Professional Development Opportunities

While much of the world has revved back to life, in-person learning opportunities for professionals haven’t quite picked up steam. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to continue growing your skillset, however.

From digital marketing, to copywriting, to graphic design – here is a list of free online professional development courses you can take this year.

Content Marketing Courses

1. HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification – HubSpot Academy

2. HubSpot Content Marketing Certification – HubSpot Academy

3. Internet Marketing for Smart People – Copyblogger

4. Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content – Coursera

5. The Strategy of Content Marketing – Coursera

6. Copywriting Blunders – Udemy

7. Content Marketing for B2B Enterprises – Udemy

8. Content Marketing – Udemy


Social Media Marketing Courses

9. Free Social Media Certification – HubSpot Academy

10. Developing an End-to-End Instagram Marketing Strategy For Your Business – HubSpot Academy

11. Strategic Social Media Marketing – edX

12. Diploma in Social Media Marketing – Alison

13. Facebook Blueprint – Facebook

14. Social Media Analytics – Quintly

15. Social Media Week of Webinars – Buffer


SEO Marketing Courses

16. SEO Training Course – HubSpot Academy

17. Google Digital Marketing Course – Google

18. SEO Training Course by Moz – Udemy

19. Advanced SEO: Tactics and Strategy – Udemy

20. SEO – QuickSprout


Email Marketing Courses

21. HubSpot Email Marketing Certification – HubSpot Academy

22. Email Marketing – QuickSprout


Web Development and Site Design Courses

23. Make a Website – CodeAcademy

24. Learn Javascript – CodeAcademy

25. Learn Ruby – CodeAcademy

26. Learn Python – CodeAcademy

27. Learn HTML & CSS – CodeAcademy

28. Learn to Code Awesome Websites – General Assembly


Online Advertising Courses

29. What Digital Advertising Is and How to Do It – HubSpot Academy

30. How to Build a Paid Media Strategy – HubSpot Academy

31. Paid Advertising – QuickSprout

32. Wordstream PPC University

33. Advertising Your Business Online – Alison

34. Copywriting 101: Crafting Your First Ad Campaign – Skillshare

35. Advertising Foundations – Lynda


Graphic Design Courses

36. Basic Graphic Design – Canva

37. Photoshop 2020: One-on-One Fundamentals – LinkedIn Learning

38. InDesign 2020: Essential Training – LinkedIn Learning

Media Receives First Google Certifications

Some members of the Media team have made a huge accomplishment in earning their first Google Display and Video certifications last month.

Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jessica Middleton, Katie Reeves, and Michele Alfano all received their certifications to better assist our clients in setting up digital ads that are managed by Media.

“It’s always good to learn new things! I had some excellent training from my Media coworkers that was helpful in obtaining the Google Display and Video Certifications. I am excited for the opportunity to enhance my skill set and build on my Digital Buying.” – Michele


“Being new to advertising in general, these Google certifications helped me finally see exactly how our digital ads work. I never quite understood what went into creating our digital and video ads, I only knew my small piece in the puzzle, but after going through these courses, I now see the big picture! I am now able to confidently help in almost any digital task and that is a great feeling to have, especially when still being ‘new’ to our department.” – Elizabeth


Hats off to these team members for Improving Every Day and helping our clients drive more traffic!

A SAM Love Story

More than two decades ago, SAM celebrated its first love story. Connie and Bill Marefka met while working at the agency and are now celebrating their 24th year of marriage.

This year, we welcome our second SAM marriage of Emily Quintana and Jonathan Hubauer. Here is the story of how the young couple met and how their family is growing in the future.

Serendipity at Strong

Summer was in its final hour. The weeks of endless heatwaves would soon give way to cooler days and all that autumn promises. A few members of Team SAM decide to seize these waning estival moments and meet up after work for a social event.

Out of chance, Emily and Jonathan ended up at the same event. Their first conversations centered around the commonplace – work experiences, agency life, stories from the office. But soon, they found themselves connecting on a deeper level. The two began seeing one another, and three months later they had moved into an apartment together at the Thomas Jefferson Tower.

“I didn’t think too much of it when we started telling people at work,” Emily recounted. “It was pretty random; our departments rarely work together, and even to this day I’ve never interacted with Jonathan’s role. So it came as a surprise to a lot of people.”

As time wore on, the two decided to rent a house together in the Crestline neighborhood of Birmingham. Their first day in the new home, between unpacking boxes and checking lightbulbs, Emily had an intuitive feeling in the back of her mind. She decided it was time to find out the facts. Her suspicions turned out to be true: Emily and Jonathan were having a baby.

“I told Jonathan once I knew,” Emily said. “Naturally, he had a small freakout moment at first, but we knew it was meant to be and we would eventually get married. It was a surprise, but it kind of fit the rest of our relationship – moving at lightspeed.”

