Anne’s Wedding

Not every marriage begins with love at first sight. That was certainly the case for Anne and Christopher Heaney. When they both chose to study a romance language in college, they never imagined they would star in a romance of their own.

“When Christopher and I took Italian together at Auburn, neither of us really caught one another’s eye,” Anne said. “But a few months later when we met again, a lot had changed.”

Typical to the formative years of undergrad, Anne and Christopher had both somewhat reinvented themselves in the time since they had last met. This was the beginning of a spark that led to their first few dates. At this point, Christopher had, by chance, moved into the same apartment complex as Anne. They were also both writing for The Auburn Plainsman, the university’s student-run newspaper.

Yet, while all of the ingredients were there, the fire failed to catch. It wasn’t until Christopher was involved in a serious car accident that the couple realized their feelings for one another.

“I knew that if I went to see Christopher in the hospital, this would become real,” Anne said. “I’ve always said I wanted to see how the person I marry reacts to tragedy, and Christopher handled it very well. He was lucky and had a near-miraculous recovery in just six months.”

As the two dated and their love grew, talks of marriage began to come up. Anne wanted a simple proposal, something private and intimate. One evening, after attending a concert together, Anne walked into the living room to find Christopher there, on one knee and ring in hand. She was thrilled at the future she saw for them then.

2020 has provided no shortage of challenges, and that is especially apparent when planning a wedding. Anne and her then-fiancé decided the date of their wedding would not change. On Oct. 17, rain or shine, the two would wed at Vulcan Park and Museum.

The ceremony took place outdoors at 5:30 p.m. Anne described the scene as the quintessence of autumnal beauty. The fiery oranges and reds of the setting sun created a celestial backdrop that mirrored the seasonal colors of her wedding.

“So many things could have gone wrong, but everything turned out to be perfect,” Anne said. “We stayed outside, had masks available, and did our best to make sure everyone felt safe and comfortable. And at nearly four weeks out, no one in attendance has reported getting sick.”

Anne joked that the two were planning a wedding tour for next year, as many of Christopher’s New England relatives were not able to attend due to the pandemic. Still, the couple was able to take a honeymoon to the idyllic Portland, Maine area.

“We both love fall, and our honeymoon was exactly what we were hoping for,” Anne said. “It looked like a scene out of ‘Hocus Pocus.’ The leaves were gorgeous shades of yellow and orange, and travel was surprisingly simple.”

The couple stayed in an Airbnb and enjoyed dinners by the water and strolling through the fall wonderland as newlyweds. Anne reported feeling very safe traveling, as the plane was socially distanced and featured a disinfectant fog each time passengers disembarked.

In the end, Anne and Christopher overcame the challenges of 2020 and held an unforgettable celebration with loved ones. They may have forgotten their Italian, but the amore they found will last a lifetime. Congratulations to the Heaneys from everyone at SAM!

Around the Agency: News Roundup

Check out October’s latest updates from around Team SAM! If you have updates you’d like included, make sure to submit them to your department’s story collector or manager.



  • Holly Schneider has been promoted to Production Specialist



  • Sarah Drexler passed her very difficult Facebook Blueprint exam. Go Sarah!



Direct Contact

  • Direct Mail

    • October is off to a great start with over 226k pieces of mail already ordered through Prospect Vision as of  Oct. 1. We’re on track to beat last October monetarily and in quantity.
    • We are pushing PSV and are being as aggressive as possible on IHDs.
    • Mail and Data teams have been working diligently to keep those jobs moving.
  • eCampaigns

    • We added seven new Hyundai tier 2 regions this week, which helped us exceed last year’s September 2019 eCampaign revenue. In August, we beat our all-time billing record, and it’s good to see that success continued in September.
    • We’re beginning to see an increase in our tier 3 business, and that combined with all the new tier 2 campaigns should make for a big October 2020.

Rain, Shine, or Petty Crime: The Story of NVRSTOP

By: Dennis Johnson

Do you ever wonder why the tag on John Paul’s car reads NVRSTOP? It’s because he doesn’t. Holly Schneider asked me to tell a story from my years with SAM. And this is John Paul at his “never stop” best.

The agency was working on picking up a Toyota dealer in Florida. This dealer was just stuck on a music jingle they had come up with, and wouldn’t let go – even after John Paul told them it just sucked (his words). To prove his point, John Paul and I flew to the dealership’s town with the agency mini-camera in tow, $1,000 in $50 bills, and a plan to do on-the-street interviews asking normal people if they had heard the jingle, or even put this dealer in their top-five choices. Keep in mind, this is the late 2000s, so people were still open to doing this kind of thing.

