Remembering My First Political Campaign

I guess I was about 12 years old when I participated in my first political campaign. I can still remember standing at the polls, handing out small pieces of paper and saying over and over again: “Sharon Smith Pennell for School Board.”

Now, I wasn’t able to vote. And I only knew Sharon Smith Pennell, an attractive blonde lady, by sight. But she was a friend of my dad’s–and he signed us up to volunteer at the polls. That endorsement was enough for me. If Wayne felt that strongly about her, she was clearly the best person for the job. I was an enthusiastic, albeit short, voice of encouragement and persuasion.

A lot of time has passed since then–in fact, that may have been the only political campaign I have ever “volunteered” for. But I can still remember it. And remembering how much I wanted her to win–which she did.

In fact, Sharon Smith Pennell went on to serve the Caldwell County School Board for 26 years. A couple days ago, I heard that she died last week after battling breast cancer. You can read all about Sharon and  the difference she made:

It’s going to be hard to top my first campaign pick.


Here’s What I Was Called Friday: Madame Foreperson

When I received the No. 10 envelope in the mail a few weeks ago, I had the typical reaction. Great–I’ve been sentenced to jury duty. October is a chaotic month anyway, with a slew of fall festivals and events involving costumes and candy, and I’ve layered this October with some new clients and some additional challenges on the work-front.

Jury duty was the last thing I thought needed to be added to the calendar.

However, I was there just five minutes when I realized that jury duty was going to inspire me to dust off the ‘ol blog. Because there was plenty of stuff happening there that was blog-worthy. (most of which I really couldn’t do justice without a cameraphone, which was NOT permitted in Judge X’s courtroom).

There were cases at the beginning which were plea-bargained. Reckless driving. Simple possession of marijuana–a couple of those. Driving with a suspended license, failure to yield. At first, it didn’t seem like jury duty was going to be as interesting as watching one of those judicial shows on television (a la Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, etc.). Although the judge did come back with some good quips, like “Don’t step in a hole,” (and get caught driving without a license) to the young man who was surrendering his license due to a marijuana charge.

I knew a few of my fellow jurors, and although we weren’t permitted to go to the bathroom without judicial consent, we represented a pretty fair collection of the populace. I was congratulating myself on being fair, and open-minded, when the next case was called. A man stood in front of the judge and I could literally feel the fury boiling inside him. I hadn’t even heard the charges he was facing, but his anger–and his resentment–was clear from his back. This man was angry–I’m not sure why or where the poison came from, but I felt it, even three rows behind.

Then the judge read the charges: domestic violence. And that’s when my blood began to boil. I quickly realized that I wasn’t fair, or objective, or open-minded. I wanted to unleash rage and anger against  him, against someone who would hurt someone else. Photos documenting the abuse were shown. An officer testified about the incident. And the man standing there within a pit of rage offered that the woman who received the beating “hadn’t called the police. Someone else called the police.” As if….as if that made everything okay. The victim hadn’t reached out for help, so therefore, she was somehow less of a victim.

Being told he had to attend some anger management classes seemed like a pittance to me. His only “punishment” was that he had to pay for the class and go sign up for it within a few days. Really? That’s it?

The next case–an animal cruelty case–was when I was called as a juror and named Madame Foreperson. A man had abandoned seven brown-and-white spotted puppies inside a house for at least a week without food or water. Eventually, a neighbor called the police based on the smell. That defendant didn’t even show up for his court date, but we found him guilty nonetheless. I don’t think I’ll forget those photos.

The final case of the day was another domestic violence case where the defendant defended himself. He claimed his 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend was violent and bi-polar, by way of explaining the fight that left her with marks around her neck where he allegedly tried to strangle  her. She wasn’t there to testify because she is still with him, and planning to resume the relationship when he is released from jail on an unrelated charge.

It’s no wonder the female prosecutor’s mouth is shaped like an upside down smile. Her world is filled with these stories–day in, day out.

All just a typical day in Municipal Court, where they hear about 15,000 cases per year. I only spent a few hours there, but I gained a healthy perspective on the circumstances and impossible odds that some of my neighbors are facing. And sooner rather than later, I’m going to figure out how I can reach out and make a difference, even if it’s just for a single person.

Censorship. Would somebody break out the duct tape?