Emily is due to give birth on July 14 to Holden Patrick Hubauer. Their son’s middle name is a tribute to Jonathan’s twin brother’s first name.

Emily expressed gratitude for having a house before the baby arrives.

“Pushing a stroller down 2nd avenue isn’t something I wanted to do,” Emily said in reference to the couple’s TJ Tower apartment. “I’m very glad we’re already moved into our house.”

The nursery is nearly ready according to Emily, only lacking a few finishing touches before the all-important day arrives. The hospital now allows two guests in addition to Jonathan, so the couple is excited to have more of their family present for Holden’s arrival.

Emily’s engagement ring, a reset of Jonathan’s grandmother’s ring.

Emily and Jonathan are set to wed this weekend at Jonathan’s family home. It will be a courtyard ceremony with family present. The same pastor who married Jonathan’s older brother will preside over the ceremony, and afterward the group will have dinner, cake, and fellowship.

“We plan to do a larger reception for friends and family sometime next year,” Emily said. “We wanted to wait for that so Holden can be a part of it, too.”

Team SAM is happy to celebrate our second agency wedding, and we send many good wishes to Emily, Jonathan, and baby Holden.

Madeline Masters a Pandemic

March 2020

Fifteen minutes.

That was all Account Coordinator Madeline Gammill had to pack her dorm, look around, and say goodbye to her undergraduate career.

Madeline spent spring break in Florida, and that’s where she was when America realized the severity of the novel coronavirus. Samford University instructed its on-campus students to return, giving them a mere quarter of an hour to collect their effects before transitioning completely online.

As seniors preparing to take final exams, the news was anxiety-provoking for many.

“Our professors went easy on us, luckily,” Madeline said. “On my last day, I only had one final to take. One final out of five classes. I remember shutting my laptop when I was finished and thinking, I guess that’s it.

It was an anticlimactic ending to a milestone moment. While Samford tried its best to reschedule graduation, the university was eventually forced to switch to a virtual ceremony.

“I had to work the day they aired the ceremony,” Madeline said. “It felt like it never actually happened.”

Before the pandemic emerged, Madeline always had the idea of pursuing her MBA. But she planned to work in the industry for about five years before returning to school. After completing her undergraduate program in marketing with a sales minor, Madeline struggled to find work in an abysmal job market. She eventually took a retail position, feeling she was more drawn to a career in sales.

“I needed a little bit of work experience to figure out what I wanted to do,” Madeline said. “I realized I hated working on commission, and I wanted a better work culture fit than the one I had at my retail position.”

She talked with her parents and decided to make the most of this bizarre time in the world. That June, she enrolled in the MBA program at Samford.

Recognizing the unique constraints placed on students in 2020, Samford waived the GRE requirements for both semesters. Classes were entirely virtual until spring 2021. The unexpected change in format taught Madeline skills she has been able to apply to real-life business.

“Figuring out how to collaborate virtually is a skill that will become way more common,” Madeline said. “I had a lot of practice with things like gathering people virtually for a group project and learning to present over Zoom. I remember my professor’s biggest critique was that we weren’t engaging enough when presenting. I learned that you have to put extra effort into emoting to come across animated over video. Those skills have prepared me for the future of business.”

Madeline’s courses continued in virtual format until the spring semester, where they transitioned to two virtual, and two in-person. At the same time, she learned to balance the demands of being a full-time student with those of being a full-time employee at SAM.

“My mom got the brunt of my stress,” Madeline said. “I called her daily on lunch to vent. It was tough to balance. My finals week lined up with Fact Week here.”

Balancing the two required Madeline to improve her organization skills and to use her free time wisely.

“I had to make sacrifices knowing that my grades probably wouldn’t be exactly where I wanted them, but there was a lot on my plate,” Madeline said. “I didn’t have all day to study for an accounting exam like other students did.”

Despite the challenges, she did it. Madeline graduated with her MBA on May 8, 2021. This time, she was able to celebrate in person with her family, friends, and peers. Looking back, Madeline sees the serendipity of the situation.

“I think if I waited five years like I planned, I don’t know if I would have done it,” Madeline said. “It would’ve been way harder to go back, especially if I had to take the GRE.”

Now, Madeline has accomplished her goal and can take a moment to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

“I don’t think I’ll realize how bad it was until later,” Madeline said. “Monday was my first day getting off at 5 p.m. and having nothing I had to do. I could just do my laundry and turn my brain off.”

Congratulations, Madeline from all your SAM family for persevering and Improving Every Day.

Brad Bieber

Sixth-grader Brad Price strolled through the halls of the Riverchase Galleria, idly gazing into storefronts when something caught his eye. A lady was approaching him with a look of excitement on her face.

“Have you ever heard that you look just like Justin Bieber?” the lady asked.

