A Flood of Changes for Midtown Studio

One day before Halloween, Digital Marketing Coordinator Karli Burns was working in the office. It was a Saturday, so there weren’t many people around. She ventured downstairs to buy a Pop-Tart, and that’s when she realized that Midtown Studio was underwater.

“Wear your waders,” warned Sr. Copywriter Dennis Johnson during his call to David Whitson, Director of Editing. Word traveled fast that the situation downstairs required backup.

David and Dennis were among the first to witness the true damage of the flood. Not only was much of the building’s lower floor soaked, but the two also discovered that the floor tilts toward the studio. That was where most of the mysteriously leaking water was concentrated.

Determined to find the source of the leak, Dennis ventured into the first-floor women’s restroom to find a commode spewing water. It wasn’t clear what caused the leak, but the water was unrelenting.

Rushing to the studio, David and Dennis began trying to salvage equipment. Luckily, the computers and cameras were high enough off the floor and came out undamaged. Power cords, control boxes, and the carpet were another story.

With the building’s plumber en route, it would still be several hours before the leak could be stopped. In the meantime, David and Dennis thought about the silver lining behind this unexpected Saturday.

“We realized the studio is probably due for an update anyway, and now is the perfect time,” David said. “The flooding gave us a chance to rethink how we want it set up, and how we can build it back better.”


An Opportunity for Modernization

Since the power boxes for the studio lights were damaged by the water, Production will have the chance to replace them with more modern technology. When the studio was built, fluorescent lighting was the highest-tech option. Now, the lights will be LED, giving the team the ability to change hues and colors during shoots.

There will also be a riser added to where the cyclorama (cyc) wall is, helping elevate this backdrop to prevent warping from humidity on the ground-level floor. The cyc wall will be replaced with a newer version as well.

Of course, new carpet is required, as well as new baseboards and a fresh paint job for the studio. Overall, the studio’s configuration will remain the same. But the upgrades mentioned above, along with new additions like a pneumatic camera pedestal (like the rolling camera stands at TV stations) and cable management devices will help modernize the studio and its capabilities. Luckily, insurance funds are able to cover the cost of these upgrades.

Construction is set to begin this week. Be on the lookout for the grand reveal of Midtown Studio 2.0!

An Interview With Sheena

Accounting Director Sheena Griffin was named a finalist for the 2021 BBJ CFO Awards. These awards recognize the top financial officer in a Birmingham organization. We’re very proud of Sheena and all she has accomplished during her time with the agency. We sat down with her to find out some of the secrets to her success.

How do you view the role of the Accounting Director?

As an overseer for all finances of the company, this role guides the allocation of finances and provides direction to others on how to book against different clients, projects, and ledger accounts. You must lead, follow, and expect adherence to specific policies and procedures while implementing checks and balances involving cash and finances.

How has COVID-19 changed the dynamics of the Accounting Director role due to new challenges companies are facing?

We learned to quickly adapt to different payment terms and ways that we pay our vendors. We had to be flexible with clients’ needs, as they may need longer to process payments due to their own challenges. We had to jump in and be more hands-on to assist as employees needed to be out of the office, and embrace technology to keep things running from home.

What role should an Accounting Director play when it comes to managing a company’s growth?

You must be able to turn in timely and accurate reports and provide any reports needed by the top decision-makers of the company. It’s important to set, review, and adhere to department budgets, making sure those stay in line.

What’s a success story from your time as Accounting Director that helped the company?

Coming on board 15 years ago, there were only two of us in accounting. Not long after I started, that dwindled to just me. Today, I’ve built that into a team of nine accounting professionals. My biggest success story is the team we have and how they’ve developed their own roles to succeed as individuals

What is your best advice to Accounting Directors about navigating a crisis?

Take one day at a time. Pray. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the situation. Keep a clear head. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm with your team for fresh ideas. If your team is anything like mine, they are willing and able to jump in to tackle problems, and they want to help and support you.

What’s your best tip or best practice for leading a company’s financial operations through a challenging economy?

Be flexible with changes. With Covid, if one thing isn’t selling specifically, or clients reduce budgets, you must be willing to be flexible with anything new that your salespeople are selling. You can’t be rattled by all of the changes coming through. STRONG has developed several new products as growth opportunities for revenue, and as Accounting Director, I had to be flexible learning how to implement them and make it work.

What’s a lesson you’ve learned from a mentor?

It feels to me like God has been teaching me to be better about not judging a situation based on what I first hear or see from somebody. I’ve learned to not let myself get puffed up with pride and think you know everything about the situation or read too much into it. It’s important to treat everyone fairly and with respect.

A Beary Happy Tale

Fame is easier than ever to achieve in today’s world. Sometimes, it takes but a single post on Instagram or TikTok to go viral and make a name for yourself. 

It also helps if you’ve got a furry friend in front of the camera.

Senior Social Media Coordinator Amanda Dunn has transformed her passion at work into what may become a profitable hobby. This past July, Amanda’s golden retriever, named Bear, enjoyed his third press appearance.