After not having much luck in the first location we were shooting on a beautiful spring Saturday, John Paul suggested going to the local Walmart and catch people coming and going. Great idea, but lacking just one thing Sam Walton must have been big on – permission! Wasn’t long before the store manager comes out and runs us off, but we still had gotten a handful of interviews.

Sitting in the car, I asked “Where now?” John Paul didn’t hesitate, “Home Depot!” And down the highway, we went and set up in their parking lot. I was both shooting the camera and doing the interview while John Paul wrangled the next interview. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man in a Home Depot shirt with a security cop. We would find out Wal-Mart had called area stores to tell them about the vagabond interview crew, and when they spotted us out they came. John Paul gave me a ‘keep shooting, I’ve got this’ nod as he walked toward the manager and officer.

Their conversation lasted long enough for me to finish one interview and get started on the other. I was still watching John Paul working his magic when he reached for his wallet. If $50 was good for an interview, he would say later, maybe a $100 passed to each of the Home Depot guys would buy us some time. Well, it didn’t. After an apparent misinterpretation of ‘talent fee’ and ‘bribe’, when John Paul got to the camera, he picked up the tripod and off to the rental car we went, in a hurry. We had worn out our welcome in South Florida – at least as on-the-street movie makers.

What we did get though was about a dozen people just dogging the jingle, the store, and their advertising. Then, we got the account. Even better, this interview technique was branded as ‘Guerilla Marketing’ (by Connie Marefka), and it became a part of Strong Automotive Merchandising’s bag of tricks to get a second major store in Florida. Nope, John Paul never stops, and that my fellow workers, is a good thing.

Around the Agency: News Roundup

Check out the September news updates from around the agency! If you have updates you’d like included, make sure to submit them to your department’s story collector or manager.



  • Holly got promoted to Media Buyer.
  • Sheila has been playing a big role in the new Dealer Enrollment Program.



  • This month we have really dug into the process of creating the 2021 theme board.



Yenae has set an Accounting group goal to work smarter, not harder. Below are a few examples:

  • Deidra created a one-sheeter on how to create quicksteps and templates in Outlook for blanket emails. We all send the same emails each month. So, having a template is a quicker process than searching for and copying and pasting old emails.
  • LD did a training session on how to use Microsoft OneNote for Windows 10. We are able to share our notes with each other, and OneNote keeps our personal notes in one spot instead of a bunch of notebooks, Word docs, files on the desktop, etc.
  • We added an Accounting group calendar to Outlook so we can see each other’s recurring due dates, PTO, appts/meetings outside of our department, SAM 60s, or any other planned events we feel like sharing with the department via Outlook Calendar.


Account Team

  • Retail Ready is starting to pick up some traction with two accounts signing on full time with this service.
  • Rebekah Cook’s son Jude had his SECOND birthday this month! I know none of us can believe how fast time is going for her and Zac.
  • Nathan Phillips’ Baby Wyatt is walking now!

SAM Scores Big With These Awards

Strong Automotive Merchandising recently received two significant awards. Both represent hard work by management and employees to create a positive working environment.

SAM Named Among the Best and Brightest Companies

In early 2020, SAM submitted an entry for the Best and Brightest contest. Employees took a satisfaction survey, similar to those we have done in the past for Birmingham’s Best Places to Work. When all was said and done, SAM was named one of the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For at the national level.

The 2020 national winning companies were assessed by an independent research firm which reviewed a number of key measures relative to other nationally recognized winners.

The spring Best and Brightest national winners honored 183 winning organizations from across the country out of 1,700 nominations.

The Best and Brightest Companies to Work For competition identifies and honors organizations that display a commitment to excellence in operations and employee enrichment that led to increased productivity and financial performance. This competition scores potential winners based on regional data of company performance and a set standard across the nation. This national program celebrates those companies that are making better business, creating richer lives, and building a stronger community as a whole.


SAM Recognized in the Birmingham Business Journal’s Building Contest

The S4 Office Expansion has been named an honoree in the Birmingham Business Journal’s second annual Building Birmingham Awards, which recognize excellence in the Magic City’s construction, architecture and engineering industries.

These awards will recognize the team that made the project possible. It will be featured in the August 28 edition of the BBJ, both in print and online.

Congratulations to the team that helped design S4 and gave us an incredible space to work in!

Around the Agency: News Roundup

Team SAM has some exciting updates to share this August. Check out the news from around the departments in the article below! If you have updates you’d like included, make sure to submit them to your department’s manager or story collector.


