Sheila’s No-Travel 2020

If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with Sheila Grandy, it’s travel. But like many of us in 2020, she has had to take a different approach to leisure. So, how has Sheila spent her time when cruises and weekend excursions are off the table?

That’s what we’re here to find out.

Squeezing in a Little Sight-Seeing

Sheila and her best friend, Kim, got to enjoy one pre-pandemic trip this year.

“I did make it to Houston before everything shut down,” Sheila said. “We were dying to go to the rodeo, so we flew there at the beginning of March, right before everything really hit. We brought scarves to keep our faces covered, but that was before anyone was even wearing masks. Once we got back, the rest of my travel plans were off the books.”

Some of Sheila’s 2020 plans included Chicago in May, the New Orleans Essence Festival in July, Major League Baseball in August, and San Fransisco for New Year’s Eve.

After being forced to shift gears, Sheila said the memories of past trips helped keep her spirits high.

“My friends would always laugh because I took so many photos on our trips,” Sheila said. “Now, I’ve been sending and sharing those to help us remember the good times.”

Sheila recounted how, on a girls’ trip in 2018, the group went to New York City. On the last night, she insisted they walk the Brooklyn Bridge (they had already walked 12 miles that day). Her friends grudgingly agreed, but it turned out to be one of the best travel photos Sheila has ever captured. Now, the friends look back on that photo with nostalgia.

To fill her time this year, Sheila has enjoyed spending more time outdoors.

“I’ve always walked about 5 miles every morning, but typically I would go to the YMCA to do that,” Sheila said. “I’ve switched to outdoor walking since it’s safer, and I’ve really enjoyed the fresh air.”

Sheila has also enjoyed watching new church services online. There is one that particularly speaks to her in Chicago, and she plans to visit in person once travel is safer.

“After Chicago, I’m planning to take a girls’ trip to Savannah and Charleston,” Sheila said. “Everyone knows I love cruises, and this year was supposed to be my ninth. But land travel will come first.”

Despite the difficulty of traveling this year, Sheila has managed to tuck a few excursions under her belt. Her list includes an outdoor concert in Biloxi for the Fourth of July, a couple of trips to Memphis, and a recent visit to the Stardome Comedy Club in Hoover, AL.

Sheila has definitley found ways to make a challenging year interesting. Like the rest of us, she’s hoping for a speedy return to normalcy as we make our way into 2021.

Charlene Gets Hitched!

It was more than 40 years ago that Charlene Meeks Barnett first met her husband-to-be. In the halls of their shared high school, it was Ricky’s cerulean eyes and peppy demeanor that drew in Charlene. However, their destiny was not to become high school sweethearts. Twenty-five years would pass before the two ultimately reconnected.

Charlene and Ricky went on their first date nine and a half years ago and have been together ever since.

“The timing wasn’t right to get married any sooner,” Charlene said. “With our families now more settled, we decided this summer that it was our chance to tie the knot.”

On Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, the couple was wed at an intimate ceremony at a friend’s lakehouse. Originally, they had planned to marry in relative secrecy and surprise their families on Thanksgiving but decided it was better to share the moment with their loved ones.

“All of the people at our wedding have been there for me throughout the past 20 years,” Charlene said. “You could just feel the love pouring out of the moment.”

Luckily, the weather held out and let the love pour rather than the sky. The storm clouds from earlier in the day parted to reveal a picturesque sunset under which the couple took their vows.

Charlene stated that she felt lucky the pandemic didn’t alter her plans by much. She was wanting an intimate ceremony from the beginning without too many bells and whistles.

“My daughter is getting married this April, and I didn’t want to detract from that,” Charlene said. “It’s her time to shine.”

After the wedding, Charlene and Ricky enjoyed a honeymoon built around spontaneity. Their roadtrip spanned northern Georgia and parts of North Carolina. Charlene insisted that the couple make no reservations and have no itinerary. They would simply land wherever the wind blew them.