A few moments later, Brad had his first paid Bieber appearance. And after successfully impersonating the Biebs at the mallgoer’s daughter’s birthday party, he realized he could take his uncanny resemblance further.


Making Bieber a Business

Brad got in touch with a local dance studio in Hoover, where he emulated a video of Justin Bieber’s song Baby. After learning the dance, he made a Facebook page and a website. Before long, the bookings started flowing in.

“When I first started, I was the talk of the town,” Brad said. “Being on the news was pretty cool, too.”

Brad’s Bieber career included birthday parties, dance competitions, and publicity events for the dance studio he worked with. His biggest success came when Macy’s Corporate hired him to appear at the Riverchase Galleria location for the launch of Justin Bieber’s perfume.

When Justin Bieber came to Birmingham in 2013, he received a call from Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager.

“It was crazy talking to a guy that famous when I was just a teenager,” Brad said of the two-minute phone call.

While the Macy’s event was his biggest appearance, it wasn’t his most cherished. Brad’s favorite Bieber moment was when he attended a special needs event and saw the impact it made on the kids there.


Retiring and Revisiting

Brad’s stint lasted from early middle school until his freshman year of high school. Several factors including Bieber’s shorter haircut, lessened demand for birthday parties, and Brad’s desire for a rebrand led him to shutter the business.

Brad Bieber lay dormant until team members at SAM found out about his past. When the March squad challenge came around, S3 knew exactly who they needed. 

“Bringing back Bieber was nothing new,” Brad said. “I’ve never been camera shy. When I was younger, my grandmother and mom were always taking photos and home videos of me. I did theatre growing up. I’ve just always been comfortable in front of the camera.”

If you missed Brad’s performance, you can watch the S3 squad video here.

Amanda’s Adoption Journey

Amanda Dunn Adoption Photo

For as long as she can remember, Sr. Social Media Coordinator Amanda Dunn has wanted a big family. The lively holiday celebrations, packed family photos, and joyful chaos that come with a house full of kids were always part of her plan. With a mix of fate, faith, and determination, that dream is becoming a reality for Amanda and her husband, Josh. The two recently announced the beginning of their Domestic Infant Adoption journey, and Amanda shared what led them to this momentous decision.

“As far back as my mission trip in college, I had always talked about adoption,” Amanda said. “It’s always something that has been on my heart.”

When the Dunns decided this might be their path to parenthood, Amanda’s father mentioned an old high school friend who works in the adoption field. After connecting with her, the couple realized adoption was meant to be. They began reaching out to agencies and starting the first steps.

The Dunns have an adoption consultant to help them through the sometimes overwhelming process. Currently, they are in the consultation stage, which involves plentiful paperwork, training videos, and building an adoption book.

The next step will be a home study. Here, the state comes in to inspect and interview to ensure the adoption-hopefuls will provide an environment fit for a child. Once they are approved and active in the network, the couple can begin submitting their adoption book to be placed in front of birth mothers.

Once a birth mother selects the Dunns, they will have a chance to learn about her history, health, and background. If both parties accept, they could be anywhere from days to months away from adopting a new baby.

“You really have to be prepared to have a baby at any moment,” Amanda said. “The potential timeframe is big, so you have no idea until a match is made when the baby will be born. We’ve already begun buying nursery furniture and supplies.”

The adoption won’t necessarily be local, either. The Dunns might have to travel and stay in another state anywhere from 48 hours to two weeks, depending on varying state laws.

When asked about open versus closed adoptions, Amanda said she and Josh prefer an open adoption, but they are open to a closed one if the birth mother decides that.

“We see open adoption as a blessing on both ends,” Amanda said. “We’re adopting a family, not just a baby. When I was on my mission trip, people expected that our work would be a huge blessing to the people we were helping. In reality, I feel like I gained more than I gave. We think we will be blessed by this adoption more than we could bless anyone else, so we’re going into it with a very open mindset.”

Throughout the process, Amanda said her faith has been the biggest encouraging factor.

“We were trying to decide if adoption was God’s decision or just ours, but so many signs and things fell into place as soon as we chose to adopt that it confirmed it’s the path we’re supposed to be on.”

At the end of the day, there is always more research and deliberation that can be done, but Amanda said she must simply trust that all will work out, her family will be united soon, and what needs to happen will happen.


You can follow along for updates on the Dunn’s adoption journey by visiting

Manly Honda Gains #1 Spot with SAM’s Help

2,300 years ago, Aristotle defined the three pillars of persuasion – ethos, logos, and pathos. Now, two millennia later, these principles remain indispensable to a successful marketing strategy. Ethos, which represents credibility, is especially important for dealerships looking to gain market share and retain their customer base.

Manly Honda in Santa Rosa, California, holds one of the most credible titles a store could wish for. This dealership was the first in history to sell a Honda vehicle in the United States. Today, you can still see the retired model displayed on the showroom floor.