The whole concept of censorship (and its radical opposite: free speech) has been kicking around in my head lately. Rarely have I been censored (there was that whole irate letter that I wrote that wasn’t published in the school newspaper about a bone-headed decision to send kids to school on icy roads in the late ’80s). But I digress.

There haven’t been too many times when I’ve had the duct tape treatment, but there sure are times that I wish somebody would pass me a roll.

In South Carolina, our politicians are a different breed. I’d go so far to say they seem to be the “Cafe Risque” of the political world (geographical sidenote: for those not around these parts, Cafe Risque was a “we dare to bare” restaurant/strip joint that opened up in Lavonia, Georgia, a few years ago. They slipped through the zoning boards by saying it would be a “family-style” restaurant similar to Cracker Barrel. Needless to say, the citizenry were quite upset when the billboards went up advertising the attractions in the restaurant, where “lap dance” was listed on the menu board somewhere between “hot wings” and “fried pickles.”)

I was one of the people totally disillusioned by Mark Sanford and the whole “Appalachian trail-go AWOL for several days-visit soul mate in Argentina train wreck.” Watching that press conference, I was hoping one of his PR staffers would get the duct tape out, and quick. I had met Sanford a couple times years before when I worked at a public relations firm in Myrtle Beach. The representative –not yet governor–came to several of our tourism-related events and seemed like a nice, reasonable human being.

This year’s campaign season has brought us duct tape candidate Nikki Haley, who one insider has called “Sanford in a skirt.” If she wins the nomination from Gresham Barrett, we’re going to need to stock up. When Michigan elected Jesse “The Body” Ventura its governor, most of the U.S. was scratching its head and wondering “what in the world were they thinking?”

Now, it seems, we’ve taken that prize position on the political dartboard as the state that elects the “Cafe Risque” candidates. When they go in, we think they’re going to be as American as apple pie and Cracker Barrel but instead we end up with some greasy chicken wings and a lap dance. Duct tape, anybody?

When I Grow Up, I want to be Dixie Carter…

04/21/2010 4 comments

It wasn’t just the South and its legion of Designing Women-admiring-women that mourned Dixie Virginia Carter’s death last week. It was the world…thanks to syndication of the popular series, her continued acclaimed work as an actress and the powerful time machine You Tube, where clips of the sharp-witted Julia Sugarbaker spark peals of laughter today while reaching hundreds of thousands of views.

Who can forget the episode where Julia defended her baby sister and perennial pagent girl Suzanne (Delta Burke) in the “Lights Went Down in Georgia?”  Or her famous quote, “This is the South, we’re proud of our crazy people,” going on to add that we don’t hide them in the attics or away in institutions–we just ask folks which side of the family they’re on.

Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, watching Designing Women gave me a reason to be proud. Too many times the images projected over television or movie screens sold the image of slow-talking, slow-thinking people and a whole bevy of Southern stereotypes that will take generations to dispel (Daisy Duke in the Dukes of Hazzard, the wonderful “squeal like a pig” line from Deliverance a la James Dickey, and on….)

Designing Women was different. For one, these women had class. They were smart, sophisticated, funny and irreverant. Spoke their minds–and didn’t bite their tongues. Set in Atlanta, the design firm showed career women who made career decisions. Aided by the lilt of their accent rather than hindered by it. When I think back now, I realize just how important that show was to the psyche of the South, and its women and young girls.

Dixie Carter showed us just what it was like to be a strong, independent Southern woman. She ran her own business, handled her own affairs and looked fabulous while doing it. Along the way, she set more than a few folks straight, either about their small-minded attitudes or when they misjudged the tour de force that was Julia.

I never really thought about the impact of Dixie Carter and her character portrayals, described by the New York Times as “an actress who gave strong, opinionated Southern women a good name.”

Now that I have, it’s clear. When I grow up, I want to be Dixie Carter.  Off to work on that now….

Ever Been Put In A Box?

03/26/2010 2 comments

I’ve come to believe there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love boxes, and those who don’t.

And I’m not talking about the cardboard, break-it-down before-you-recycle box. I’m talking about the boxes that we allow ourselves to be put in, and sometimes even jump into on our own. I’ve worked at places before where you’re put in a box. It may be the PR box. Or the “take care of only these clients” box. Even the very defined “media relations” box.

Did I mention that I hate boxes?

I have a friend that I met when working at at advertising agency in Knoxville who referred to one job as being led by the “bossy little boxes who tell me what to do.” Jen with one “n” has a point. Who wants to be bossed around by a box?