Bear is the star of the Instagram account Amanda started with her husband, titled Bear The Golden. The account boasts more than 2,100 followers and 200 posts. Bear was recently included in Bham Now’s “7 Adorable Pets You Need to Follow on Instagram” article. This is the second time the golden retriever has been featured in Bham Now. He also made it into a post on IN Birmingham.

The Dunns grew the account from the ground up, and Amanda says the skills she’s learned at SAM have supported Bear’s rise to fame.

“It’s fun because it’s an extension of what I’ve learned here,” Amanda said. “I can try new things based on what we’re doing at work, and I’ve also tried out new strategies on Bear’s Instagram that I can bring into the workplace.”

To develop her following, Amanda has relied on tried-and-true audience acquisition techniques. She began by finding other local accounts of dogs in Birmingham, or by viewing posts from dog-friendly locations, and following the accounts that posted.

Bear enjoyed an in-person celebrity moment when the Dunns traveled to a dog-friendly hotel in Panama City Beach, Florida. 

“Everyone loved him,” Amanda said. “Groups of people came over to ask if they could play frisbee, and kids were asking others at the beach if they had met Bear yet. He was like a celebrity!”

The hotel noticed, too, asking Amanda to tag them so they could share the post. Her goal for the account is to generate business opportunities, like when Visit PCB contacted her for permission to use Bear on its Instagram account. Or, more recently, when Bear was shared by The Nashville Guide, an account with more than 180,000 followers.

Amanda’s next big project for the account is creating a virtual trail of dog-friendly places in Birmingham for others to enjoy as well. Make sure to follow for the latest updates of what is without a doubt a Beary Happy Life.

Understanding Culture Index

Have you noticed the multicolored charts under each nameplate around the agency? These are taken from each employee’s Culture Index (CI) profile. For some, these charts may be hard to read. This article gives a brief overview of the different personality traits measured by CI so you can better understand yours, along with those of your coworkers.

Why Do We Use Culture Index?

Culture Index isn’t a screening tool; rather, SAM uses it as a complement to the hiring process. It works by assessing an individual’s inherent traits, as well as which traits they perceive as necessary for their job.

The history of Culture Index began in 444 BCE when Empedocles theorized that people behave in four distinctly different ways. He categorized them according to the classical elements – water, earth, fire, and air.

This theory was expanded on by Hippocrates shortly thereafter. However, more than two millennia would pass before personality assessments regained significant momentum. Psychologists began developing more scientific approaches to categorizing human behavior in the early 20th century. In 1956, industrial psychologist Walter Clark expanded on the work of his predecessors to produce a self-administered behavior test, based on the still-popular DISC model. Subjects would respond to a checklist of adjectives and choose those that best described them. Sound familiar?

The founder of Culture Index worked for the J.P. Cleaver Company, the first to commercialize the DISC assessment. Eventually, CI founders Gary and Cecilia Walstrom branched off to develop their own version of a workplace behavioral assessment. They enlisted the help of Dr. Louis Janda, who developed the CI survey after five years of research and testing.

Today, SAM uses Culture Index to measure seven work-related personality traits. In addition to matching job candidates with positions they will more naturally succeed in, these assessments give valuable information about the best ways to communicate with coworkers.

How to Interpret the Dots

We’ll focus on the four dots in the main graph for this article. Here’s what each represents:

  • Red (A): Autonomy. The ability to choose and be self-sufficient.
  • Yellow (B): Social ability. Relating to the way people in groups behave and interact.
  • Blue (C)Patience. The particular speed at which somebody moves.
  • Green (D): Conformity. Behaving or thinking in a socially acceptable or expected way.

The vertical red line on the graph represents the average level of each trait for the general population. So, a dot to the right of the red line means you have a higher level of that trait than most people, and a dot to the left represents the inverse.

Everyone has a high and a low trait. To find your high trait, look at the dot that is farther to the right than any of the others. We’ll only focus on the high traits here.

The Four Personality Types

Each high trait has a set of characteristics that typically accompanies it. Of course, no person can be fully described using a set of words. Rather, these serve as a general guide to understanding how someone behaves.

High A

  • Traits: Driven, independent, future-oriented, risk-takers
  • Motivators: Freedom to achieve their goals, money, undefined challenges, facts and data

High B

  • Traits: Personable, outgoing, persuasive, external verbal processors
  • Motivators: Personal interaction, status, public recognition, consensus-building opportunities

High C

  • Traits: Patient, laid-back, procedural, steady
  • Motivators: Limited interruptions, checklists, limited chaos, low pressure and stress

High D

  • Traits: Perfectionist, detailed-oriented, historical decision-maker, cautious
  • Motivators: Factual information in writing, removing risk, training, knowledge


All in all, Culture Index is a valuable tool for understanding the eclectic mix of personalities that make up Team SAM. While there’s much more that goes into a full CI profile, this information should help you better understand yourself and those you work with.

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 https://alsmith3916.wixsite.com/dunnfamilyadoption.