“My life at work and even at home is so structured all of the time,” Charlene said. “It was so nice to go on this honeymoon roadtrip with nothing we had to do. If we saw somewhere we wanted to stop, we stopped. We stayed at this quaint little inn off the city block in Elijay, GA, and walked to dinner that evening. They had rooms, so that’s where we landed.”

The Barnetts visited Blue Ridge, Amicalola Falls, Elijay, and Cherokee as part of their trip. A wine tasting session at Frogtown Winery in Dahlonega, GA, was one of the highlights for Charlene.

Back in Alabama, the Barnetts are establishing a new life together as a married couple.

“Ricky is great with my grandkids,” Charlene said. “They’ve known him most of their lives. I’m just having to get used to living with a grown man again!”

We at SAM wish the best to the new Mr. and Mrs. Barnett, and a hearty congratulations from us all!

Around the Agency: News Roundup

Check out November’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.


  • Media works hard to place the entire year upfront for SAM’s clients whenever possible. When we have the ability to place Media annually, we can ensure that we are securing the lowest rates and the most Added Value possible.
  • For our annual clients, 1Q21 was placed by mid-October. We will have 2Q-4Q 2021 completed by Friday, December 11 – some clients sooner than that!
  • We’ve already secured 1Q21 for our quarterly clients and will have 2Q21 completed before Thanksgiving.
  • We adhere to tight deadlines to ensure we’re getting the most we can for our clients.



  • Deidra Box and her husband Eddie recently drove the Tail of the Dragon – one of the top motorcycle and sports car roads in the world. The road features 318 curves in 11 miles.


Direct Contact

  • Oct 2020 Prospect Vision volume beat Oct 2019 Prospect Vision volume, and we are excited about Nov. and Dec.!



  • From Dennis: This was a photo John Paul drew when he was just a kid. He wasn’t always an account executive, he used to be in production!


Account Team

  • Tatum is having a baby girl
  • Courtney Wyzard is engaged
  • Nathan’s dog had puppies – and Stan is taking one home
  • Clauer just closed on his new Direct Mail campaign
  • Rose had snow in Chicago for the first time!

John Paul Responds to Agency Comments

Note: This addresses only Sept. and Oct. comment box items. The Engagement Survey results will be released later this month.


From: John Paul Strong

Team SAM—

We have gotten some helpful feedback from the recently-added comment box in the monthly newsletter. I wanted to take a moment to address a few of the topics that were submitted.


A couple of changes have already been made, like the new coffee pot system being tested in S1 along with additional creamer options. If the new system works well, we will roll it out to the remaining kitchens.

Another request mentioned concern over using George Jetson as a place to lunch with coworkers due to the open entrance. While it’s impractical to close off the kitchen, don’t let the openness dissuade you from using this area to enjoy a safely distanced lunch with others. That is one of the intended uses of this space.

COVID-19 Procedure

Our coronavirus procedure is continually adjusted as new recommendations become available from the CDC and our HR partner, Renay Winston. We know safety is a big concern for us all. If an employee tests positive, all employees identified as having close-contact exposure will be required to work from home for 14 days regardless of whether they test negative. This procedure has already been put into practice at SAM.

We are doing everything possible to maintain the efficiency of our working style while minimizing the risk of coronavirus exposure for employees. The more firmly we all follow the guidelines, the more protected we will be.

Growth Opportunities

SAM is proud to support the growth of employees and offer career advancement opportunities. This is why we fill positions internally as much as possible. Employees are evaluated on their work record and ability to drive results when decisions regarding promotions are made. Various other professional performance factors are taken into consideration as well.

If you have any concerns over your growth path with the agency, make sure to talk with your manager who can help you lay out the next steps. Megan Cesnick is also a resource for this.


Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit constructive feedback over the past 2 months. Be aware our annual Employee Engagement Survey results will be released later this month and will be discussed in full detail.

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.