Boxes are square. Defined. Rigid.

In today’s world of fluid communications, why in the world would you want to put your employees, your co-workers, your potential….in a box? Collaboration doesn’t happen naturally when people have unyielding assigned roles. Creativity is left by the wayside. Problems stagnate because only a few people have the role of “problem solver.”

What happens when we give everyone permission to tackle the challenges a business faces? What happens when everyone gets a seat (and a voice) at the table? Anarchy? Or some lively discussion and some ideas that make the whole much better.

Take a few moments and think about how you define yourself. What are the adjectives–the nouns–the verbs that define your core? Now step outside of those and think about your true potential.

Grab a pair of box cutters, and free yourself.

A word of warning: I’m not a fan of “piece meal”

Have you heard of piece meal? Surely you have. Maybe the expression: doing things piece meal? Does that ring a bell?

It seems that when budgets are tightened, we all try to cut costs. And sometimes that means cutting corners. And that leads me to doing things piece meal. (Here’s what Webster has to say about it:

Doing things “one thing at a time” or in “fragments” doesn’t sound too diabolical UNTIL you apply that strategy to your communications function. That’s when things start to go a little crazy, folks. Over the past few months, I’ve encountered more than one company or organization that in their efforts to cut back costs have walked away from a comprehensive strategy for communicating and instead are doing a bit of dabbling. Let’s see: one month, we’ll try a direct mail piece. Later this year, we’re going to do a logo. And maybe we’ll have somebody come in and redo our website at some point.

What I’ve learned from the piece meal approach (if you can call it that) is that too often there’s no one driving the bus. Looking around and making sure everything is cohesive. Getting input from the various internal and external constituencies. Creating something that is memorable, effective and represents who you are and where you want to go.

Long-term, piece meal just isn’t going to cut it. But you know what? It really doesn’t work very well short-term, either.

Categories: Uncategorized

Beaver Man–Newsworthy or Not?

There’s a gentleman I’d like to tell you about. Let’s protect his right to privacy and call him Beaver Man. This particular guy has a goal: to make it into the pages of his local weekly newspaper–one way or another.

My husband is the editor of this local weekly newspaper. And he has rejected Beaver Man at least three–maybe even four–times. Beaver Man is getting frustrated. All the guy wants is a photo in the paper.

The problem? He keeps bringing in roadkill specimens he claims to have “found” to pose with him.

I wish I were making this up. However, I think there’s something we can learn from Beaver Man. There’s a lot of individuals and companies out there who want to generate press for themselves. Hey–that’s part of my job. Packaging information into news nuggets so that communication happens. Public relations–don’t you just love it?

Back to Beaver Man. He’s persistent. He started out with a beaver, then brought in a coyote and came back a third time with another beaver. All in various stages of decomp. “Have you ever seen such a large beaver in your life?” Ok, he’s attempting to find a news angle here–man finds record-setting beaver on roadside. He’s even offered the journalist a bribe: “I’d be willing to come in and buy five or six newspapers if my picture is in the paper.”

The result? Nada, zip, zilch. Veteran Journalist/husband is unmoved by Beaver Man’s quest for immortality in newsprint. He comes home muttering about Beaver Man and the kinds of people you sometimes encounter in small, Southern towns. (Note to readers: I am from a small, Southern town. He mutters about me and my “kin” a lot, too.)

I believe there is probably a way Beaver Man could have taken out the “ewww” factor of his gruesome discoveries and found a way to accomplish his dream of press coverage. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of ingenuity, a creative twist on the ordinary (what you found on the roadside) versus what you create.

I’m just throwing out some options here (Beaver Man is NOT a client). He could have figured out a way to partner with the science labs in the schools for potential dissection. Forget the frogs and cats–this guy can deliver beavers and coyotes and goodness-knows-what-else. Maybe a call to the Department of Natural Resources to find out if something peculiar is happening to the local population of beavers. Another thought: he could make a monetary donation to animal conservation based on his experience, and take that “story” to the newspaper. Even going to the library and creating a Facebook page to discuss local wildlife and conservation–ANIMAL LOVERS UNITE!

Beaver Man has the same goal that a lot of people do: create an opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame. We just all take a different approach and often achieve different results or reaction.

Which leads me to this….wonder what type of animal will be coming into the newspaper office next week?