When Coffee Is Good For You

Against their better judgment — indeed, against any judgment at all — the lords of Charleston AMA recently asked me (and, in a coffedrinkflash of wisdom, Liz Mester of Wings For Kids) to inaugurate the Coffee Talk series for non-profits with a discussion called Showing Is Better Than Telling: Making your case succinctly to all your target audiences.

From what I saw, it was a superb performance. (Thankfully, I didn’t see my own presentation.) Coffee Talks in each category will take place roughly quarterly, (we also have a real estate series) and if the first one was any indication, non-profit marketing is a popular subject. Either that, or I have suddenly become attractive to the ladies. (You know which way to bet.)

If you work in non-profit and missed the presentation, I recommend you time travel backwards a few weeks and catch it live. (Also bet the house on Northwestern minus the points against Duke.) If you’re “too busy” to time travel, or some other lame excuse, here’s a synopsis, which you’ll want to print out, frame and hang on the wall for target practice.

1. Showing is better than telling. Empty claims don’t move people; data, images, pictures and stories make the case vividly. Many non-profits fail to use their powerful stories, vivid pictures and dramatic images because they take some work to obtain. Also it’s easy to just blather.

2. People give to charity because of how they feel, not because of what they think. We give to charity because it makes us feel like the kind of person who helps others, because we want to feel generous, or part of something or connected to an issue. So non-profits should focus on how their potential donors will feel, not what they will think. If presidential campaigns are any indication, thinking isn’t at the top of too many people’s lists.

3. Non-profits, like other businesses, should focus on The One Thing they do. No one needs to know everything your non-profit does, just its unique value proposition – the one thing that makes it different from everyone else. This is rarely represented in the mission statement, which is often written in Klingon. It is captured in good elevator speeches.

4. All good communicating is story-telling…which Liz showed can be accomplished in 35-word newsletter stories and 112-character tweets and zero-word photos. They can even be accomplished in tedious, verbose, trifling blog posts.

Like this one.

Coffee talks are less expensive (free for members, and I was worth every penny), shorter, more narrowly focused, less formal and conducive to more give and take than monthly luncheons. I was even prepared for hecklers, though there was none of that. Unless you count snoring.

Look for the next Non-Profit Coffee Talk in February, subject TBA but almost certain to be scintillating.

The participants in the last one should be recovered by then.

Revolve Conference – A Conference at the Beach, October 29-30

Picture of Speakers

Revolve Conference, scheduled for this Fall in the Charleston area, is an exceptional opportunity for continued education, networking, training and development in:

  • Marketing
  • Design/UX
  • Business

Taking place at the lovely and inspiring Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, Revolve welcomes some of the brightest talent (twenty-five speakers announced so far) from across the country to share their expertise on process, creativity, strategy and inspiration. Learn from platform-changing thinkers and disruptive innovators through practical sessions and talks that address the challenges you face today.  

This two-day event provides a compelling agenda, offering attendee-choice breakout sessions on Thursday (Day 1), a mid-event “Party at the Pavilion” at Wild Dunes’ Grand Pavilion on Thursday evening, and inspiring keynote talks from headlining speakers on Friday (Day 2).

Event Details:
Isle of Palms, SC
Venue: Wild Dunes Resort
Date: October 29-30, 2015
Tickets Regular Price after September 18 – $499 (for a 10% AMA Member Discount to Revolve Conference, email info@charlestonama.org)
Register here: http://revolveconference.com/register/

Ad-vertising Naseum

Anyone tuning in to Atlanta Braves games on the radio may have noticed some very odd things – besides a cornucopia of losing. It’s the ads.

After about seven innings — for those of you uninitiated in baseball, an inning is a period of time during which batters open and close their batting gloves 112 times and the third base coach lovingly slaps three teammate’s tushies – it is evident to any sentient listener that the Atlanta Braves radio network has sold a grand total of eight sponsorships for their 162 regular season broadcasts.

butt slapThere are breaks between every half-inning, which means four ads at a time run 18 times during the game, not counting all the time during the pre-game and post-game analysis. (Analysis: You see the way he touched Rodriguez’s derriere over at third base, Bob? That really gave the team the shot of adrenaline it needed to beat the spread.) There are also highly entertaining pitching changes, to slow the blistering pace of contests, and to provide more desperately needed advertising opportunities. By the end of one complete broadcast, each of the sponsors has disseminated its messages to the entire Southeast region something like a dozen times.

Times 162, not including Spring Training games.

You get the idea. Ad nauseam.

Now if I had the opportunity to reach a key listening demographic two thousand times over the course of six months, I might consider offering a couple of different spots. But the masters of advertising in Atlanta have determined that Baseball Man (and Woman, I suppose, though it’s hard to believe there are women this stupid) hasn’t quite caught on after the first 1,500 listens and thus must be subjected to the exact same ditty…again.

“Lookie, lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie: Cook’s Pest Control.” I kid you not.

But wait, I haven’t relayed the worst of it. Two of these spots literally make absolutely no sense. In one, broadcaster Don Sutton notes that to play baseball you need a bat and a ball. It’s the same with phone service. Lots of companies say they have the best this or that but only Verizon has the most reliable 4G service.

Yes, a Fortune 100 company runs this non-sequitur 2,000 times across a quarter of the nation.

Then there is the ad in which a woman remembers fondly her dad teaching her to save for rainy days. Those days when things don’t go your way. But rainy days make you appreciate the sunny days, like when your dad holds his new grandson for the first time. For those sunny days, you need… whatever idiot bank it is that wasted its money on this drivel.

It is baffling how these ads got through the process of production and onto the air. Let’s review:

  • A professional writer had to pen this nonsense.
  • Someone else had to accept it and determine to produce it.
  • A client had to approve it.
  • A variety of talented people had to voice it, record it, edit it, etc.

Did not one of these people mention that the ad they were planning to put on the air two-thousand times was unmemorable and unintentional rubbish? The president of the ad agency? The CEO of Verizon? The bank president? Some random homeless person on the street? Hello?

You may be thinking that the ads worked because I remember them. But I do this for a living. I listen carefully and try to glean something from how the ad was written, produced and aimed at its audience.

Here’s what I learned from these ads: there are people out there working hard (and often, apparently) to make you and me look like freakin’ geniuses. And helping us save for a rainy day.

–barry waldman




Charleston AMA Hosts Crisis Communications Panel

On September 3, The Charleston American Marketing Association will host a luncheon and panel discussion focusing on crisis communications. This educational event will bring together five influential experts from Charleston’s media and public relations industry to share advice and best practices. Marketing professionals, business owners and students at all levels of experience in the Charleston area are invited to attend for fellowship, networking and education. The discussion will empower busy professionals in the Charleston community with the skills and tools they need to guide their organizations through crises. Attendees will learn how to prepare for, respond to and recover from a crisis.

Elizabeth Boineau, Owner and Principal, E. Boineau & Company
Matt Sartwell, Municipal Editor, The Post and Courier
Cheryl Smithem, Founder and Principal, Charleston Public Relations & Design
Barbara Vaughn, Director of Media Relations, City of Charleston

Jon Bruce, Anchor and Reporter, ABC News 4

Purchase tickets: CAMALuncheon.eventbrite.com

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


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

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 (writestuffcomm.com – 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.

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?