for some copywriting. They reached out to me, which has got to be as rare as a championship in Cleveland. It’s a pairing worthy of Yenta the Matchmaker: the liaison at the company is a former student. Thank you, Patron Saint of Freelancers, and thank you Mr. incoming AMA President. My future genuflections to you will not solely reflect my respect for the office.

Simultaneously, an offhand conversation at an AMA event lead me to a copy writing assignment. The chat began as all pleasure and no business – my affection for particular staff members of a sharp local agency prompted it – and led to what appeared to be a mutual need.

All that, and they haven’t even rid themselves of me at the old job yet.

The point, and alert the media because I do actually have one*, is that it’s amazing how and how much AMA participation has been paying off, even though, as noted above, I’m allergic to tooting my own horn. It’s not like this wasn’t already apparent: I’ve hired photographers and graphic artists whom I’ve met through the group. I’ve paired dozens of students with internships sponsored by AMA members. I’ve witnessed people hired for positions that never saw the light of day – but reverberated through the AMA grapevine.

And now I’ve experienced it myself. Thank you AMA; thank you friends. Keep the referrals flowing. Because I need to save up and get my cerebellum out from behind my back.

barry waldman

*this time.

Surf’s Up: Time to Join the AMA

Ride the AMA Wave

Are you riding the wave to marketing success or just floating aimlessly?

If you’re looking to connect with local marketing professionals, grow in your knowledge of best marketing practices and succeed with amazing marketing campaigns, then it’s time to ride the AMA wave.

Join Charleston AMA now through May 29 and save!

During this spring membership drive, the new member fee of $30 is waived. Plus, you have the chance to win local prizes. There’s never been a better time to put your professional development first!

Head to | Promo Code: SPRING30

Connect with other Charleston AMA members or just come learn more at our Spring Happy Hour at 5:30 p.m. May 20 at The Islander, 160 Fairchild St. on Daniel Island. Just $15 for members; $20 for non-members. Get your ticket.

Already a member of the AMA? Then share this news with a colleague in the Charleston area marketing, public relations or creative field who’s looking to connect, grow and succeed.


Sister-Kissing At The Spark Awards

Last week, before the assembled multitudes at the Spark Awards, I kissed my sister three times.

Now, my little sister is a playfully rambunctious wit with a smile in her soul who looks 15 years her own junior, and I joyfully plant a smooch on her cheek or head when the opportunity arises, which is episodic at best given her lack of proximity (700 miles) and allergy to felines, like the one who rules my home.

So I kiss her. But these kisses are not the romantic glottal engagements that fire up the machinery of arousal in men’s and women’s hearts. They are but a peck.

All of which is academic because my sister wasn’t actually in attendance at the Spark Awards. The kiss was metaphorical, conjured by Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty, who left behind his mortal coil in 1987.

Daugherty, asked about the feeling of fulfillment from earning neither a win nor a loss, but a tie, compared it to kissing your sister. It’s a kiss…but it’s your sister.

Hall of Fame baseball player George Brett added that losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out. What experiences exactly he employed to set this benchmark is a question I’d prefer not to consider.

Anyway, I didn’t actually, metaphorically kiss my sister, because I didn’t tie. I finished second. What is finishing second like? Where’s Duffy Daugherty when you need him?

The communications department at Trident United Way entered three categories in the Spark Awards, the annual “best of” in the Charleston marketing arena. Each of our submissions earned a place in the finals, which is some small level of validation, no? I mean, we made the tournament, won a few games and earned a spot in the Final Four.

Each of our submissions garnered oral recognition, a certificate and a photo with our local AMA’s lovely and talented president. It was nice, like a kiss. But it was second place.

And three second place finishes, well, now it’s getting close to grandmother territory. It’s less kiss than kiss off.

The great philosopher, Ricky Bobby, from that cinematic classic Talladega Nights, offers no comfort. He said “second place is first loser.”

So thank you, The Brandon Agency, for relegating our spectacular campaign video, produced by the amazing video firm Lunch & Recess, to first loser.*

And a big fish face to you, South Carolina Aquarium, for dropping our social media campaign to sister-kissing territory.*

And Gina Ellis-Strother, a most worthy 2015 Marketer of the Year, your grace and dignity, your professionalism, your evident aptitude and accomplishments, to all of that I say, thhhhhppppp. Our nominee Peter Wertimer, president of advertising at Chernoff Newman and an icon of local marketing communications, may have finished second, but he remains our prince of marketing.*

Still, just to be safe, if he ever meets my sister, he should just shake her hand.

barry waldman

* Truth is, while we’re really proud of our work, and of our ad agency and video firm, we have a Marxist view of these awards. Groucho Marx, that is. I’m not sure we’d want to win any award whose standards are so low that we could win one. Besides, have you seen the work of Brandon, the Aquarium and Gina at Charleston County Parks?