Even greater than the historical claims Manly Honda can make are its modern-day accolades. Since becoming a SAM client, the dealership has secured the number one spot in its district for two months in a row – a first for the store.

It’s easy to assume that a top-level spot requires an enormous amount of ad spend. The catch, however, is that Manly Honda’s budget is shockingly smaller than that of most SAM clients. In February, the dealership had a Facebook ads budget of just $2,100 and was one of the agency’s top-performing accounts in terms of sales and traffic.

One of the dealership’s secrets to success is its highly targeted approach. The goal was to penetrate the local Hispanic market, as it represents a significant opportunity for expansion. In January, SAM launched the store’s first Spanish-language ads. Shortly thereafter, a customer came in and referenced the ad’s offer. This was the first time a member of the Hispanic community had referenced any marketing from the dealership, and our client was overwhelmingly pleased.

Manly Honda also has a secret weapon up its sleeve – Adolfo Salazar. In Santa Rosa, Adolfo is somewhat of a local celebrity. At the dealership, he works as the Hispanic Marketing Manager. Originally, the company’s outreach to this market consisted of Adolfo posting organically to his own network of contacts. After SAM launched paid Facebook ads for the dealership, results only amplified.

Manly Honda is different from many SAM clients in that it prefers to invest in SEO more than PPC. The store runs double the amount for its SEO budget, believing that is where Manly Honda will see its greatest return. Mail is also a high performer for this dealership, with one recent mailer generating 21 calls in its first day. Previous mail campaigns have scored more than 30 sales matches.

To reach the level of success that Manly Honda has been able to achieve, it takes a mix of smart strategies and refined internal processes. This dealership has both, and with SAM’s help, plans to continue achieving many more number one feats.

Recent Promotions

In case you missed it, we’ve had several team members get recognized for their hard work lately. These employees are ready to take on higher-level responsibilities and contribute more to SAM in their expanded roles. Nice!

Kristen Callahan

  • Promoted to Accounting Specialist

Hayley Grisham

  • Promoted to Account Executive

Tom Little

  • Promoted to Senior Copywriter

Zack Johnson

  • Promoted to Digital Services Specialist

Savanna Gray

  • Promoted to SEO Coordinator

Anne Heaney

  • Promoted to Content Marketing Coordinator

Sheila’s Engaged!

Christmas bauble with wedding and engagement rings in red satin

When the circles of SAM refilled this January, many of us came back with something new. Gifts from Christmas, a fresh theme, a renewed sense of hope and determination. But none of these novelties were as surprising as the new adornment on Sheila Grandy’s hand. SAM’s self-described free spirit had just said yes to marrying her boyfriend of the last two years.

Sheila and Brian met when a mutual friend suggested they connect. While they both attended the same church, Sheila had never seen Brian and was shocked she could have missed him in her post as a greeter.

The two hit it off and have been together for two years now. During the 2020 lockdown, Sheila and Brian spent more time together than ever before.

“Brian is usually in town only a couple of days a week since he works as an MLB recruiter,” Sheila said. “I typically travel and see my girlfriends on the weekends. When Covid hit, his grandaughter’s spring break visit with us turned into a six-week sojourn. With me working from home and Brian unable to travel, we entered a new phase of our relationship that confirmed we could spend a lot of continuous time together.”

Talks of marriage came up, and Sheila figured it would happen sometime in 2021. She had already sent photos of the ring she wanted, which a jewelry-maker friend in Houston offered to craft. But when it came time to open her gifts on Christmas Day, a proposal was not what Sheila was expecting.

“I opened a box with a purse from Brian’s daughter and grandson,” Sheila said. “Brian insisted we open all of our gifts early, and he asked whether there was anything in the purse. When I opened the card inside, he told me to look again, and tucked inside the envelope was a ring.”

Sheila was completely taken by surprise when she found the ring. Then, Brian knelt down and asked Sheila to marry him. His hand was well-played, as Brian had secured a second ring for the proposal while the Houston band was being made. Otherwise, there was no way he was sneaking it past Sheila.

For the wedding, the couple is planning a ceremony this October in Las Vegas. It is important to Sheila that the people involved all have close ties to her life. Her close friend and formal Bible study teacher is officiating, her niece is singing, and her best friends will stand as her bridesmaids.

For the honeymoon, the two plan to stay in Las Vegas for a few days after the wedding. They are considering another trip closer to Christmas, but they feel fortunate to have already been able to travel before the pandemic took hold.

“I never thought I’d get married; I’ve always been the free spirit,” Sheila said. “But my girlfriends love him, he’s always looking out for me, and I can still do my own thing and travel. For me, that’s part of the attraction.”

We at SAM wish Sheila and Brian the best as they plan their wedding and celebrate finding love in 2020.