Direct Mail is Picking Back Up

  • We shipped over 310k pieces of mail in July
  • Currently have over 307k pieces in the works for August (and that’s only as of the 11th).
  • Tier 2 Hyundai email broadcasts are starting back up here in August promoting the Epic Summer Sales Event. One of the markets broadcasting this month is the SoCal HDAA which is the largest Hyundai market in the country!
  • Thanks to Jason Clauer, we’ve also been endorsed by Kia at the Tier 2 level and have over 20 Kia dealers who’ve agreed to broadcast campaigns here in August. DC expects even more to come on board here in the next couple of weeks.


Production Sees the “Return of the Drone”

  • From Dennis: I don’t know how long it’s been since the last big shoot, but quite a while.  Production has begun providing shots of footage showing customers with and without masks. WCH is a third-generation dealership and is putting together a long-format video of history hosted by an 80-year-old father.
  • Animation From the Harte: The Harte dealerships are in a pandemic hotspot and have opted for creative with masked, animated look-alikes. They’ve seen success running TV during a tough time for the Northeast.


Moving On Up

  • Congratulations to Yenae and Zack for the recent, well-deserved promotions! Yenae is moving into the role of Accounting Manager, overseeing people and workflow, as Sheena shifts to focus on more big-picture accounting projects. Zack will also begin tackling bigger projects as our newest Sr. SEO Coordinator.

Around the Agency: News Roundup

Even with life a little slower than usual, Team SAM is staying busy both at work and at home. Check out some of these updates from around the agency.

Yenae Bollinger bought a house and moved in this month.


TJ Moore is moving to Huntsville, AL.


Jeremy Blanton started up the Retail Ready project, which has already been sold or pitched to multiple clients.


Deidre Box got married about three weeks ago, and her son left for basic training on June 29.


Rose is moving to Chicago.


Amanda Annonio recently bought a house.


Kristen Callahan adopted a cat, who’s fond of crawling into wine racks.

Digital has a new Paid Social Assistant, Rachel Blackerby.


Why Do We Mystery Shop?

Unknown caller. A man holds a phone in his hand and thinks to end the call. Incoming from an unknown number at night. Incognito or anonymous

When you hear the term “mystery shop,” the first image that may come to mind is a shopper in disguise, checking a store for cleanliness and clandestinely quizzing staff on product knowledge. At SAM, we have an entire team of these incognito shoppers ready to help our dealers. But in our case, fake mustaches aren’t required.

Origins of SAM’s Secret Shopper Club

Sr. VP of Advertising Services Sheila Grandy is at the helm of SAM’s telephone mystery shopping operation. In an interview, Sheila recounts that it all began with sporadic requests for mystery shops by clients. These would funnel through Account Team and would always get handled one way or another.

In February of 2018, Sheila spoke with John Paul about leading up the effort for an organized team and process for mystery shops. After outlining the procedures and recruiting volunteers, SAM’s Secret Shopper Club (SSSC) was born.

How Mystery Shops Work

What is a mystery shop, you ask?

Mystery shops are calls that SSSC makes to clients’ dealerships and to their competitors to gather insights that would be otherwise unavailable. This information ranges from how well a shopper is greeted to how knowledgeable the dealership representative is about the dealer’s product.

Calls to a client’s dealership are typically geared toward assessing customer service. Competitor calls can also asses service, but they provide added insight into local market pricing, helping our dealers stay competitive.

With the new process, AT receives a shop request from a client. Then, Sheila handles assigning a shopper and adding the details to Podio via the new app Ivan created for SSSC. The shopper then researches the product online, takes an alias, and performs the call from a spoofed number local to the dealership. The recording is then sent to AT and the client for analysis.

How Our Clients Benefit

Mystery shops give clients insight into both internal and external market data that would be unavailable without SSSC.

“We’ve received feedback from some of our clients saying this was a great training tool for their staff and that the feedback continues to provide great intel,” Sheila said. “To date, we’ve completed over 300 phone shops.”

SSSC Today

Currently, the mystery shop team consists of Bentley, Casey Q., Chris, Holly B., Lindy, Liz, Luke, Marderius, Mimi, Tina, and Zack. Holly L. and Brad will begin training to join the team as well. Karli aids with tracking number setup, and Courtney B. creates aliases for the team.

“I enjoy this because it gives me the chance to work with team members from several other departments,” Sheila said. “Everyone is always so willing to help.”

The Digital department handles another form of mystery shop that is conducted online. Data from these shops include insights on form submissions, response time, email sales processes, and online pricing.