Charleston AMA Honors Outstanding Local Marketing Professionals

Holly Fisher and Marketer of the Year Gina Ellis-Strother

Holly Fisher and Marketer of the Year Gina Ellis-Strother

The Charleston American Marketing Association honored outstanding local marketers, public relations professionals and industry creatives at its 2015 Spark! Awards on March 11. Taking home the top honor of Marketer of the Year was Gina Ellis-Strother of the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.

Charleston areas marketers were invited to submit their work in a variety of categories during January. Board members from the Reno Tahoe AMA chapter judged the entries. Charleston AMA received almost 90 submissions — a record number of entries for its annual awards program.

“This is a chance to recognize the incredible marketing, PR and creative talents here in our Charleston community,” said Holly Fisher of H.A.F. Creative and president of the Charleston AMA chapter. “So many marketing professionals work behind the scenes creating logos, ads, websites and social media campaigns. It’s rewarding for our chapter to be able to put the spotlight on their efforts and give them much-deserved credit for their work in promoting so many of our local businesses and organizations.”

Ellis-Strother joined Charleston County Parks in 2013 where she lead the marketing team in developing the organization’s first marketing plan, launched a rebranding effort for the parks system, created a new website and developed and directed five TV commercials and several radio commercials. Additional promotions and PR creativity lead to record-breaking attendance and revenue at the parks along with extensive media coverage for the 25th anniversary Holiday Festival of Lights.

Runners-up for Marketer of the Year were Mary Roberts with the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and Peter Wertimer of Chernoff Newman.

Winners of the 2015 Spark! Awards

Winners of the 2015 Spark! Awards

The 2015 Spark! Award winners are:

Best Commercial Photography

Jason Bennett for Firefly Moonshine & Patrick Davis

Best Book Cover

Advantage Media Group for “Out of the Question”


Bob Durand for “What am I to do now, Mama?”

Best Copywriting

Town of Mount Pleasant for “Day in the Life”


South Carolina Aquarium for “Show Us Your #FishFace”

Best Corporate Blog

Holly Fisher for Traveler of Charleston


Holly Fisher for Allegiance Staffing

Best Direct Mail

The Brandon Agency for HTC chocolate mailer


MWV for Summers Corner

Best Illustration

Andrew Barton Design for DryFins Clothing


Advantage Media Group for Advantage Magazine

Best Inbound Marketing

Kiz Studios for Might & Mayhem

Best Logo Design

Bob Durand for Purple Pig Designs


The Brandon Agency for Myrtle Beach Mutiny

Best Outdoor Signage

Holy City Hospitality for Hutson Alley

Best Package Design

BBIG Marketing for Feedstuff Sales

Best Print Ad

Town of Mount Pleasant


Holy City Hospitality for Rue de Jean Savannah

Best Promotional Video

The Brandon Agency for CresCom


Trident United Way, Chernoff Newman, Lunch & Recess for Trident United Way 2014 Campaign


Adam Boozer for Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB

Best Website

Obviouslee Marketing for Charleston Wine + Food


The Brandon Agency for Williams Knife Co.


Obviouslee Marketing for EventHaus Rentals

Best Re-Branding / Branding Campaign

Obviouslee Marketing for EventHaus Rentals


South Carolina Aquarium for Good Catch

Best Event Promotion

Lowcountry Local First for Buy Local Block Party


Town of Mount Pleasant for 2014 Holiday

Best Non-Traditional / Guerrilla Campaign

The Brandon Agency for Myrtle Beach Mutiny


Lowcountry Local First for Buy Local

Best Public Relations Campaign

Touchpoint Communications for GotchaRide


ByrdHouse PR for Zero George

Best Social Media Campaign

South Carolina Aquarium for “Show Us Your #FishFace”


Trident United Way for “What Makes My Site Coordinator Experience Sweet”

Check out all the photos from the 2015 Spark! Awards. Thank you, Stan Foxworthy of Foxworthy Studios, for being our event photographer!