Living Off the Land

For the majority of us, there’s not a lot of time spent pondering where our food comes from. It could be right down the road, or flown in from South America. That is, unless you’re the type of person who grows it right in their own back yard.

Co-Op Specialist Laura Dobbs has tapped her agrarian side to cultivate a backyard collection of southern vegetables. In the article below, written by Dobbs, she shares the story of this newly-awakened hobby.


Cultivating a Fresh Start: By Laura Dobbs

My family has had a garden plot behind the house for long time. It’s been fallow in recent years. No time, no energy, no interest.

This year, we’re back with a vengeance. It’s taking some additional work to get everything prepared. We’ve had to bring in garden soil, compost, and fertilizer. By the time we do this again next year, it will be much easier. We’re starting our own compost pile and will keep the soil conditioned.

The pictures don’t look like much, but there are four rows of bush beans and four different types of heirloom tomatoes. We’re germinating okra and will transplant seedlings soon. We’re also prepping containers to plant squash.

Towards the end of summer, when the beans have finished producing, we plan to plant collards. We’re not sure what else we’ll plant (Possibly cabbage? Butternut squash? Maybe turnips so that Mom can have turnip greens?) but we plan to keep it going.

My mother has spearheaded this effort. She’s so passionate about it. Much of what she knows, she learned from my grandfather (her father-in-law), who was an avid gardener and could grow just about anything. He fed his family, and his neighbors, all from whatever minuscule plot of land was attached to his parsonage.

What Mom doesn’t know, she fills in with homesteading blogs and YouTube channels. My sister and I provide labor.

Mom has even inspired our next-door neighbor to do the same! His approach is a bit different, but he takes his cues from her and comes to her for advice.

Pretty soon, we’ll be shelling peas on the couch while we watch a movie. We’ll can tomatoes. We’ll cut, pack, and freeze okra. She hasn’t said how she wants to preserve the squash, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy. But, when the time comes, we’ll savor every bite.

Back to the Office

This month, SAM’s workforce has begun a gradual return to the office. While most of us remain at home, the employees in Group 1 have shared what it’s like being back after a nearly 8-week hiatus.

What Made You Choose to Go Back First?

Those in Group 1 elected to be among the first to return to the office. Mimi Hoffman, Rachel Witzel, and Ryan Nations describe why they decided to return.

A big theme was a desire for normal structure and routine.

“I was ready to get back to waking up, getting dressed, and going into the office,” Mimi said. “I feel more like myself.”

Ryan mentioned enjoying working from home, but knew at some point he would have to go back. And he figured there’s no time like the present.

What’s It Like Being Back in the Office?

“It’s very quiet, kind of like working on the weekends,” Rachel said. “Occasionally, someone will walk by, but mostly all you can hear is the A/C running and the keystrokes around you.” 

Rachel went on to say that the office has fewer distractions for her than working at home. The lack of barking dogs and delivery people helps her to stay focused. 

For Mimi, being back has brought back memories.

“It definitely makes you miss everyone else now that you’ve seen a few people,” Mimi said. “It’s a different vibe, but it’s good to have others here. Now I want to see everyone else, too!”

How Are the New Safety Measures?

To make for a healthy workplace, SAM has created a safety plan with rules and supplies for those in the office.

“I’m really glad we have the safety rules in place,” Rachel said. “The biggest adjustment is remembering to put on your mask when you leave your seat, but having the guidelines makes me feel safer.”

Ryan caught on to the changes quickly.

“It’s a pretty easy adjustment,” Ryan said. “I try not to touch too many things, and if I do, STRONG gave us our own sanitizers. What more can you do besides being put in a bubble?” 

The trio described the limits on copy room, kitchen, and bathroom capacities as easy to follow. With only a fraction of the workforce back, crowding isn’t an issue.

Advice for Those Returning Soon

Mimi, Rachel, and Ryan offered a few words of advice for team members who are planning to return in the coming weeks.

“My advice would be to come back,” Mimi said. “For me, it made life a lot easier. I have two monitors, a better computer, and more to work with. A week before I returned, I started getting up earlier to get myself back in the habit of a normal office routine.”

“Give yourself some grace if things feel a little weird for the first few days back,” Rachel said. “It can feel weird because you’re breaking what was the ‘new normal.’ The office is a lot different than the environment at your house.”

“The transition is easy, don’t stress out about it,” Ryan said reassuringly.

Right now, SAM is closely monitoring the return to the office to make sure it happens in a safe and responsible way. As more of us transition from remote to in-office workers, it helps to keep in mind the encouraging advice from those who did it first.